Off-the-Beaten Path Exploration in Sitka, Alaska

Off-the-Beaten Path Exploration in Sitka, Alaska

Southeast Alaska’s best-kept secret is also a crown jewel for adventure travelers By: Scott Laird
<p>A fisherman in Sitka, Alaska, with his catch of king salmon // © 2017 Don Kluting</p><p>Feature image (above): There’s no shortage of hiking trails...

A fisherman in Sitka, Alaska, with his catch of king salmon // © 2017 Don Kluting

Feature image (above): There’s no shortage of hiking trails in Sitka. // © 2017 Visit Sitka

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Sitka, Alaska, isn’t a common stop for the steady stream of summer visitors who vacation in the 49th state. Most cruise itineraries have abandoned port calls here in favor of the calmer and more efficient Inside Passage routes; meanwhile, Sitka is fronted by open ocean, also known as the Outside Passage.

Originally named New Archangel as the capital of Russian Alaska, Sitka was the largest city on North America’s Pacific coast when San Francisco was just a sleepy collection of missions. With a population of around 8,000, the town is nearly the same size as it was during its 18th-century peak.

So, today’s adventurers visiting this hidden gem on the Alaska Panhandle (southeast Alaska) will enjoy a sleepy, small-town feel that’s steeped as much in Americana as it is in distinctively Russian and Native Alaskan flavors. 

Adventure travelers can revel in these soft and not-so-soft adventure excursions from Sitka, many of which operate on a summer seasonal basis. 

See Alaska’s Mount Fuji From a Black-Sand Beach
One of the city’s most imposing views is that of the often-snowcapped volcanic caldera of Mount Edgecumbe — known as Alaska’s Mount Fuji for its resemblance to Japan’s most famous peak. Situated on uninhabited Kruzof Island across Sitka Sound (and the last dry land to the west until the Hawaiian Islands), the mountain is surrounded by black-sand beaches as well as other volcanic detritus that has created a lush haven for flora and fauna. 

Sitka Alaska Outfitters will take visitors across the sound by boat — where they’ll see nesting birds, sea otters and whales — and transfer to all-terrain vehicles once on land. There, they’ll search for bears, Sitka black-tailed deer and the best spots for Instagram-worthy close-up views of the mountain.

Excursions are also available to reach the volcano’s summit, where clients can enjoy  wraparound views of Sitka Sound, Tongass National Forest and the surrounding mountain peaks.

Go Deep-Sea Fishing and Fly Fishing
A mixed group of fly fishers and deep-sea fishers will find opportunity for both disciplines in Sitka. The city’s creeks and rivers are small and easily accessible for fly fishers, while there are several island lodges and day boat operators who are happy to take visitors on single or multiday fishing excursions for whatever happens to be in season. Visitors can fish for salmon, trout, char, steelhead and halibut; guests at some of the numerous fishing lodges can have their catches grilled for dinner.

It’s hard not to eat it all at once, but most outfitters will also clean and package leftover catch for shipping. 

Hike Nature Trails or Walk Urban Trails
From a prime position in the middle of a temperate rainforest, Sitka has no shortage of available hiking for all ability levels in a variety of environments. Marshlands, volcanic coastline, rocky alpine ridges and dense spruce forests all await hikers, just steps from the city center. 

For those wanting a more urban experience, walking tours of the downtown area are also available, showcasing the city’s Russian heritage and local artisans. Urban hikers can explore St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox cathedral that famously burned in 1966 and was later reconstructed from the original Russian blueprints. It still contains all original artifacts that the city’s residents passed from hand to hand as the structure burned. They can also check out Castle Hill, once the site of the colonial governor’s residence as well as where the handover of Alaska, from Russia to the U.S., was observed in 1867.

Kayak in the Ocean
Ocean kayaking is one of the area’s most peaceful activities. Recommend clients to float gently on the water; the sound of paddles dipping in and out of glassy, salt-scented inlets will be the only steady sound. They also can look up at bald eagles scanning the waters for their next meal, or look down at lazy jellyfish suspended just below the surface. 

Sitka’s shore reef and kelp forests are abundant, and the water is clear enough to see sea urchins, starfish, anemones and crabs. Kayakers will also share the waters with sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, dolphins and marine birds. 

Trips operate in summer and range from half-day to multiday excursions.

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