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Sitka, Alaska: Weekender

A totem-studded trail and St. Michael's Cathedral add to the rich history of the borough that once served as the capital of Alaska.

The city of Sitka sits on Alaska's Baranof Island, image
Photo caption
Sitka sits on a wide sound on Alaska's Barnanof Island, 860 miles from Seattle.

Abundant marine life drew Russians to southeast Alaska, where they made Novo Arkhangelsk—later renamed Sitka—the capital of Russian America. But long before the Russian-American Company’s Aleksandr Baranov founded the borough, Tlingit longhouses marked the forested landscape.

Area code is 907 except as noted.

Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center Stand behind one-way glass to watch eagles fly. (800) 643-9425, Sitka National Historical Park At the foot of a 35-foot cedar pole sits the helmet Tlingit Chief K’alyaan wore in the Battle of 1804, when Russians attacked, one of many historic events commemorated on the totem-studded trail. 747-0110,

Allen Marine Tours A half-day wildlife quest takes you to view sea otters floating on their backs, humpbacks sounding into the deep, and sea lions hauling out onto warm rocks. 225-8100, Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures Paddle a kayak to the mouth of Indian River and watch spawning salmon catapult into the air. 752-0660, Sitka Tribal Tours Although the Russians stayed nearly a century and then sold the territory of Alaska to the U.S. government, descendants of the original inhabitants are still deeply rooted. See one of Alaska’s oldest collections of cultural artifacts at the Sheldon Jackson Museum and watch tribal dancers in full Native regalia at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House. (888) 270-8687, St. Michael’s Cathedral Once the seat of the Russian Orthodox Diocese, this church is a 20th-century reconstruction of the 1840s original, complete with an onion dome.

Alaska Hook & Line Inc. Smoked king salmon jerky and other delicacies harvested from local waters. 246 Katlian St., 747-7115, Sitka Rose Gallery Find cedar bark baskets, spirit masks, totemic animal carvings, engravings, watercolors, and more. 419 Lincoln St., (888) 236-1536,

Ludvig’s Bistro Savor dishes such as Alaska king crab tails with smoked paprika, and paella with local king salmon. Reserve ahead. 256 Katlian St., 966-3663, Pioneer Bar Share this classic pub—known locally as the P-bar—with working fishermen. 212 Katlian St., 747-3456.

Shee Atiká Totem Square Inn Owned by Sitka’s Urban Native Corporation. 201 Katlian St., (866) 300-1353. To find a place to stay, including the Shee Atiká Totem Square Inn, visit

Photography by Fred Hirschmann

This article was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.