15 Best Things to Do in Sitka, AK

Sitka, AK
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Sitka is a historic city in Alaska with a diverse heritage of Russian, American, and Tlingit natives.

Because of its colorful history, closeness to nature, and a twist of modernity, it's not surprising that Sitka is popular with many tourists.

Back in the day, Sitka was largely inhabited by Natives called the Tlingit Indians, but in 1741, a Russian expedition arrived on its shores and established Fort St. Michael.

In 1802, the Tlingit Indians reclaimed their lands from the settlers in a bloody war.

However, the Russians returned with a larger and more equipped force that resulted in numerous battles and ultimately forced the natives to surrender.

Sitka was formerly part of Russia until being turned over to the United States through the Treaty of Cession in 1867.

Fast forward to the present day, Sitka is a haven for outdoor adventurers and history buffs.

Although Anchorage is the trendiest city in Alaska, Sitka is a place that offers everyone breathtaking sceneries from its national parks, century-old museums, unique Russian-American culture, local arts, whale watching, and fishing charters.

There are lots of amazing stuff to discover in this coastal Alaskan city.

From its fascinating history to the majestic backdrop of the icy mountains and lush green forests, Sitka is a wonderful destination, offering visitors countless ways to experience all of them.

So, check the rest of this post and find out the 15 best things to do in Sitka.

Stop by at the Sitka National Historical Park

Handicraft display at Sitka National Historical Park
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The Sitka National Historical Park is considered the smallest of all parks found in Alaska.

However, it is the oldest national park and Alaska, and it's packed with interesting history and natural wonders.

Upon arriving in Sitka, the first place you should visit to get acquainted with the city's history and heritage is the Sitka National Historical Park.

Display of totem at Sitka National Historical Park
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The national park, which opened in 1910, spans 113 acres to hike and explore with the guidance of park rangers.

You'll be amazed to see the totem poles built by the native Tlingit people who inhabited the region for the past 10,000 years.

In addition, you'll also come across various exhibits and galleries, featuring artifacts relevant to Sitka's history.

Lastly, you should also check out its visitors’ center to grab brochures, featuring the attractions and recommended activities to do in Sitka.

Paved road trails at Sitka National Historical Park
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Browse through Amazing Galleries at the Sheldon Jackson Museum

The Sheldon Jackson Museum features a wide array of amazing historical artifacts from Alaska.

You'll get a closer look at old Native American clothing, old pioneer clothing, totems, baskets, masks, weapons, whale bones, and a lot more from its galleries.

The collection comes from Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, who served as a Presbyterian missionary back in the late 1800s.

Jackson's several expeditions to Alaska enabled him to collect more than 5,000 items with historical significance, most displayed at the museum today.

Get a Closer Look at the Majestic Birds at the Alaska Raptor Center

Front view of Alaska Raptor Center
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The Alaska Raptor Center serves as a rehabilitation and conservation center for American birds of prey, such as the bald eagle.

Most of the injured and sick eagles and other birds of prey are being nursed back to full health at this facility in Sitka.

Owl at Alaska Raptor Center
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During your visit there, the staff of the Alaska Raptor Center will tour you to their facility, which houses numerous birds of prey, like the bald eagles.

Tour the facility's rescue center, hospital, and large enclosures.

Aside from bald eagles, they also nurse ravens, owls, hawks, and other types of eagles that inhabit the region.

Eagle hunting its prey at Alaska Raptor Center
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Tour Sitka on the Checkered Cab

A unique way to tour Sitka is through its famous Checkered Cab operated by local Jeff Budd.

He has been offering tour trips in Sitka and neighboring places for over three decades already to promote local tourism in his beloved city.

You'll tour around Sitka along 15 miles of scenic roads and discover hidden gems and natural wonders onboard the Checkered Cab.

The Checkered Cab will also take you to Sitka's various historical and natural attractions.

Check out its official website to book a guided tour with the Checkered Cab.

Come Face to Face with Bears at the Fortress of the Bear

A bear swimming at Fortress of the Bear
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The Fortress of the Bear is another rescue center for animals, specifically bears who need immediate medical attention and a nursery for orphaned cubs.

The facility aims to educate the visitors about the role of bears in nature.

The facility, which covers around three-quarter-acre, is adjacent to the Tongass National Forest.

Bear walking through the Fortress of the Bear
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During your visit there, you'll meet different bears, each with different personalities.

Visiting this facility is the perfect way to observe bears at a safe distance.

Close-up of a bear at Fortress of the Bear
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The Island Artists Gallery in Sitka is run by 24 Alaskan artists who collaborated to promote the thriving arts scene in the region.

They have a gallery/store located along Lincoln Street, which offers visitors the chance to see their artworks for sale.

For an authentic souvenir to bring home from your Sitka travel adventure, the Island Artists Gallery boasts a wide collection of artworks.

Buy various artworks like paintings, handmade jewelry, ceramic products, accessories, hand-painted bags, and many more.

Aside from their on-site store, they also offer their artworks online.

Learn Heritage and History at the Russian Bishops House

Russian Bishops House in Sitka
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Although Sitka is part of the United States, it has deep Russian roots, which you can witness and experience at the Russian Bishops House.

This historical attraction in Sitka offers visitors the best way to learn about the city's interesting history and entire Alaska through its exhibits and galleries.

A dining table inside the Russian Bishops House.
Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They have various exhibits and galleries, featuring artifacts from the pelt and fur industry, Russian-themed ornaments, photographs, housewares, and other Russian-related items that most people used back in the day.

Historically, the Russian Bishop's House was completed back in 1842 as a Russian Orthodox Church but was later converted into the museum today.

It's also one of the remaining surviving buildings in Alaska inspired by Russian colonial architecture in the United States.

Closer exterior view of the Russian Bishops House.
Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Warm Your Senses at the Fisheye Organic Cafe & Graceful Pastries

Alaska, in general, has a cold climate, and it's felt in most seasons.

With that in mind, you'll find yourself wanting a hot cup of coffee and warm pastries during your tour in Sitka.

To do this, visit the Fisheye Organic Cafe & Graceful Pastries, which has served top-notch coffee, freshly-baked pastry, and hearty breakfast meals since 2012.

Aside from their delightful coffee and food, they boast organic ingredients in each of their servings.

In addition, they serve health-conscious people with freshly-pressed juices, keto-coffee, smoothies, salads, and acai bowls.

Of course, they also serve meat options on their menu for conventional customers.

Take Photos at the St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral

Green Grey building of St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral
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The St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral is easily spotted in downtown Sitka.

This church is an interesting place to check out in Sitka because of its old Russian-colonial architecture, similar to the Russian Bishop House.

Its construction was completed in 1848 and became one of the main religious centers for locals in Sitka.

Sitka was under the control of Russia at that time.

Dome at St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral
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The St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral was listed as a National Historic Landmark back in 1962 for its historical significance in the city.

However, a fire badly gutted this historic church in 1966.

Fortunately, through rebuilding efforts, the church stood back along with its iconic golden crosses and green domes visible from afar.

This historical landmark in Sitka is a nice place to take photos as your souvenir during your trip there.

Bird's eye view of St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral
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Wander through the Sitka Sound Science Centre

It's not surprising that Alaska is filled with museums and scientific facilities because of its diverse wildlife and rich natural environment.

So, check out the Sitka Sound Science Centre, a facility dedicated to research and discovery about Alaskan aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

The Sitka Sound Science Centre is situated on the Sage Memorial Building downtown Sitka.

It has a library, a hatchery, and an aquarium for you to check out.

Their hatchery features Alaska's famous salmons, where you can learn about its life cycle, while the aquarium lets you discover the Alaskan aquatic habitats.

Meanwhile, its library has all the books that provide interesting information about the Alaskan aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Shop for Books at the Old Harbor Books

Two people hugging outside the old harbor books building.
James Brooks, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This local bookstore in Sitka offers visitors a wide array of interesting titles.

The Old Harbor Books is a nice place to visit for bookworms who travel to Sitka.

Browse through the bookstore's various fictional, history, novels, poetry, literature, memoirs, etc.

In addition, they also have a gift shop that features authentic souvenirs such as candles, bags, games, and apparel.

This bookstore opened in Sitka in 1976 by Don Muller after quitting his job as a chemist at a local pulp mill.

Due to the environmental effects of the mills on the Tongass Forest, Muller left and decided to open a bookstore with his wife, Mary Stensvold, as his partner in business.

Fast forward to today, the Old Harbor Books is considered an attraction in Sitka that's worth checking out.

Roam around the Baranof Castle State Historic Site

Exterior of the Baranof Castle State Historic Site.
Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Baranof Castle State Historic Site is where the American flag was raised first in 1867 after signing the Treaty of Cession.

The flag-raising signified the official turnover of Alaska to the United States from Russia.

This historic site, commonly known as 'hilltop,' is more reminiscent of a fort than a castle.

The main highlight of visiting this historic site is the picturesque vantage view of Sitka.

A cannon display at Baranof Castle State Historic Site.
Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, you'll easily notice the towering flagpole, with both the US and the state of Alaska flags waving at the site.

Its panoramic view makes people frequently visit this place to take nice photos.

Aside from flags and panoramic views, interpretive panels are scattered throughout the historic site for educational purposes.

Lastly, the Baranof Castle State Historic Site is highly accessible, particularly in Sitka's downtown area.

Watch the New Archangel Dancers in Sitka Perform

To get a better glimpse of the diverse Russian-American culture in Alaska, you should watch the New Archangel Dancers in Sitka do their performances at their studio along Smith Street.

It's a unique cultural experience that you shouldn't miss if you're eager to learn about the diverse heritage of the locals.

These dancers have been performing for almost 50 years already, showcasing Alaskan history through folk dance and song performances.

They have scheduled shows throughout summer, and they even perform internationally.

Historically, the group comprises locals in Sitka, mostly women, who aimed to continue the folk tradition of dancing and singing to preserve their Russian heritage in Alaska.

Be One with Nature at the Herring Cove Trail

Snow capped mountain at Herring Cove Trail
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One of Sitka's most popular trails is the Herring Cove Trail.

It covers 5.8-kilometers of a well-marked and moderately forested trail.

The trail is not that hard to traverse for beginners, but it takes around two hours back and forth to complete the loop.

Trees fallen over a creek at Herring Cove Trail
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Upon reaching Beaver Lake, you'll be rewarded with scenic views of the mountains and vistas.

Aside from hiking, you can also fish at Beaver Lake and picnic in the area.

If you're looking for a top-notch outdoor activity in Sitka without traveling outside the city, Herring Cove is your perfect destination.

Waterfront view of Herring Cove Trail
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Go Whale Watching or Fishing Charters Out in the Sea with Seamarine LLC

Whale watching and fishing charters along the coast of the Pacific are the most popular activities not to miss during your visit to Sitka.

Alaska is rich in wildlife both on land and sea, so seize the chance to go out and discover it by booking a whale watching tour or fishing charter.

Get in touch with Seamarine LLC of captain Patrick Davis to book your marine and coastal wildlife tours, salmon fishing charters, and even coastal water transportation.

Seamarine LLC takes you to the best spots of Sitka Sound to watch orcas and other types of whales, while their fishing charters take you to the best fishing spots for Alaskan salmons and more.

They also have a boat tour to St. Lazaria Island, 20 miles southeast of the city.

There, you'll get a closer look at eagles, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and other animals inhabiting the island.

To book one of Seamarine LLC's tours, visit their official website.

Final Thoughts

Now you're through reading this post; it's safe to assume that you're more informed why Sitka is a great destination in Alaska.

This Alaskan City has countless amazing things to offer, whether you're a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, a nature lover, or a casual tourist.

Alaska is more than just 'the last frontier.'

It also has a rich history and unique heritage that you'll find in Sitka.