Despite its small size, there are unique and exciting things to do in Sitka for all kinds of travelers. Peer up at towering totems along the Totem Trail in Sitka National Historic Park.
Discover the rich indigenous history of the Tlingits, and journey through the lush, alpine Alaskan forests of Tongass National Park. Cast a fishing reel into the Sitka Sound and wait patiently for fresh salmon to take the bait.
After a day of hiking or touring, spend a while in Sitka’s quaint downtown, where you’ll find galleries, cafes, and eateries alongside quintessential Alaskan shops. You’ll fall in love with this laid-back land of simple pleasures. Here are some of the best things to do in Sitka.
1: Trek Through Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States, spanning over 500 miles of lush cedars and conifers, dense rainforests, and magnificent glaciers. More than merely a temperate rainforest, Tongass National Park includes streams for swimming salmon, picturesque fjords, and sweeping bays.
Put on your sturdiest hiking boots and head out on the trek of a lifetime. Look for birds nesting in the tall spruce trees. Keep your eyes peeled for Alaska’s abundant wildlife like black bears, mountain goats, and bald eagles.
There are several popular hikes in the area for beginner and expert hikers alike. Explore the Indian River Trail for a longer, more intermediate hike, which spans over eight miles. Once you get to the base of Sisters Mountain at around four miles in, start making your way back. In the late summer in Alaska, colorful salmon crowd and jump upstream along the river.
Some of the best hiking in Sitka is at Silver Bay. Trek through the rainforest until you get to the coastline and look out for whales at the overlook from Whale Park.
For a relaxed hike fit for all skill levels, try Mosquito Cove Trail in Tongass National Forest for an easy 1.25-mile loop along the beautiful Alaskan coastline. You’ll enjoy the hemlock forests and tall cedars as you explore.
2: Go Fishing in Sitka Sound
Aside from being one of the most beautiful places in Alaska, Sitka Sound has been a fishing paradise since the days of the Tlingits, who were one of the first groups to inhabit the area. Famous around the world for its sportfishing, Sitka Sound is also home to several varieties of Alaskan salmon and other species like halibut and rockfish.
Set sail along Sitka Sound on an intimate fishing charter, and learn the tricks of a great catch from a professional fishing captain. Feel the thrill of the chase while surrounded by fresh evergreens and towering peaks in the near distance. Aside from being one of the best places to fish in Alaska, whale sightings are common here, as are harbor seals, sea otters, and even sea lions.
3: Dive Into History at Sitka National Historical Park
Experience thousands of years of Southeast Alaskan culture and history at the Sitka National Historic Park. Take a hike on the mile-long Totem Trail to see nearly 20 totems dotting the way. Head to the cultural center at the park to watch artists demonstrate how these stunning totems are carved and painted.
Discover the history of the Battle of 1804 being the Tlingits and Russian forces, which inspired the park’s creation. All 59 acres share the rich traditions and stories of Sitka.
4: Get Up Close to Native Alaskan Wildlife
Animals lovers won’t want to miss an opportunity to see brown bears in their natural habitat and learn from knowledgeable naturalists against the backdrop of Tongass National Forest. Fortress of the Bear leads the way in the conservation and rehabilitation of Southeast Alaska’s bears, saving orphaned or injured brown bear cubs and helping them go on to live healthy adult lives.
Get up close to the bears, learn the stories of why these creatures thrive near the Sitka Sound, and discover the challenges that bear populations face, even in regions like Alaska where they’re a protected and valuable part of the local ecosystem.
Another must-see experience for wildlife enthusiasts is the Alaska Raptor Center, which rehabilitates injured birds of prey and releases them back into the wild. There’s even a dedicated habitat to flightless birds who can’t return to their original habitat, called “Raptors in Residence.” Close to Tongass National Park and the Indian River, birdwatchers can glimpse bald eagles, hawks, snowy and pygmy owls, and more.
5: Tour St. Michael’s Cathedral
Russia once claimed Sitka as an outpost and constructed the town’s religious center, the first Russian Orthodox church in North America. On a journey through Sitka’s top attractions, St. Michael’s Cathedral ranks high on the list for its storied history and its significance to locals.
Painted a greyish blue with white-framed windows, you wouldn’t think St. Michael’s is a church at first—that is, until you spot its dark turquoise domes and the belltower adorned with a classic Greek cross.
When a fire ravaged the church in the 1960s, Sitka residents banded together to save its artifacts in remembrance of the cathedral’s impact on the community. By 1962, St. Michael’s was deemed a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
Today, a tour of the reconstructed St. Michael’s offers a glimpse of Sitka history and Russian influence that helped shape the town.
6: See Sitka via Kayak
There’s no shortage of things to do in Sitka on land, but why not take things to the water? Water sports like kayaking will open your eyes to the majesty and scale of Sitka’s waters. Admire the towering spruce trees and keep a lookout for harbor seals playing in the water and brown bears off in the distant forest.
Grab a paddle and set off in a kayak on the way to secluded coves, across sweeping seas, and along breathtaking mountainscapes in Sitka Sound and the Indian River. Or, canoe into Crescent Bay, just beyond the rows of boats bobbing in Crescent Harbor.
7: Explore Mount Edgecumbe Volcano
Mount Edgecumbe sits on the southern end of the rugged Kruzof Island, just west of Sitka. Board an ocean raft on a high-speed jaunt to Kruzof Island, where jagged rocks and powerful currents make the ride an adrenaline-pumping adventure. Watch for puffins and other birds as your captain masterfully guides you through secluded volcanic caves.
8: Spot Whales From Dry Land
As one of the best places for whale watching in Alaska, you could be lucky enough to spot humpback whales without even setting foot on a boat. Whale Park, about six miles south of downtown, has a coastal boardwalk from which whales are often seen in the spring and fall months.
There are life-sized whale sculptures and interpretive sign boards, as well as free telescopes for viewing any whale activity.
Listen to the song of passing whales with the hydrophone in the shelter. Even if whales aren’t visible, you can often hear their haunting song, as sound travels so effectively underwater. You could spot harbor seals and Steller’s sea lions from here, too.
9: Drive a 4×4 Through the Wilderness
Feel the thrill of racing through the temperate rainforest on a 4×4 off-road vehicle. Kruzof Island, reached by boat from Sitka, is the perfect place to embark on this exciting adventure.
A guide will lead the way as you drive along green-shaded trails through Tongass National Forest, admiring vast, old-growth spruce and hemlock.
You could spot bears and shy black-tail deer at Iris Meadows Estuary. When you stop the 4×4 for a moment, take time to listen to the sounds of the beautiful forest and appreciate the sensation of being completely immersed in nature.
10: Take a Seaplane Flight
Seaplanes can take off and land from the water near Sitka, offering a thrilling adventure as you fly high over sea stacks, gently swaying kelp beds, Alaskan beaches, and forest. You could swoop low enough to spot sea otters rafted up in family groups and the blow of a whale.
On a clear day, you’ll also have sweeping views of conical Mt. Edgecumbe, as well as spectacular glaciers and sparkling blue mountain lakes.
11: Play a Round of Golf
Golf seems an unlikely activity in Alaska, but golfers can get their fix at Sea Mountain Golf Course & Driving Range, which claims to be the toughest nine holes in Alaska.
The fairways overlook Sitka Sound and Mt. Edgecumbe, with distracting views of Harbor Mountain and a backdrop of dense forest. There’s a good chance of spotting wildlife on the course, too. The course has a fully equipped pro shop, so you can rent everything you need.r
12: Dine in a Sustainable Restaurant
Beak Restaurant, located on Lincoln Street, tries to be sustainable in every way. Local people are employed in year-round jobs and paid a living wage, with a strict “no tipping” policy, making a meal at Beak one of the best things to do in Sitka if you have a social conscience.
All the food is locally sourced, with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Try dishes like creamy salmon chowder, smoked salmon nachos, poke bowls, rockfish tacos, and reindeer sausages.
13: See a Tlingit Native Dance
The traditional dances of the Tlingit, who have lived around the beautiful Alaskan town of Sitka for millennia, are powerful and evocative.
You can have a taste of this ancient art form at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Kahidi Community House, a modern traditional Tlingit clan house. Experience the rhythmic drumming, hypnotic chanting, striking costumes, and the aroma of burning cedar.
Performances last 30 minutes and include storytelling as well as traditional songs. Storytelling among the Tlingit is passed through the generations as an oral tradition. There are men’s and women’s dances, and a chance to participate, too.
14: Spot Birds on St. Lazaria Island
Some 20 miles from Sitka, 65-acre Saint Lazaria is a volcanic island surrounded by steep drop-offs, making it ideal for bird-watching from a boat that can get close to the cliffs.
The island is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and is home to over half a million breeding seabirds. You’ll see common and thick-billed murres on the cliffs, and rhinoceros auklets, fork-tailed, and Leach’s storm petrels in burrows.
Look out for cormorants and tufted puffins, too. Raptors including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, which wheel high above the island.
15: Hike & Bike Thimbleberry Trail
See a different side of Sitka on a two-hour hike or 30-minute cycle ride through the temperate rainforest. If you’re on foot, the Community RIDE bus will take you to the trailhead.
You’ll follow the trail through hemlock and spruce forest to Thimbleberry Lake, where you could spot locals fishing for trout. Keep an eye out for bears as they are often spotted around here, feeding on summer berries.
Follow the trail onwards past Thimbleberry Lake over a few hilly sections to the smaller Heart Lake, where you may be tempted to swim on a warm day. There’s a swimming platform for this very purpose. By July and August, the water should be pleasant, if a little bracing for those used to a warmer climate.
16: Learn About Ecosystems
Alaska’s different ecosystems are fascinating to discover, and this easy hike on the Forest and Muskeg Trail takes you through temperate rainforest on gravel pathways and on boardwalks over muskeg, also known as peat bog. Pick up a self-guided brochure that will point out some of the flora and fauna here.
You can start your walk from Old Sitka State Park, the area where the first Europeans encountered the Tlingit, back when sea otter pelts were the main trading commodity in Alaska.
As well as the dappled shade of hemlock and spruce, you’ll cross the muskeg meadows, which buzz with dragonflies flitting between the ponds and dotted with dainty wildflowers.
17: Kayak in Siginaka Islands
Sitka Sound is a beautiful spot for kayaking in Alaska, where you’ll be surrounded by wildlife and magnificent views. One of the best places to take to the water is the pristine Siginaka Islands, a short catamaran ride from Sitka.
As you paddle past the forested shoreline and rock-strewn beaches, your guide will point out the marine life. Look out for colorful sea stars, sea urchins, and scuttling crabs around the water’s edge.
You could spot bald eagles perched watchfully in the trees, as well as sea lions and harbor seals bobbing in the water or hauled out on the rocks. Sea otters and porpoises are also common here.
The Siginaka Islands are a wonderfully peaceful place to explore. On a clear day, you’ll have views of Mt. Edgecumbe looming on the horizon.
18: Learn About History at Baranof Castle State Historic Site
Delve into Sitka’s colorful history at Baranof Castle State Historic Site, known locally as Castle Hill, located in the downtown area.
The Tlingit were the first to build a fortification on this strategically important point. Alexander Baranov arrived in Sitka in 1795 to establish a trading post in the area.
His original post a few miles away was destroyed by the Tlingit in 1802, but after the six-day Battle of Sitka in 1804, the tribes were defeated and their houses destroyed. Castle Hill was occupied by the Russians until 1867. During this time, it served as the headquarters of the Russian American Company.
Castle Hill was the site of the ceremony in 1867 during which Alaska was handed over to the United States, with a 49-star flag being raised for the first time. The Russians had built a brick building on the hill, called the Governor’s House, which the U.S. army took over, although it burned down in 1894.
There’s not a lot in the way of buildings to see at Castle Hill now, but once you’ve hiked up the trail to the top, pause to think of the history that’s been made here. You’ll see a stone parapet, interpretive signboards, and a small cannon. The site has been on the National Register of Historical Places since 1966.
19: Study Salmon at Sitka Sound Science Center
Sitka Sound Science Center is an educational facility for local students but is also open to the public, with a salmon hatchery and aquarium to explore.
The hatchery rears three million pink salmon, three million chum, and 250,000 coho every year. You can join a Hatchery 101 session to learn about these incredible fish and their journey from egg to ocean and back to the rivers of Alaska.
The Molly O. Ahlgren Aquarium showcases species that have been collected from the waters around Sitka, from eels to sea urchins and anemones. Kids can explore closer in the touch tanks, or sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour that teaches you about the work involved in running an aquarium.
20: Feast at a Seafood Buffet
No visit to Alaska is complete without sampling the incredible seafood. A day at wooded Fin Island combined with a scenic catamaran is a wonderful chance to look for wildlife—and feast on local specialties.
You’ll depart Sitka and cruise slowly past forested shorelines on the lookout for brown bears, sea otters, and whales once you’re at sea.
At Fin Island Lodge, a spread of Alaskan crab, wild Alaska salmon grilled over alderwood, and prime rib will be waiting, as well as a warming fire on the beach.
21: Visit Indian River Waterfall
Follow a moderate hiking trail with a scramble at the end along the blue Indian River to a cascading waterfall. This is a busy salmon river, so in summer you’ll see thousands of fish forcing their way upstream.
Salmon mean opportunistic bears, so keep a lookout for these majestic creatures. You could also spot deer, as well as many species of birds in Alaska.
The trail follows mixed terrain, from second-growth forest of Sitka spruce, hemlock, and cedar, as well as muskeg. The final stretch to the base of the falls is more challenging, but it’s worth the effort to see the river cascading 70 feet over the rocks. You can reach the trailhead via the Community RIDE bus from Sitka.
22: Explore on Two Wheels
Sitka is one of the best places in Alaska to explore by bicycle; it was the state’s first official Bike-Friendly Community and is crisscrossed and encircled by cycle trails.
There are safe bike lanes and plenty of storage racks, and multiple bike rental facilities. You can choose an e-bike, too, if you need a little extra help.
Cycling really is one of the best things to do in Sitka if you love the outdoors. As well as the paved roads, there are off-road trails and mountain bike paths. If you’re traveling as a family, a good trail to start with is the seven-mile ride from Sitka National Historical Park to the bridge at Sawmill Creek. The views are stupendous, and you could enjoy sightings of whales.
If you’re more ambitious and a keen mountain biker, the 907 Single Track Trail takes you on a loop through the forest, with carefully constructed banked turns to keep a lid on speed.
23: See the Russian Bishop’s House
If you’re interested in Sitka’s time under the Russians, visit this old house, built in 1842 and refurbished by the National Park Service over a 16-year period.
The house is one of just four Russian period buildings still standing in North America. It was the home of Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, a popular local figure and the first Bishop of Alaska.
Veniaminov’s legacy was to translate scriptures into native languages to spread the word to the local population. The influence of the Russian Orthodox faith lives on in Alaska, and there are plenty of followers of the church today.
Inside the house, you can admire the exhibits in the first-floor museum, which take you back to the mid-19th century and provide a fascinating glimpse into American history. You’ll also see a tiny chapel housing valuable icons brought by Bishop Innocent from Russia.
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