On an Alaskan cruise that starts in Vancouver or Seattle, you might grow weary of 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. But the Alaskan fishing village proved to be an excellent destination for active travelers to explore on their own. During our visit, we enjoyed a self-guided walking tour:
It’s a short tender ride from where your ship anchors in Sitka Sound to Sitka where Russian influences mix with Tlingit Indian culture. And, oh that natural setting. 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.
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.
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. Inside the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, located in the park, you’ll see Tlingit craftsmen demonstrating woodcarving, mask making and other crafts.
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 totem poles at Sitka Naitonal Historical Park. You’ll find the poles displayed along a series of walking trails that wind through the temperate rainforest.
From the Sitka National Historical Park, continue your self-guided walking tour towards 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 disappointed that we didn’t meet any during our visit.
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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 self-guided walking tour of Sitka.