Shielded by islands from the Pacific Ocean, SITKA is one of Alaska’s prettiest and most historic towns. The Russians established a fort here in 1799 and Sitka subsequently became the capital of Russian America, witnessing transfer of ownership to the USA in 1867. Sitka today earns its keep mostly from fishing and tourism and offers a wealth of great outdoor activities.
The best place to get a grasp of Sitka’s Russian past is diminutive Castle Hill. It’s a two-minute stroll to St Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral, a typically Russian church completed in 1848 and rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1966. Nearby is the large, mustard-coloured 1842 Russian Bishop’s House. Guided tours take in the restored chapel, schoolroom and living quarters. Four blocks east at 104 College Drive, the Sheldon Jackson Museum houses a compact but extensive display of Native artefacts accumulated by missionary and educationalist Sheldon Jackson.
Nearby, the site of a decisive battle between the Tlingit and the Russians is now the Sitka National Historic Park with its evocative collection of vividly painted totem poles, copies of nineteenth-century originals. A visitor centre features good displays plus working craftspeople.
Sitka’s trail system ranges from coastal strolls to harder climbs up Gavan Hill and steep Mount Verstovia: for more information visit the Forest Service office, 204 Siganaka Way (907 747 6671).