When your Alaska cruise starts in Vancouver or Seattle, you might grow weary of organized cruise excursions by the time you reach Sitka. That was certainly the case when Alan and I sailed on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Vancouver to Singapore. We were ready to explore on our own.
The scenic sail into Sitka Sound inspired us to put our feet on the ground to soak in a bit of nature. Although the ship offered plenty of active tours in Sitka, Alan and I looked for an enjoyable walk that included Alaskan history, nature and wildlife. And we found it.
Where is Sitka, Alaska?
This Alaskan fishing village sits on the western shore of Baranof Island in southeastern Alaska. It’s the only Inside Passage community that fronts the Pacific Ocean. As far as tourism, travelers visit Sitka as part of a cruise, fly in for a land adventure, or arrive via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry.
Dormant volcano, Mt Edgecumbe, hovers over a scene where forested islets are sprinkled around the sound. Look closely and you might see eagles flying overhead or a whale or two spouting off.
It’s a short tender ride from where your ship anchors in Sitka Sound to town, where Russian influences mix with Tlingit Indian culture. In fact, Sitka was such an influential Russian outpost that when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the transfer ceremony took place here.
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Looking for things to do on your Alaska cruise? Check out our Alaska shore excursion reviews.
Fun things to do on a Sitka walking tour
It’s easy to tour Sitka on your own. Just follow our Sitka walking tour itinerary.
Arriving at the tender terminal, a left turn onto Lincoln Street takes you to downtown Sitka. The two block walk introduces visitors to shops selling Russian collectibles, Tlingit handcrafted items as well as the usual tourist souvenirs.
In the center of town, St. Michael’s Cathedral makes a good photo opp. Although the original building caught fire in 1966, the interior of the rebuilt cathedral holds many items that were saved when Alaska’s first church burned down.
With 22 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, you could make historical architecture the focus of a Sitka walking tour. However our travel feet were itching to be out in nature.
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Take a totem walk at Sitka National Historical Park
For culture-loving travelers, the fun is about to begin. Retrace your steps, walk past the terminal port and continue a couple of blocks down Lincoln Street along the harbor to Sitka National Historical Park (official website).
Inside the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, located in the park, you’ll see Tlingit craftsmen demonstrating woodcarving, mask making and other crafts. Take the time to watch and ask questions.
Although Ketchikan’s Totem Heritage Center claims to have the largest collection of totem poles in the world, it can’t beat the setting of the 18 poles in the Sitka totem park. You’ll find the restored poles displayed along a series of quiet walking trails that wind through the temperate rainforest.
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Visit eagles at Alaska Raptor Center
From the Sitka National Historical Park, continue your self-guided Sitka walking tour toward the Alaska Raptor Center. Be sure to stop on the bridge that crosses the river.
If your visit is during the last stages of spawning season, hold your nose. The banks are littered with decaying salmon. Although signs warn of bear encounters, Alan and I were relieved that we didn’t meet any during our visit.
When the woods end, it’s a short walk across the highway to the Alaska Raptor Center (entrance fee required). Inside, injured bald eagles and other wild raptors are rehabilitated for eventual release back into the Alaskan wilderness.
If you miss one of the daily shows, it’s still fun to walk through the enclosures. On our visit, we observed a large bald eagle swiveling his head to and fro, ever alert.
From here, retrace your steps and you’ll have completed our do-it-yourself Sitka cruise excursion. Not ready to go back to the ship? Enjoy lunch in Sitka.
If you’re a repeat visitor, consider these Sitka adventures:
More excursions from the Alaska portion of our Vancouver to Singapore cruise:
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What to wear on an Alaska cruise
Do you need help packing for your Alaska cruise? Check out my Alaska cruise packing tips.
Here’s a packing list that should cover a 2-week cruise in Alaska. Feel free to print this out. One of these days, I’ll create a fancy downloadable for you (once I learn how) so stay tuned.
- 1 pair water resistant safari pants. On 14-day Alaska cruises, make this 2 pair of safari pants.
- 1 pair jeans for on the ship or walking around ports. Don’t wear jeans on active excursions, especially if you’ll be around water or where it might rain. Nothing is worse—or colder—than wearing soggy, wet jeans.
- 2 safari shirts that go with safari pants or the jeans. On warm days, roll the sleeves up.
- 2 long-sleeve crew-neck shirts (or turtlenecks) to layer underneath safari shirts or to wear with a quilted vest. Or make this one long-sleeve crew-neck shirt and one short-sleeve solid color tee, just in case the weather is warmer than you think it will be.
- Quilted sleeveless vest for layering with a long-sleeve shirt over jeans or safari pants.
- Fleece jacket, choose a colorful one for showing up against snow scenes in photos.
- Water-resistant jacket, same advice as for the fleece jacket—color rules!
- 1 set of thermal underwear. You probably won’t need these however they don’t take up much room so pack them anyway.
- Gloves, glove liners, hat, neck warmer, warm socks
- Shoe covers that have treads. Wear them on wet, muddy excursions or in port when it’s raining.
- Lightweight hiking shoes that can also be used for walking laps on deck. You can also use these for the gym in a pinch. Wear these shoes on travel day.
- Comfortable pants/top for travel day (wear them to and from the cruise). This can double as an extra outfit for on the ship or port days.
- Two pair of pants: black and another color. Gray is good. Or if you’re in a summery mood bring white ones.
- Five tops—make one a cute summer sweater— that go with both pair of pants, which makes ten outfits. On a 14-day cruise, repeat 3 of your favorite looks. For 1-week Alaska cruises, three tops will do.
- 1 pair of shoes that will go with all outfits. Pewter flats are a great choice if you can find them. And, if you do, let me know as my Cole-Hahn favorite pewter shoes are almost worn out.
- Optional: 1 pair of fancier black pants and sparkly top with appropriate shoes for formal night.
Expedition cruisers might consider bringing a heavier jacket, but check with your cruise line, first. Many small ship luxury expeditions provide a jacket to passengers.
Of course you’ll need room in luggage to bring it home. Alan and I always forget that part, which is why you’ll see us wearing ours through the airport.
Don’t forget these must-have items for an Alaska cruise
- Bathing suit for the hot tub, yes you’ll enjoy a soak while admiring the scenery. You’ll probably want to pack a coverup, or wear a t-shirt over your suit that can double as a workout top.
- Flip-flops or sandals for walking to and from the hot tub (or pool). Make them cute enough to double as daywear or nightwear shoes, especially if the weather surprises you with a warm spell.
- Baseball hat or sun hat for lounging on deck, on your balcony, or on a sunny wildlife watching excursion.
- 1 pair pajamas. I cheat here by wearing a t-shirt and shorts that I can also use in the gym. If they become sweaty, hand wash with TSA-approved laundry packets. Using the ship’s laundromat is another option, if your ship has one. That’s Alan’s job.
- Sunscreen to protect your skin from bright sun reflecting off snow.
- Insecticide repellent towelettes for those pesky gnats, flies and mosquitos.
- And don’t forget your underwear. I’m leaving the amount and type up to you.
If you’re worried about sweaty clothing or spilling food on clothing, bring a package of laundry packets for hand washing clothes. That’s what I do. Of course that means the clothing that you bring should wash easily by hand, dry quickly and require no ironing.
If you’re cruising on an Alaska expedition ship, reduce this list by one pair of pants and 2 tops. The relaxed style of expedition cruising means you will wear less. Some adventure cruises are so busy that you’ll find yourself wearing safari pants and a top to dinner because there isn’t time to change clothes.