The first stop of our adventure on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is Sitka. With a population of roughly 8,500 people, this town is nestled hugging Baranof Island’s west shore in the shadow of the impressive Mount Edgecumbe.
There’s a fascinating history about Sitka. The Tlingit people originally called the area Sheet’Ká, which means “people on the outside of Shee’.” It’s interesting to see how the name evolved over time. When the Russians arrived and claimed the area, they named it New Archangel, and it became the capital of Russian Alaska in 1808. Then, in 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States, and the transfer ceremony actually took place in Sitka on Baranof Castle State Historic Site.
Downtown Sitka sounds like a vibrant and culturally rich area. It offers a variety of attractions such as art galleries, a bookstore, gift shops, lodging options, and restaurants with beautiful views and local seafood. The Sitka Music Festival is a major event during the summer, adding to the lively atmosphere.
If you’re interested in exploring the city’s history and culture, you can pick up a map from the Sitka Visitor Information Center and take a walking tour. There are 22 buildings in Sitka that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Russian Blockhouse, Russian Bishop’s House, Princess Maksoutoff’s Grave, and Baranof Castle State Historic Site. These sites provide a glimpse into Sitka’s past and offer plenty of historical exploration opportunities.
The Russian Bishop’s House, built in 1842, is the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka. It served as a residence for the Bishop of the Orthodox Church and has been restored to its 1850s historic period. It is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Baranof Castle State Historic Site, located on a hill overlooking downtown, was originally a stronghold of the Kiks.ádi Tlingit clan. It was later occupied by a series of Russian buildings from 1804 to 1867. On October 18, 1867, the Russians officially handed over Alaska to the United States at this site. Alaska Day, celebrated annually on October 18, commemorates this event. The site is managed by Alaska State Parks and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
St. Michael’s Cathedral, also located in downtown Sitka, is home to a significant collection of Russian Orthodox art and church treasures. The original cathedral, built between 1844 and 1848, was destroyed by fire in 1966 but has since been reconstructed. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sitka offers a wide range of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts. Hiking is a popular activity, with numerous trails that take you through the lush rainforest and up into the mountains. The Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, is home to many of these trails. The Sitka Ranger District Office can provide information and maps for hiking trails and camping.
For fishing enthusiasts, Sitka offers both freshwater and ocean fishing charters. Freshwater fly-fishing in the lakes and rivers of Sitka targets salmon, char, trout, and steelhead. Ocean fishing charters provide opportunities for world-class salmon and halibut fishing. There are several fishing lodges in Sitka that offer multi-day fishing itineraries with comfortable accommodations and meals.
Whale watching is another popular activity in Sitka. The waters surrounding Sitka are home to humpback whales, sea otters, and puffins. There are various wildlife viewing cruises available, including catamaran tours, private yachts, sailboats, and zodiacs. If you prefer a more active experience, you can rent a kayak or join a guided tour to explore the protected coves and inlets.
If you’re interested in viewing marine wildlife from land, Whale Park is a great option. Located about 6 miles south of downtown Sitka, Whale Park features a boardwalk, a small sheltered picnic area, and free viewing scopes. It’s a fantastic spot to observe humpback whales and other marine wildlife.
Sitka offers a rich cultural experience with various opportunities to learn about the history and traditions of the Tlingit people, as well as the Russian and American influences in the area. The Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House is a great place to witness Tlingit dance performances and immerse yourself in their storytelling and cultural events. The New Archangel Dancers showcase Russian folk dances with authentic music, choreography, and costumes.
For those interested in museums and cultural centers, the Sheldon Jackson Museum houses one of the oldest ethnographic collections in Alaska, featuring a wide range of Alaska Native artifacts. The Sitka National Historical Park is home to a remarkable collection of totem poles carved by Tlingit and Haida artists, and the Sitka Cultural Center provides a unique opportunity to interact with local Alaska Native artists and learn about their traditions.
Lastly, the Sitka History Museum offers a comprehensive display of Sitka’s history, including exhibits on the Tlingit, Russian, and American influences. It’s a great place to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s past.
Stay tuned for our pictures from this amazing port!