SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Jennie Flaming of Ordinary Adventures is a born-and-raised fourth-generation Seattleite and former Alaskan living back in her home, Seattle. She writes about outdoor adventure and travel in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada. She recently spent a weekend in Sitka with friends from Anchorage. This is her report.
Sitka, Alaska is one of my favorite places in Alaska! Like all of Southeast Alaska, it’s stunningly beautiful and it also has lots of local shops and good restaurants without being as crowded with cruise ship passengers as some other ports along the Inside Passage. My husband Jay and I met our friends from Anchorage there for a weekend to explore one of our favorite places.
My friend Jamie wisely suggested we rent a car. There are only 14 miles of road in Sitka, but we were there over a weekend when the bus wasn’t running (weekdays only) and wanted to be able to explore “the road”. After checking into our Airbnb, we set out to explore town a bit while the sun was shining.
Our first stop was Ashmo’s food truck which has incredible seafood – I had fish and chips and smoked salmon mac and cheese, both of which I highly recommend. Others had fish tacos and the fish sandwich which they reported were amazing. There was a bit of a line and we had to wait a bit but it was totally worth it.
After that, we walked around town and checked out the beautiful Russian Orthodox St Michael’s Cathedral, which you can go inside for a small donation.
Since it was miraculously sunny, we decided to take advantage of it and go for a hike. The forecast indicated rain coming in but we stayed mostly dry on the way up Gavan Hill. The first part of the trail is gravel and perfect, part of the Sitka Cross Trail network.
Once we started up the Gavan Hill trail, it was a steep climb on a combination of wooden steps and muddy rooted sections.
I was very happy I brought my hiking poles, it made it a lot easier!
After climbing up about 1400 feet in 2 miles, we reached the overlook just as the rain started.
Things got a bit slippery on the way down with the increasing rain on all the roots and mud on the trail, so we were feeling very accomplished when we got back to the bottom.
After a hike, finding beer and pizza is pretty much mandatory, so we headed over to Harbor Mountain Brewing Co. to try the local beer, which we all agreed was delicious!
Campfire Pizza is located in the same building as was some seriously amazing pizza. They even had a Smore calzone for dessert, which was basically a pizza crust with marshmallow, graham cracker and nutella inside and it was AMAZING. Don’t skip dessert here! The four of us shared it and that worked out great.
Jay and I are always on the lookout for an excellent breakfast sandwich or burrito, and we found real gem at the Wildflower Cafe. Amazing breakfast sandwich and coffee!
We decided to make our first full day in Sitka a history day, since Sitka has some of the most fascinating history in Alaska. The first capital of the Territory of Alaska (1867-1906) and the capital of Russian America (1808-1867), Sitka has plenty of old buildings and lots to learn about its complicated history!
We walked through town on the Seawalk, a paved and flat path through town along the harbor that goes for just under a mile. There are lots of signs with maps and different points of interest showing you how far they are from your current position, which makes Sitka super walkable and easy to navigate on foot.
The path transitions into Sitka National Historical Park. I’d say if you’re going to only do one thing in Sitka, make it a visit to this beautiful park! A mix of forest and rocky beaches, the trails are wide and flat and meander among an impressive collection of totem poles brought here from all over Southeast Alaska. The totem pole collection here started in 1904 and includes poles that are nearly 100 years old and some that were carved more recently. The visitor center gives you an introduction to the story of this place before you head out to the trail.
There’s a mile and a half loop trail that takes you through the forest, along the Indian River and to the rocky beaches with beautiful views of the Sitka sound and the mountains and to the place where the Tlingit people built a fort to defend themselves against the Russians during the Battle of Sitka in 1804.
After exploring the park, we headed back towards town and stopped at the Sheldon Jackson Museum and the Sitka Sound Science Center. We also had lunch at Ludvig’s Chowder Cart next to the Science Center. We had delicious chowder and smoked salmon sandwiches and sat at the picnic tables outside since the sun came out again, yay!
Next, we headed over to Castle Hill to Baranof Castle State Historic Site. At one time there was a mansion on this hill, which is long gone. In its place is an open area with a great view.
Castle Hill marks the spot where the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag was raised in a formal transition of power of Alaska from Russia to the United States. This is also the first place the American flag with 49 stars was raised in Alaska after statehood (I learned this fun fact from the Quest for the Ultimate Alaska Adventure!). The 49-star flag only lasted a year until Hawaii became the 50th state.
In addition to the history and the flag poles, Castle Hill also has a pretty good view of Sitka Sound and the town of Sitka.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the shops in town and particularly loved Old Harbor Books, a wonderful independent bookstore, and the Island Artists Gallery. The gallery has art from a number of local artists, from painting to photography to sculpture, jewelry and more. We spent a long time chatting with the artists until we got hungry again.
For dinner we went to BeAk (Beak) Restaurant (Beak = Be AK, get it?!), which was highly recommended by locals we talked to. The food here was excellent and they have a small porch for outdoor dining. It was a bit chilly for outdoor dining but the heaters helped along with the covered area since it was raining again! We all had various local seafood dishes and they were all incredible.
The next day (Sunday) was our last full day in Sitka. We decided to spend this day making use of our rental car and exploring the road and parts of Sitka that were too far to walk. We started the day with perhaps the best cinnamon roll I have ever had from the Backdoor Cafe (behind the bookstore) and more coffee.
After breakfast we hopped in the car and drove out to Fortress of the Bear, which is a must see for bear lovers and photographers. Jay and Jamie are super into photography and they had a blast taking pictures up close for hours without having to worry about safety! I will say that when their brown bears decided to growl (they smelled their meal being prepared) it was still unnerving! Cruise ship tours go to Fortress of the Bear, though none were there during our visit so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
After spending a couple hours at Fortress of the Bear (you won’t need that long if you’re not traveling with a photographer), we explored the road a bit more and then headed back through town to the other end of the road.
We passed the cruise ship dock and the ferry dock before arriving at the end of the road. Here we decided to do another short hike around the Mosquito Cove Trail which was another highlight of the trip. The trail winds through the forest with some wooden steps through some big trees and out to peaceful Mosquito Cove.
The loop was only about 1.5 miles with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain. If you wanted more hiking there are several other forest trails that connect up to it. There were some nice campsites near the trail too.
After getting back to town and relaxing for a bit we got pizza from the Mean Queen, including trying one of their deep dish pizzas and it was incredible!
In the morning we found another excellent breakfast sandwich (breakfast bagel this time) at Highliner Coffee and more tasty coffee.
Our flight was leaving just before noon but there was a super low tide that morning we decided to do some tidepooling (one of my favorite activities anywhere) before going to the airport.
We headed out to Halibut State Recreation Area and wandered around the beach exploring the low tide. We saw quite a few tidepool animals including my personal favorite, the Sea Star!
By late morning it was time to head to the airport to head back home. This time we stopped in Ketchikan on the way back to Seattle and the weather was a bit more….typical. But we had time to get Ketchikan Airport popcorn, which always makes the stop worth it!
Though we didn’t do any organized tours in Sitka on this trip, this is a really great place for whale watching (I’ve had some amazing whale watching experiences here in the past) as well as fishing charters and kayak tours.
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