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
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 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 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 from, 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: