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5 Reasons to Visit Alaska’s Oldest National Park

5 Reasons to Visit Alaska’s Oldest National Park

If you love national parks, chances are you’re familiar with the many incredible choices available across Alaska. You’ll find the unspoiled wilderness of Gates of the Arctic and the breathtaking waters of the Kenai Fjords. But fewer people know about the fascinating and fun experiences available at Alaska’s oldest national park property: Sitka National Historical Park.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at this unique spot and why it’s worth a trip. 

Totem Pole in Sitka, Alaska
Sitka is Alaska’s oldest national park, and it’s one with great historical significance.

About Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical Park traces its roots back to 1890. This makes it the oldest federally protected area in Alaska.

➡ This state has no shortage of national parks, preserves, and other public lands. Learn more here: The Complete List of Alaska National Parks

It occupies more than 110 acres in the town of Sitka. It’s situated on Baranof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Alaska’s panhandle. It’s best known for its totem poles, gorgeous natural environment, and native and Russian history.

How to Get to Sitka National Historical Park

Like many of Alaska’s top spots, you may have a harder time getting to Sitka National Historical Park. No roads lead into Sitka from the mainland, leaving you with two primary options—boat or plane. 

Ferry boat to Sitka
You’ll need to book a flight, cruise, or ferry to reach Sitka.

Those looking to take a plane will find regular commercial flights from Alaska Airlines. Additionally, you can take a commuter service from companies connecting the area to other small Alaska towns

Visitors coming by water have several options, ranging from cruise ships and ferries to private yachts for hire. 

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Sitka National Historical Park

So why make the trip out to Sitka when Alaska has so many breathtaking and diverse attractions? Here are some of the top reasons so many people find the trek more than worth it. 

What To Do with One Day in Sitka, Alaska

1. You Can Learn About Alaska Native Culture

Alaska is home to a rich Native American history, including the Tlingit people who ancestrally inhabited Baranof Island. Today, their descendants still populate the area, and you can learn more about their culture at the park’s visitor center. 

You can see exhibits about Tlingit life and historical artifacts. You may even find demonstrations of native crafts like basket weaving, carving, or metalworking. 

2. Restored Totem Poles Are Viewable on the Island

One of the highlights of Sitka National Historical Park is the authentic, restored Native Alaskan totem poles. The National Park Service offers a self-guided tour of these incredible creations. 

Sitka National Historical Park Totem Pole
The totem poles throughout Sitka are evidence of the rich Native American history in this area.

Each tells a story of important Native events, people, or groups. You can use the NPS app or your cell phone to learn more about them. And you can explore at your own pace. 

3. There Are Beautiful Hiking Trails

Sitka National Historical Park has trails for a casual stroll or a more adventurous ramble into the wilderness. The park is home to four hiking trails ranging from 1.6 miles to 12 miles round trip. 

Looking for a short hike? Take a walk through a loop trail home to the park’s famous totem poles. For a longer hike, you can scale a steep trail to the top of nearby Harbor Mountain. 

Sitka provides a great place to get outdoors and experience a piece of the Last Frontier for yourself. It doesn’t matter your fitness level or how much time you have.

wood bridge over river in Sitka
Plan time to enjoy one (or all four!) of Sitka National Historical Park’s hiking trails.

4. You Can Experience History In Russian Colonial Architecture

Sitka was among the areas settled by Russians during their century-long colonial experiment in Alaska. While Alaska never quite developed as the Russians hoped it would, they left behind a distinctive legacy, particularly in their architecture. 

This legacy includes buildings like St. Michael’s Cathedral, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962. Other sites in the region include the Russian Bishop’s House and Building No. 29. 

5. It Commemorates the 1804 Battle of Sitka

As with many cases of European colonial expansion, the Russian presence in Sitka prompted sometimes-fierce clashes with local Native Alaskans. The most prominent was the 1804 Battle of Sitka, which the Sitka National Historical Park commemorates. 

St. Michael's Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska
St. Michael’s Cathedral is a piece of Russia’s legacy in this area.

The Russian victory marked the last major conflict between native people and Russians and sparked a new era of uneasy relations between the two groups. It made way for the American acquisition of the territory. History buffs will enjoy learning more about Sitka’s historical significance.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Sitka National Historical Park?

The no-cost admission is another incredible benefit of this unique attraction. Of course, Sitka’s somewhat difficult-to-access location means you’ll still need to pay for travel and lodging. Still, the park itself remains free to enjoy for all visitors. 

Cool Things to Do Near Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical Park isn’t the only great attraction in the area. Here are some other fun choices to round out your trip to this gorgeous region of Alaska.

Sitka, Alaska
Beyond the national park, the town of Sitka offers plenty of opportunities to learn about the area.

Take a Whale Watching Tour

Alaska is home to some of the best whale watching in the country, particularly during their peak season from April through September. 

You may see gray whales, humpbacks, orcas, belugas, and many other incredible species of marine life. You’ll find several quality companies ready to take you out on the water in the Sitka area and throughout the Alaskan coast.

Travel Tip: If you love whale watching, be sure to also add the towns of Seward and Valdez to your Alaska itinerary.

Visit the Raptor Center

Bird lovers flock to the Alaska Raptor Center, a bird rehabilitation and education facility. The 17-acre campus treats more than 200 birds a year. It also serves as a permanent home to fowl too injured to return to the wild. 

The Alaska Raptor Center's 40th Anniversary

You can explore the training and rehab areas and natural habitats. Visitors also come to learn about these beautiful creatures and their place in the local ecosystem. 

See the Fortress of the Bear

If bigger creatures are more your speed, head down the road to the imposingly named Fortress of the Bear. For nearly 15 years, this facility has served as a refuge for orphaned brown and black bears.

It’s also an educational facility for those who want to learn more about these creatures. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour and get a chance to watch the bears being fed or interact with them.

Alaska brown bear
You can enjoy safe encounters with brown and black bears at Fortress of the Bear.

Are You Ready to Visit Alaska’s Oldest National Park?

Sitka National Historical Park may not have the famous name of some of Alaska’s other public lands, like Denali. But it’s a can’t-miss stop for those interested in the diverse culture of Native Alaskans and the fascinating history of the area. 

Enjoy the cultural exhibits, challenging hikes, guided tours, and many other things to do. It may take some effort to get there by boat or plane, but you’ll find many amazing things to explore.

Hiking in Sitka National Historical Park

After your trip to Sitka, where will you visit next? Whether it’s one of Alaska’s interesting small towns or incredible national parks, these 6 Best RV Rental Companies in Anchorage, Alaska will get you where you want to go.

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