Located on Sitka Sound, the city of about 9,000 residents is marked by the picturesque remnants of its Russian heritage, including the onion-shaped domes and gold colored crosses of the beloved Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The city and borough limits include most of Baranof Island, where the city of Sitka is located, along with south Chichagof Island and many other small, forested islands along the coast.
Although first inhabited by Native Tlingit Indians, Sitka is recognized as the heart of the Russian influence in Alaska. The Russians arrived by 1741 and in 1804 attacked a Tlingit fort. The region’s most famous battle eventually led to the creation of Sitka National Historical Park. Originally established as New Archangel, Sitka became the capital of Russian American in 1808. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States on October 18, 1867, the transfer ceremony took place on Sitka’s Castle Hill.
Pick up a map from the Visitor’s Center in Harrigan Centennial Hall offering several walking tours that highlight the city’s history and culture including the Russian Blockhouse, Russian Bishop’s House, Princess Maksoutoff’s Grave and Castle Hill to name a few, that date back to the Russian era. There are 22 buildings in Sitka on the National Register of Historic Places, so there’s plenty to see on a walk through town. Downtown features numerous art galleries, a fine bookstore and gift shops, while the city’s main event during the summer is the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Centennial Hall, the community’s civic and convention center, is also the venue for the spirited New Archangel Dancers, who perform Russian folk dances using authentic music, choreography and costumes. Sitka National Historical Park features a remarkable collection of totem poles carved by Tlingit and Haida artists that are placed along a well-maintained trail in the forest. Near the park is Sheldon Jackson Museum, one of two official Alaska State Museums. The museum’s impressive collection represents many different Alaska Native cultures.
Sitka offers superb hiking with trails that begin in the lush rainforest that surrounds the city and often end up high in the mountains. The Tongass National Forest can provide information and maps to more area trails for hiking and camping information.For the nature lover, Sitka is home to a number of attractions that will amaze and educate visitors. These wildlife-oriented destinations include the Alaska Raptor Center and Fortress of the Bear. The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds and releases them back into the wild. The few who don’t regain flight remain housed at the center and visible to guests. Fortress of the Bear features a three-quarter-acre habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs complete with covered viewing areas.