19 Awesome Things to Do in Sitka, Alaska

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Sitka, Alaska, located on the western shore of Baranof Island, offers a mix of activities for an authentic Alaskan experience. It's the oldest non-native settlement in Alaska.

Formerly known as New Archangel, Sitka has a rich history and beautiful natural surroundings. The city is known for its laid-back Alaskan vibe and vibrant art scene, including the nationally recognized Fine Arts Camp.

This post explores 19 top activities in Sitka, from outdoor adventures to historical explorations.

Whether you're interested in wildlife, outdoor activities, seafood, or learning about the area's history, this guide provides all you need for a memorable visit to Sitka.

Exploring Sitka's Unique Appeal

Sitka stands out for its distinctive history, culture, and natural splendor blend. Nestled on Baranof Island's western shore, this city invites exploration into Alaska's past and present.

Once known as New Archangel, the Russian Empire's capital in Alaska, Sitka is steeped in a rich history that continues to shape its identity today.

The city's climate is relatively stable, with temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, albeit with significant rainfall — nearly 90 inches annually. This contributes to the lush landscapes and vibrant natural beauty that define the area.

The artistic spirit thrives in Sitka, bolstered by events like the nationally acclaimed Fine Arts Camp, drawing creative talents from across the globe. Visitors are immersed in a rustic, laid-back atmosphere that epitomizes the Alaskan lifestyle.

The following sections will guide you through 19 exceptional activities in Sitka, from outdoor adventures to deep dives into the region's storied past.

19 Things To Do In Sitka, Alaska

This list highlights some of the main attractions and a few of the more "off the beaten path" activities. You will find a list of excellent hiking trails, museums, galleries, and our picks for the best excursions.

Outdoor Activities and Excursions

#1. Fortress of the Bear

For those eager to witness Alaska's majestic bears, Fortress of the Bear offers an unforgettable encounter. Established in 2007, this sanctuary is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned or injured bears.

Visitors get to see these magnificent creatures up close and participate in an educational journey that sheds light on the importance of conservation.

Brown bear relaxing at fortress of the bear, a rescue center.

Your visit and admission fees directly support the care and maintenance of the bears and the facility.

Learn more about the bears in residence here.

#2. Sitka National Historic Park and Totem Park

Sitka Nat. Historical Park
Sitka National Historical Park | Photo by John Bromley

This national park was created to preserve the site where the indigenous Alaskans from the Tlingit tribe battled with the invading Russian traders.

In addition to the Russian Bishop's house and the collection of 1167 glass plate negatives, the park also contains a scenic trail that winds through the towering spruce trees and totem poles.

Get all the park details here.

#3. Alaska Raptor Center

The Raptor Center includes 17 acres of land and facilities caring for 100-200 birds yearly. They focus on healing injured bald eagles, but they care for any bird in need.

A visit to the center includes up-close encounters with these large birds of prey, and plenty of birds reside on any given day. The area also consists of a peaceful walking trail and various educational discussions.

Usa, Alaska. This tiny saw-whet owl is a permanent resident of the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka.

You can learn more about the Alaska Raptor Center here.

#4. Magoun Islands State Marine Park

Those seeking a camping excursion from Sitka may find what they want at Magoun Islands State Marine Park. This 1,135-acre park is undeveloped and does not contain any visitor center or facilities.

Coastal landscape in Magoun Islands State Marine Park Sitka, Alaska

It is located about 12 miles to the northwest of Sitka, and it is accessible via boat. There are sheltered bays to explore and hunting and fishing opportunities.

You can learn more about the park here.

#5. Sealion Cove State Marine Park

Even more remote than the Magoun Islands Park, Sealion Cove is roughly 25 miles northwest of Sitka. Access to the park requires a boat to Kalinin Bay and a 3.5-mile trail through the forest.

Those daring to journey are rewarded with a mile of secluded sand beach along the Pacific. This is a very remote location, and the area has no facilities.

Learn more about Sealion Cove State Marine Park here.

#6. Tongass National Forest

The Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States, covering nearly all of southeastern Alaska. It covers a massive 16.7 million acres in the state, and you can visit a piece of it while vacationing in Sitka.

It is described as "one of the last remaining intact temperate rainforests in the world." It mainly comprises western red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees.

It is also home to five different salmon species, bald eagles, bears, and black-tailed deer. You can find a map of various recreational areas in the Tongass forest here.

#7. Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve

Take an excursion from Sitka through the inside passage to visit Glacier Bay. This 3.3 million-acre park is a World Heritage Site located west of Juneau. Most people travel on cruise ships, but private tours are also available.

The scenic view of mountainous steep shore with reflections in Glacier Bay national park (Alaska).

You can also fly into Gustavus during the summer months. Activities available in the park include hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing, and mountaineering. A visit to the park is also a great way to come face to face with sea lions.

Learn more about visiting Glacier Bay here.

#8. Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge

This island is about 20 miles west of Sitka and is home to a nesting bird colony. The island is about 60 acres, full of puffins, cormorants, peregrine falcons, and murres, which flock to the island from May to September.

Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata), Alaska, USA

There are thousands of birds in residence during the warmer months. Getting to the island requires guided boat service, but the island can be inaccessible on days with inclement weather.

You can find more information here.

#9. Whale Park

This quaint park was dedicated in 1995, and it is a good spot for doing some whale watching if you visit in either the early spring or the late fall.

It is about six miles outside of the downtown area. There is a sheltered picnic area, and the scopes are free. Some stairs will take you down to the shore for a closer look at the waves.

humpback tail fin alaska

You can find more information about Whale Park here.

Sitka Alaska Hiking Trails

#10. Harbour Mountain Trail

This challenging hike can even be considered hazardous, depending on the weather. A roundtrip hike will be just under 5 miles, with an elevation gain of 1000 feet.

The view of Sitka town from Gavan Hill (Alaska).

It is recommended that hiking be done from mid-spring through the fall, although some people like snowshoeing in the winter months. It is essential to be aware that there are avalanche areas.

Learn more about the Harbour Mountain Trail here.

#11. Herring Cove Trail

This trail is suited for families or those who are not ready for more strenuous hikes. It is a popular trail nearly six miles long if you hike to the Blue Lake Campground and back.

It is recommended for hiking during the warmer months of the year. The hike will take you past waterfalls and through old-growth trees.

Beautiful Sitka, Alaska Herring Cove Trail

Learn more about the Herring Cove Trail here.

#12. Heart Lake Trail

This is considered an easy hike in the Sitka area, and the trail is accessible pretty much all year round, although the access road can be closed for a portion of the winter months.

The hike to Heart Lake and back is roughly two miles, and some people enjoy taking bikes on the path. It is important to remember that bears are often found in this area when the berries are ripe.

Heart Lake trail marker with snow-capped Bear Mountain in background near Sitka, Alaska on summer day

Residents use Heart Lake as a swimming hole in the summer months.

Learn more about Heart Lake Trail here.

#13. Sitka Cross Trail

This trail is a favorite all year long. In the warmer months, people use it for biking and hiking, and in the winter months for cross-country skiing.

It is a wide trail connecting neighborhoods and parks around the city, nearly 8 miles. A few sections of the trail could be considered moderate, but it is mostly easy, with only 15% grades in a few sections.

Indian River from the footbridge in the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center Woodland, Sitka, Alaska, USA

Learn more about the Sitka Cross Trail here.

#14. Starrigavan Recreation Area

The Starrigavan Recreation Area can be found within the Tongass National Forest, and it includes a camping area, picnic sites, and three hiking trails.

USA, Alaska, Starrigavan Estuary. Panoramic of forest and meadow landscape.

The trails include the quarter-mile Estuary Life Trail, the 3/4-mile Forest and Muskeg Trail, and the 1.5-mile Mosquito Cove Trail. All the trails have their merits and are full of flora to admire.

Be on the lookout in spring because brown bears frequent the area.

Learn more about the Starrigavan Recreation Area here.

Sitka, Alaska Museums

#15. Sheldon Jackson Museum

For those interested in Native Alaskan history, the Sheldon Jackson Museum is a good visit. There are a lot of artifacts, art, and history to be found here, and the museum employees are very knowledgeable about the Tlingit culture.

Sitka Historical, Alaska

The collections are organized and displayed with excellent descriptions, and the building is deceptively more extensive than it appears.

Get all the museum details here.

#16. Sitka Sound Science Center

Sitka Sound Science Center
Sitka Sound Science Center Reopening | Photo by James Brook

The science center has a few separate parts to explore. The aquarium section lets you touch various sea creatures in the tidal pools. There are whale bones to study, and you can look at several different types of fish.

There is also the hatchery outside, which produces millions of salmon per year, and you can learn about how hatcheries work and the commercial fishing industry in Alaska.

There is also a gift shop where you can pick up various sea creature toys or an Alaskan-themed t-shirt.

Inside the gift shop is a food cart called Ludvig's Chowder Cart, an off-shoot of Ludvig's Bistro, one of Sitka's finest restaurants. The seafood chowder is a favorite among visitors and residents.

Explore all the Science Center has to offer here.

#17. Island Artists Gallery

A cooperative of local artists owns this gallery. It offers many pieces, including handmade jewelry, paintings, pen and ink designs, watercolors, hand-turned wooden bowls, clay pots, and sculptural masks.

You can also find scenic photographs and hand-painted Tlingit drums. The collection changes often, and hundreds of items are on display.

Learn more about the gallery and the artists here.

#18. Sitka History Museum

The Sitka Historical Society operates the museum, and it opened in July of 2018. The collections include Russian trade beads, mining tools from the early 1900s, uniforms from WWII, and Alaskan newspapers from the 1800s.

There are over 8,000 artifacts, around 25k photographs, and 100k archival documents dating back to 1740.

Learn more about this museum here.

#19. Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall

This historic landmark was the original meeting hall of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, which was founded to fight discrimination against Alaskan Natives.

The brotherhood was developed in 1912 to fight bans that kept Tlingit people from being allowed to eat in restaurants or watch films in movie theaters. The building is open to the public and is used for community activities.

You can dive into the history of this building here.

Evening Things To Do In Sitka, Alaska

Many touristy options will be closed in the evenings because the cruise ship crowd has already come and gone. For those spending an evening in Sitka, you will have a chance to hang out with the locals.

You should head to dinner at Ludvig's Chowder Cart in the Sitka Sound Science Center if you missed your chance to grab a bite at Ludvig's Bistro. The food is not exactly budget-friendly, but it is among the best in town.

For those visiting Sitka during the summer, you can do a lot in the evening because the sun won't set until 9:30 or 10 pm. That means you can easily hike one of the shorter trails after dinner.

Romantic Things To Do In Sitka, Alaska

If you travel to Sitka as a couple, you will probably want to find a few date night activities to round out your trip. A meal at the Sitka Hotel is a good choice.

This spot has a classic Alaskan vibe that you will enjoy, and the menu includes items like Wild Game Medallions, Salmon Filet, and Duck Pasta.

You can also have a cozy rainy afternoon in the Backdoor Cafe's corner. This eclectic coffee shop is located through the backdoor of a bookshop and is a Sitka staple.

You could also take a romantic stroll hand in hand through the trails at Totem Park or watch the sunset from the docks of the harbor.

Sitka: Rich in History and Alaskan Beauty

Alaska truly is the "Last Frontier," and there isn't a spot you can visit lacking in rugged beauty. Sitka is no exception.

Any way you turn, you are greeted with snow-capped mountains; every glimpse is a postcard. Yet, the beauty isn't the only thing this thriving Alaskan port offers. It is a community rich in history that deserves plenty of exploration.

19 Awesome Things to do in Sitka, Alaska

19 Awesome Things to do in Sitka, Alaska

19 Awesome Things to do in Sitka, Alaska

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