Stepped in history and culture, and surrounded by picturesque forested islands, towering mountains, a distant volcano, and soaring eagles – Sitka is what most tourists imagine when they think of Alaska’s natural wonders.
Founded by Russian explorers in the eighteenth century, Sitka (once called New Archangel) is within easy view of Mt. Edgecombe, an extinct volcano that adds drama to an already rich and colorful landscape.
Sitka before Juneau
The city of 9,000 residents was the capital of Alaska between 1867 when the United States purchased “Seward’s Icebox” from Russia and until 1912 when the territorial seat of government was moved to the current state capital, Juneau. The site where the transfer of ownership of Alaska took place is a brief walk from the cruise-tender dock on Sitka Bay.
Things to do in Sitka
A visit to Sitka offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in Russian cultural tours, and outdoor activities that include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks and other attractions.
Visit the cemetery
We always try to offer up something a little different in our travel reviews, and our choice for Sitka is the Old Russian cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.
Noted on tourist maps, but not on any organized tour, the old burial ground is located a short walk from the center of town.
The graveyard entrance is not conspicuously marked, and judging by the narrow footpaths, it is not frequented by many visitors.
The cemetery was built on a difficult landscape of densely forested hills – along dark winding paths lined with moss and ferns – not particularly conducive to carrying a casket.
The grounds are not maintained. Most of the century’s old weathered headstones have sunk into the wet peat soil and rest at odd angles to the surrounding terrain – resulting in a macabre geometric mélange of ghostly forms. If you like reading Poe, you will enjoy a visit to this eerie yet enchanting graveyard.
The last time we saw a bald eagle was at Big Bear Lake in California, when a fellow tourist spotted one soaring high above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir among the onlookers.
Contrast that single sighting experience to Sitka where there are bald eagles everywhere – hundreds of them.
The proud and beautiful American symbol with the white head and huge wingspan is an integral part of life in Sitka.
Bald eagles soar overhead – constantly, and look like white Christmas ornaments as they perch in the tall evergreen trees that line the shore.
How to get there
Sitka is situated midway up the Inside Passage in the Alexander Archipelago on Baranof Island, and is frequented by most of the cruise ships that sail the Passage.
Sitka is also serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry fleet, and Alaska Airlines.
If you travel the Inside Passage, be sure that Sitka is on the itinerary. You will not be disappointed.
“Get out there, but be prepared.”
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© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Judy Bayliff