With all of Alaska’s natural wonderment, it’s easy to forget about the blending of Russian and Native cultures that make it unique. Not so in Sitka. From architecture to dance, the two prongs of this area’s history meld into one rich historic pot…and an interesting short visit.
Sitka is perhaps the most beautiful of the Southeast Alaska communities and that, combined with its dense history, means you should plan on at least a day to look around. Nestled on the west side of Baranof Island, midway between Ketchikan and Skagway, it’s flanked on the east by majestic snow-capped mountains and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.
The area was first home to rich, sophisticated Tlingits, who put up quite a fight after the Russian Alexander Baranof established a headquarters here 1799 to grow even wealthier in the trading of sea otter fur. Two of the bloodiest encounters of the era were fought near here, with the natives winning round one and the Russians trumping them with cannons to win round two.
Even after the Russians sold Alaska to America in 1867—another event that happened here—the Russian influence lives on. With much of the rest of Alaska still relatively young, Sitka is the place for a dash of fascinating history—along with its gorgeous scenery.
Favorite Attractions & Things to Do
- St. Michael's Cathedral: With its magnificent copper domes, this is the town’s focal point. The church is a fitting symbol for the town: finished in 1848, it was the first Russian church built in America.
- Flightsee: Witness the dramatic volcanic coastline of the North Pacific on a custom flightseeing tour with Alaska Seaplane Adventures.
- Sitka National Historic Park: where you can learn about the bloody battles between the Tlingit and the Russians, as well as see a collection of amazingly detailed totem poles, collected from all over Southeast Alaska.
- The Sheldon Jackson Museum: Houses one of the best native Alaskan collections anywhere.
A popular stop on Inside Passage Cruises, Sitka is also easily reached by the Alaska Marine Highway ferries.