If you have a trip to Sitka on the horizon, you are probably wondering what kinds of things this Alaskan city has to offer. While it is a relatively small place, there is plenty of fun and excitement to be found that will give you a true Alaskan experience.
Why You Should Visit Sitka, Alaska
There are many reasons to visit Sitka, Alaska including its rich history and natural beauty. Visitors to this small city located on the western shore of Baranof Island will find themselves in the oldest non-native settlement in Alaska. Sitka used to be the Russian capital in the state, but back then it was called New Archangel.
Sitka doesn't get as much fluctuation in the weather as some of the other parts of the state, and temperatures generally stay somewhere between 40 and 60 degrees. The city sees a lot of precipitation getting close to 90 inches of rain or snow per year.
Visitors can expect the typical rustic, laid-back Alaskan vibe, and the city has a very vibrant art scene. In fact, the annual Fine Arts Camp that takes place in Sitka each summer is nationally recognized and attracts aspiring artists from all over the world.
In this post, we will explore 19 of the best things to do in and around Sitka. So whether you are visiting the island to view the wildlife and explore the outdoors, or you are wishing to learn more about the history of the area, you will find all the information you need to create a killer itinerary right here.
19 Things to do in Sitka, Alaska
This list highlights some of the main attractions as well as a few of the more "off the beaten path" type of activities. You will find a list of excellent hiking trails, museums, and galleries, as well as our picks for the best excursions.
Outdoor Activities and Excursions
Fortress of the Bear
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If you absolutely want to see a few bears on your trip to Alaska, Fortress of the bear is a good excursion. This rescue center has been in operation since 2007, and it works tirelessly to rehabilitate sick or orphaned bears. In addition to rehabbing the bears, they also offer an educational experience for visitors, and all admission fees go to caring for the facility and bears in residence.
Location: 4639 Sawmill Creek Road Hours: Open seasonally May 1- Sept 20 from 9 am-5 pm daily Admission: Adults $15, Kids $5
Learn more about the bears in residence here.
Sitka National Historic Park and Totem Park
This national park was created in order 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 very scenic trail that winds through the towering spruce trees and totem poles.
Location: Lincoln Street Hours: Vary by section Admission: No Entrance Fee
Get all the park details here.
Alaska Raptor Center
The Raptor Center includes 17 acres of land and facilities that care for 100-200 birds each year. They focus on healing injured bald eagles, but they care for any type of bird that is in need. A visit to the center includes up-close encounters with these large birds of prey, and there are plenty of birds in residence on any given day. The area also includes a peaceful walking trail and various educational discussions.
Location: Sawmill Creek Road Hours: Hours and activities vary by season Admission: Adults $13, Kids $6
You can learn more about the Alaska Raptor Center here.
Magoun Islands State Marine Park
Those seeking a camping excursion from Sitka may find what they are looking for at Magoun Islands State Marine Park. This 1,135-acre park is undeveloped, and it does not contain any type of visitor center or facilities. It is located about 12 miles to the northwest of Sitka, and it is accessible via boat. There are sheltered bays to explore, and there are hunting and fishing opportunities.
Location: Near Krestof Sound Hours: No Hours listed Admission: No Entrance Fee
You can learn more about the park here.
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 taking a boat to Kalinin Bay and then a 3.5-mile trail through the forest. Those daring enough to make the journey are rewarded with a mile of secluded sand beach along the Pacific. This is a very remote location, and there are no facilities in the area.
Location: Near Kallinin Bay Hours: No Hours listed Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about Sealion Cove State Marine Park here.
Tongass National Forest
The Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States, and it covers 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 is mostly made up of 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.
Location: Off of highway Veh is the Starrigavan Valley Mainline Trail Hours: No Hours listed Admission: No Entrance Fee
You can find a map of various recreational areas in the Tongass forest here.
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 that is located west of Juneau. Most of the people that travel through do so on cruise ships, but there are also private tours available. 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.
Location: West of Juneau near Gustavus Hours: Open All Year, Winter services are limited Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the visiting Glacier Bay here.
Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge
This island is located about 20 miles west of Sitka, and it is home to a nesting bird colony. The island is about 60-acres, and it is full of puffins, cormorant, peregrine falcons, and murres which flock to the island from May to September. 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.
Location: 10 miles west of Sitka Hours: Open Seasonally Admission: Vary by tour service
You can find a list of companies offering island tours on Trip Advisor.
This quaint park was dedicated in 1995, and it is a good spot for doing some whale watching if you are visiting 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. There are stairs that will take you down to the shore for a closer look at the waves.
Location: 2500 Sawmill Creek Rd Hours: Open 24/7 Admission: No Entrance Fee
You can find more information about Whale Park here.
Sitka Alaska Hiking Trails
Harbour Mountain Trail
This is a difficult hike that can even be considered hazardous depending on the weather. A roundtrip hike will be just under 5 miles, and there is an elevation gain of 1000 feet. It is recommended that hiking be done from mid-spring through the fall, although some people do like to go snowshoeing in the winter months. It is important to be aware that there are avalanche areas.
Location: The trailhead is found off of Harbor Mountain Road Hours: Access road is closed to vehicles in early winter Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the Harbour Mountain Trail here.
Herring Cove Trail
This trail is suited for families or those that are not ready for more strenuous hikes. It is a popular trail that is nearly six miles long if you hike all the way 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.
Location: The trailhead is found at the end of Sawmill Creek Road Hours: No listed hours, but area may be treacherous during winter months Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the Herring Cove Trail here.
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. Residents use Heart Lake as a swimming hole in the summer months.
Location: Trailhead is found off of Blue Lake Road. Hours: No listed hours Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about Heart Lake Trail here.
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 that connects neighborhoods and parks around the city, and it is nearly 8 miles in total. There are a few sections of trail that could be considered moderate, but it is mostly easy with only 15% grades in a few sections.
Location: Trail can be reached from various locations including Baranof Street and Sitka High School Hours: No Hours listed Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the Sitka Cross Trail here.
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. 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 of the trails have their merits full of lots of flora to admire. Be on the lookout in the spring months because brown bears are known to frequent the area.
Location: Halibut Point Road Hours: No Hours listed Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the Starrigavan Recreation Area here.
Sitka, Alaska Museums
Sheldon Jackson Museum
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For those interested in Native Alaskan history, the Sheldon Jackson Museum is a good visit. There is a lot of artifacts, art, and history to be found here, and the museum employees are very knowledgeable about the Tlingit culture. The collections are organized and displayed with excellent descriptions, and the building is deceptively larger than it appears.
Location: 104 College Drive Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 AM - 4 PM Admission: Adults $5, Kids are Free
Get all the museum details here.
Sitka Sound Science Center
The science center has a few separate parts to explore. There is the aquarium section which allows you to touch various sea creatures in the tidal pools. There are whale bones to study, and you can get a look at several different types of fish. There is also the hatchery outside which produces millions of salmon per year, and you can get educated on 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 which is an off-shoot of Ludvig's Bistro one of Sitka's finest restaurants. The seafood chowder is favorite among visitors and residents.
Locations: 834 Lincoln Street Hours: Seasonal Admission: Adults $7, Kids $5
Explore all the Science Center has to offer here.
Island Artists Gallery
This gallery is owned by a cooperative of local artists and offers a wide array of 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 there are generally hundreds of items on display.
Location:205 B Lincoln Street Hours: Hours vary by season Admission: No Entrance Fee
Learn more about the gallery and the artists here.
Sitka History Museum
The museum is operated by the Sitka Historical Society, and it opened in July of 2018. The collections include things like Russian trade beads, mining tools from the early 1900s, WWII era uniforms, and Alaskan newspapers from the 1800s. There are over 8,000 artifacts in total, and there are also around 25k photographs and 100k archival documents dating back to 1740.
Location: 220 Harbor Drive Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM Admission: No Entrance Fee listed
Learn more about this museum here.
Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall
This historic landmark was the original meeting hall of the Alaska Native brotherhood which was founded in order to fight discrimination against Alaskan Natives. The brotherhood was developed in 1912 in an effort 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.
Location: 223 Katlian Street Hours: Varies Admission: No Entrance Fee listed
You can dive into the history of this building here.
Best things to do in Sitka, Alaska at night
A lot of the touristy options are going to be closed in the evenings because the cruise ship crowd has already come and gone. For those that are spending an evening the Sitka, you will have a chance to hang out with the locals. If you missed your chance to grab a bite at Ludvig's Chowder Cart in the Sitka Sound Science center, then you should head to dinner at Ludvig's Bistro. The food is not exactly budget-friendly, but it is among the best you will find in town.
Another evening option is a visit to Baranof Island Brewing Company's taproom which is open until 8 pm. Even if you don't imbibe, they have their own root beer which is generally a crowd favorite. For those visiting Sitka during the summer months, you can really do a lot in the evening hours because the sun won't set until 9:30 or 10 pm. So, that means you can easily hike one of the shorter trails after dinner.
Romantic Things to do in Sitka, Alaska
If you are traveling to Sitka as a couple, then 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 spend a rainy afternoon getting cozy in the corner of the Backdoor Cafe. This eclectic coffee shop is located through the backdoor of a bookshop, and it 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 that is lacking in rugged beauty. Sitka is no exception. Any way you turn you are greeted with snow-capped mountains, it's like every glimpse is a postcard. Yet, the beauty isn't the only thing this thriving Alaskan port has to offer. It is a community rich in history that deserves plenty of exploration.