Sitka: Where Three Cultures Converge
By Lilly Stewart, Lead Expedition Guide on the Wilderness Adventurer
This week we departed from the town of Sitka, which is one of my favorite Alaskan towns. If your cruise begins or ends in Sitka, I would recommend an extra day, or at least a few extra hours, to enjoy this unique little town.
Sitka is the homeland of the Tlingit people and was the capital of Russian Alaska. As you wander down Main Street, you can appreciate the three cultures that shape this place.
A short walk from downtown will take you to the totem pole park where you can learn about the history of totem poles and their cultural significance to the Tlingit people. They even have a workshop where you can see a totem pole being built. Check out their galleries with historic and modern totem poles.
From there, take an easy walk through the coastal rainforest on a short loop trail with totem poles scattered through the forest. There is an audio tour available that describes the significance of each pole and discusses the battle between the Tlingit and Russians that happened on this very spot.
For a little more history, head over to the Sheldon Museum. This museum began with the personal collection of a missionary who accumulated an impressive array of art and expertly crafted tools made by Tlingit and other Alaskan natives.
As you stroll around downtown Sitka, you can’t help but notice the onion dome of Saint Michael’s Cathedral. When Sitka was capital of Russian Alaska, it was a bustling town of 1,000 people, with a navy, shipyard, schools, churches, a Russian bathhouse, and a large government building called Baranov’s Castle. While almost everything from this era has burned down, Saint Michael’s Church was painstakingly reconstructed with a classic Russian style. The church is open to the public and you can take a look around for a small donation.
While you are in town, you will see many local artist’s shops, a great bookstore, coffee shops, and bars. The waterfront is full of local fishing and recreational ships. If you have more time head farther afield to get a good look at rehabilitated black and brown bears and other local wildlife at the Fortress of the Bears or head out on one of the many excellent hiking trails in the area.
In just a short visit to Sitka, you can get a great sense of the aspects of native Tlingit, Russian and American cultures that influence this little town to give it a rich history and its own unique appeal. Then join us on an UnCruise and we will set sail, leaving the harbor and heading out to enjoy the vast and magnificent wilderness that surrounds Sitka.