With its gem-like island-dotted setting, Sitka (pop. 9,000) is everybody’s favorite Southeast Alaska town. On a typical summer day you’ll see fishing boats heading out to sea from the four harbors around Sitka Sound, and cruise ships steaming by, their decks crowded with tourists as they pass Mt. Edgecumbe, the Fuji-like snowcapped volcano that adorns Sitka’s outer waters.
Back in town, other visitors glance inside the Russian church that dominates Sitka’s center, wander along totem-pole-lined paths in peaceful Sitka National Historical Park, and climb the sharply rising wooded peaks behind town. The people who make this their home are similarly diverse, ranging from beer-guzzling fishers barely making ends meet to wealthy retirees from California who are pushing housing prices into the stratosphere.
The gorgeous setting makes Sitka a detour well worth the effort. Be forewarned, however, to expect rain—the town soaks in 94 inches per year. By the way, Sitka lays claim to being the “biggest city in America”; its boundaries encircle Baranof Island, fully 4,710 square miles (New York City covers only 301 square miles).
Getting to Sitka
By Ferry: Alaska Marine Highway (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs) ferries reach Sitka several times a week during the summer, but the schedule is confusing, with various ships plying different routes.
When it’s operational—and this can be frustratingly uncommon—the high speed Fairweather makes a quick 4.5-hour connection between Juneau and Sitka, but be sure to confirm the ferry’s departure time so you don’t end up sitting in the ferry terminal. The terminal (907/747-8737) is open two hours before ship arrivals and is located seven miles north of town.
Sitka Tours shuttle buses (907/747-8443) are available for $10 round-trip, and a taxi runs around $20 each way. Other options include tours and hitching—easy and often faster than the buses, both into and out of town.
By Air: The airport is on Japonski Island, just under a mile from town by road. Alaska Airlines (907/966-2926 or 800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com) flies to Juneau twice a day, plus nonstop to Seattle in the summer. Note that these flights can be canceled or delayed when the weather gets particularly adverse, a common winter experience.
Harris Aircraft Services (907/966-3050 or 877/966-3050, www.harrisaircraft.com) has service several times a week to Angoon, Kake, Klawock, and Port Alexander, plus flightseeing and charters. Air Excursions (907/697-2375 or 800/354-2479, www.airexcursions.com) doesn’t have scheduled service but typically flies between Sitka and other Southeast Alaska towns several times a day in the summer.
For transit into town, Airport shuttles (907/747-8443, $10 round trip) meet Alaska Airlines flights, or get a ride (around $10 one-way) with Hank’s Taxi & Tours (907/747-8888, www.hankstours.com), Sitka Cab (907/747-5001), or More Taxi and Tours (907/738-3210, www.moorebusi.com).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition