Unalaska Historic Sites

The small island of Unalaska exudes history – both very old and more recent. The fascinating story of this place goes back more than 9,000 years, and you can see it illustrated in many spots around the island. Ancient Unangan artifacts housed at the Museum of the Aleutians give insight into the culture and history of the Native people. The Church of the Holy Ascension is a striking landmark offering proof of the influence Russians had on religious life here. And remnants of military buildings and bunkers give silent testimony to the strategic importance Unalaska had during World War II.

Most visitors to Unalaska can fit in a visit to both the Aleutian World War II Visitor’s Center and the Museum of the Aleutians in half a day (they are a little over a mile apart). If time affords, you can book a custom land tour with a local historian to see areas that interest you most. Or rent a car and follow the National Park Service driving guide, which highlights different World War II sites around the island. A stroll on Bayview Avenue between the Russian Orthodox Church/Bishop’s House and the Memorial Cemetery (about half a mile) also offers plenty to see.

As you enjoy the historic sites of Unalaska, keep in mind that it’s illegal to collect souvenirs. This includes World War II artifacts (shell casings, nails), archeological finds (stone tools) and natural items (ivory, eagle feathers, bones).

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Historic Park or Site

World War II buffs will want to check out remain­ing World War II defen­sive for­ti­fi­ca­tions like ele­phant-steel mag­a­zines and the base-end sta­tion that over­look Sum­mer Bay and Humpy Cove.

Cap­tain James Cook saw much of Alaska’s coast­line dur­ing his trou­bled third voy­age in search of a North­west Pas­sage. Prince William Sound, Prince of Wales Island, Nor­ton Sound, and Bris­tol Bay are just some of the places he named dur­ing his trav­els. Eng­lish Bay, on the east­ern side of Unalas­ka Island, ref­er­ences the two land­ings Cook and crew made there in 1778 (just months before his death in the Hawai­ian Islands).

Memo­r­i­al Park was built in 1992 in hon­or Coast Guard and Navy per­son­nel that lost their lives dur­ing WWII.

When the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary left Unalas­ka Island at the end of World War II, it also left behind build­ings and equip­ment that would become war relics and reminders of the area’s impor­tance dur­ing the Aleut­ian cam­paign, often called the For­got­ten War.” The build­ings have dete­ri­o­rat­ed over the years and some have been torn down. But his­tor­i­cal plaques mark­ing the loca­tion of sev­en World War II points of inter­est were erect­ed in 2007 to ensure  ...more

The strik­ing Holy Ascen­sion Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church – with its red-shin­gled roofs and green onion domes – has become an inte­gral part of the Unalas­ka sky­line over the last cen­tu­ry. It is both an odd­i­ty (archi­tec­tural­ly dif­fer­ent than any­thing else in the Aleu­tians) and a sym­bol of Russ­ian influ­ence on Aleut cul­ture and religion.

In the 1940’s more than 100 build­ings pep­pered the hill­side here, mak­ing up U.S. Army Base Fort Schwat­ka and Bat­tery 402. This coastal out­post was con­sid­ered cut­ting edge for its time. The Battery’s posi­tion high on Ulak­ta Head gave look­outs a strate­gic view and its 8‑inch, 21-ton guns boast­ed a range of 22 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate

If your trav­el group includes a WWII enthu­si­ast, a wildlife devo­tee, a bird­er, and a kid who enjoys rolling around on the tun­dra, Bunker Hill is the per­fect spot. Plus, it has the best pho­to ops, with a 360-degree view of the entire area: Cap­tains Bay, Amak­nak Island, Unalas­ka Bay and Ili­uliuk Harbor.

The bow of the sunken SS North­west­ern points to the sky in Cap­tains Bay, a fifty-foot-high sym­bol of Alaska’s role in World War II. The North­west­ern had a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry even before Japan­ese war­planes bombed her on June 4, 1942. After trans­port­ing pas­sen­gers, troops and bananas on the East Coast, she logged more than thir­ty years in north­ern waters, car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers between South­east Alas­ka and Seattle.