Visiting Alaska: A 6-Hour Stopover in Sitka

In early June, I bought my plane ticket to Juneau and booked my room with Airbnb. I was excited for my big trip off the continental USA for the first time since I came here in July 2015. Still, when Sitka appeared as a stopover on my flight itinerary, I didn’t even bother to look it up. I had no intentions of leaving the airport to wander around. Yet, once I got there, that is exactly what I did.

Sitka is the largest city in the United States if you use land area as your benchmark. However, with a population of less than 9,000 one almost winces when using the word “city” to describe it. And even for its population size, the city itself is small. I have seen larger downtown areas in small towns with headcounts less than 2,000 in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

So, what changed my mind about exploring sleepy little Sitka? Well, it all started in Washington.

Surprise Meetup in Seattle


When Tristan and I first looked at our itineraries, we didn’t notice any similarities besides our arrival time in Juneau, Alaska. However, time zones can be a tricky thing and sure enough, shortly after I landed in Seattle and started scouting for breakfast, he texted me to let me know he had just landed, too.

Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting at a restaurant near our terminal, enjoying our good luck. I haven’t travelled on a plane with a family member or friend since I was a teenager or preteen, so the idea of us travelling to Sitka together, which was not on his itinerary, was too tempting a possibility to pass up.

Now, I’ve been travelling abroad since I was nine years old, and hopping on planes by myself since I was around twelve or thirteen. So, I have mastered the art of begging for things I shouldn’t have at the airport and getting it anyway. I have weasled my way into being put on earlier flights and used to be known by name in quarantine at the Atlanta airport.

So, on that fateful day, I weasled my way into a ticket to Sitka for Tristan. Smile, bat your eyelashes a few times, request and beg instead of demand, employ a little bit of flattery, and thank them ten million times while they’re still only trying to decide and you’re as good as gold.

However, I also think Alaska Airlines is just pretty darn awesome. Not counting Air Jamaica, which is now defunct, they are the absolute best airline I have ever flown with.

Flying Into Sitka

Not only did they give Tristan a free flight to Sitka with me, but we received an upgrade in seating so we could sit next to each other. It wasn’t first class, but it was the next best thing. We were ecstatic. We talked. We laughed. We listened to music. And before we knew it, mountain ranges and islands appeared out of nowhere.

I felt as though we were flying over the archipelago from How to Train Your Dragon, which I absolutely love to watch! It was mesmerizing. A European in the row behind us exclaimed, “It’s like flying over New Zealand!” I have never been to New Zealand, but from the pictures I’ve seen, I believe his comparison is a fair one. See for yourself.

Naturally, a view like that had to be corroborated from the ground! Once we landed, the first order of business was ditching our carry-ons. A waitress at the airport restaurant outside the security checkpoint (who turned out to be the owner’s niece) offered to watch our bags while we explored, solving our problem. We immediately accepted and received a “receipt” to take with us, as well as a number for a taxi.

You might be wondering why we didn’t just call Uber or Lyft. Well, there were two reasons for that. Alaska seems to be monopolized by AT&T, but I have ProjectFi and Tristan had Sprint (he now also has ProjectFi). Great for calling and texting, but no data. Also, Uber and Lyft don’t exist in Sitka. It’s too small and everything is too close.

The cab fare wasn’t too bad. It was $10 just to go a mile or two, but there wasn’t much in town to see anyway, so all our constant roaming about and calling and re-calling the driver only cost us about $50 or less. Here are some of the sights we saw during our six or seven hours of layover time.

Baranof Castle Hill

06 Baranof Castle Hill Sitka Alaska Welcome Sign.jpg

Now, even though the data gods were not on our side, we did manage to connect to fleeting bits of signal which showed us a few of the sights worth seeing. The first one that caught our eyes was Baranof Castle Hill. We were super excited to see castle ruins, but it turns out it really is just a small hill with a nice view and plenty of history.

Here’s the hill and the view.

Here’s the history. You may have to click on the pictures and zoom in to read them.

The Downtown Area

14 Downtown Sitka Alaska.jpg

We then decided to see what lay beyond the hill further inland and found ourselves in the downtown area. By Atlanta standards, it wasn’t much of a “downtown”, but it was interesting to look at. It actually reminded me and Tristan of small towns in Jamaica.

The fact that the ocean was to our left as we walked up the street, further enhanced that. The harbour seemed to belong to the military, however, and there were plenty of warning signs up to keep away.

05 Sitka Alaska.jpg

One of the most spectacular architectural features in or around the downtown area is the bridge that makes commute from the airport shorter and easier than it otherwise might be.

12 Sitka Alaska.jpg

Close to this bridge was an area less intimidating than the military-watched harbour, where residents sat on picnic benches, smoked a cigarette, gossipped and walked their dogs, while a cruise ship hung out not too far away.

Sitka National Historical Park

03 Sitka National Historical Park Totem Poles.jpg

Having seen about as much of the downtown area as there was to see, we decided to do a quick hike at the Sitka National Historical Park. We weren’t sure what to expect, but what we found far exceeded our expectations. If you like hiking trails with Native American art (like totem poles), beautiful rivers and an oceanside view, you should definitely visit this park.

04 Sitka National Historical Park Native American Art.jpg

We started our exploring in the visitors center, which has what appears to be either an art exhibit or a museum. We were more fascinated with the outdoors, however, so we didn’t linger long once we had a map. The primary features on the trails were the totem poles—none of which were made in Sitka, just in case you’re wondering!

The view of the ocean to our right was also especially welcome.

09 Sitka National Historical Park.jpg

However, the highlight of the trail for me was definitely the Indian River. I almost didn’t get to see it, because I didn’t expect it to be worth seeing and suggested another trail, but Tristan was insistent. I’m glad I caved. It was absolutely beautiful and the water was nowhere near as cold as I thought it would be. It was warmer than swimming in California in the summer, for sure! In fact, Sitka was exceptionally warm (more on this in later posts!). I think we were in the 70s the day we visited.

After our hike, we went back to the airport to have dinner at the restaurant that had kept our bags. We ate and looked at the pictures we had taken, while assuring family and friends we had not been kidnapped. We then tipped the manager for keeping our bags and headed off to our 7PM flight to Juneau, Alaska.

That was four airports in just one day, with a hell of a view and a hiking trail to match. If you ever find yourself with a long stopover in Sitka like we did, by all means, make the absolute best of it!

Cost breakdown for this trip:

  • Round trip from Atlanta to Alaska: $711.61
  • Round trip from Las Vegas to Alaska: $579.80 (Tristan paid for his flight)
  • Airbnb Booking: $317.99
  • Turo Car Rental: ~$347.35 (Tristan paid for the car rental)

Thus, the entire trip cost me $1,029.60 and cost Tristan $927.15. Together, we shared a total cost of $1,956.75. This was our most expensive trip to date and worth every penny!


32 thoughts on “Visiting Alaska: A 6-Hour Stopover in Sitka

    1. You should! Didn’t you say you had family in Washington? It’s an easy flight from there.

      1. Oh, I thought you had mentioned something about Seattle at some point!

  1. It looks like a great start to the holiday. We change our plans all the time and improvising on the spur of the moment often brings very happy outcomes. Flexibility is a must when travelling. 👍

    1. Yes, so I saw from your last post in France! We generally have a good idea of where we’re going and what we’re doing, since we have such limited time to get it all in, but a 6hour stopover was a lot of wiggle room to improvise with!

  2. I spent two days in Sitka, in 2015. One day was spent climbing 2/3 of the way up Mt. Verstovia, which required a 5-mile taxi ride to the trailhead. I was also very much taken with the State Historical Park, the Russian Orthodox historic sites and all those eagles!

    1. I didn’t see any eagles in Sitka, but I got close enough to get a good shot of one while kayaking in Juneau. I’ll be writing about that in later posts.

      I’m pretty sure those mountain hikes are amazing. We didn’t have time for that while we were there, unfortunately. We did hike Mount Juneau though and that was hands down one of the toughest hikes I have ever done. Hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier still beat it though!

      1. I went up Perseverance Trail, whilst staying at Juneau Youth Hostel. Mendenhall was definitely a high point, though I hiked the east side, sans bear spray, which I consider more dangerous than the grizzlies themselves.

  3. Hi Alex! I only know about Sitka from the move “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock. Exciting to know it’s worth a trip. I would love to see the totem poles up close. Any thoughts on traveling solo there?

    1. That movie sounds vaguely familiar! What happened in the movie? Seems like an odd location for them to choose!

      It’s definitely worth a trip, but I’m not sure about going solo as a Black female. Alaska is a red state and Sitka is rural with only 8800 people. As soon as we exited security checkpoint there were animal heads mounted on the walls. I think you can see where I’m going with this. 🤣 No one was overtly racist, but I did get a lot of strange looks, even from Black guys. From what I saw, not counting Asians, there weren’t a lot of other Black women around and that made me an oddity, I suppose. The looks were like, “They do exist!” People were very friendly though!

      Aside from that, I think it’s a great place to unplug and unwind, solo or otherwise. We only did that one trail and it was beautiful but I’m sure there are even more beautiful ones in the mountains.

    1. It seemed like it was plenty, haha. There wasn’t much to see in that town and it was kind of depressing how rundown it was. I’m sure the hiking is amazing though!

    1. I only did Sitka and Juneau. I’m not sure my tropical genes could handle further north. It was pretty warm in Sitka and Juneau, but I hear Anchorage was not so fortunate!

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