In 2018, I took a highly anticipated trip to Alaska. The original plan was to go to Canada, but Trump’s ongoing anti-immigration bans made it difficult for me to leave the country. In truth, even traveling to Alaska was a risk, but I was tired of staying cooped up at home. Off to Alaska, I went. I’m not too fond of the cold, so I chose to go in the middle of summer. Juneau was the final destination, but my Alaska Airlines flight had a six-hour layover in Sitka.
Sitka is not a popular destination by any means. It’s a small island boasting a population of just over 8,400. Everywhere we went, people asked us why on Earth we would visit Sitka. No one seemed enthused about living in this corner of the Last Frontier. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would gladly return. So, if you’ve ever wondered what to do in Sitka, here’s your answer.
Get a Taxi Recommendation from Airport Workers
You can hardly go anywhere these days where Uber and Lyft rides aren’t available. This is especially the case in developed countries like the United States. However, there’s a reason Alaska is known as the Last Frontier. Sitka had neither of these options when I visited, and recent tourists confirmed this has not changed.
Even so, you can still get around. The workers at Sitka’s tiny airport will be happy to give you recommendations for taxi drivers. It’s better to take their recommendations over an eager driver waiting outside. Why? Leaving the airport is one thing. You need a driver who will also be reliable enough to take you back on time.
Here’s another fun tip. If you brought carry-on bags, ask about leaving your bags at the airport. Ideally, you have locks on your bags, so no shady characters try to slip something inside while you’re off adventuring.
Visit Baranof Castle Hill
Don’t get too excited. There isn’t some grand Russian castle sitting atop a hill in Sitka, Alaska. Instead, it quite literally is just a flat, paved area on top of a hill. It might not seem very exciting, but it’s worth seeing. In fact, the National Park Service calls it one of the most historically significant landmarks in all of Alaska.
If you like to learn an area’s history and you’re curious about the connections to Russia in Sitka, this is a place to get some answers. The plaques at the site also talk about the indigenous people of the area, known as the Tlingit. It’s a great place to take photos and enjoy ocean views.
See the Totem Poles
Sitka National Historical Park is only a short drive away. It has a long list of attractions, but one of the things I found most fascinating was the totem poles featuring Native American art. You can find even more of that inside the museum, which is also at the park.
Hike to the Indian River
When we took off into the woods, we had no real sense of where we were headed. However, when the signs for a river popped up, my travel buddy insisted that we see it. I’m really glad we did. It’s one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve seen in North America. What surprised me most was that the water really wasn’t that cold at all.
Relax by the Ocean
On the way back to the airport, we found a park bench that looked out toward the ocean. Many people brought their children and their dogs to this area to play. We also noticed a few couples who came to enjoy the view. I suspect it’s spectacular at sunset, but our flight left long before we had the opportunity to confirm.
Return to the Airport for Fish and Chips
We timed our return perfectly, so we had just enough time to get lunch before continuing to Juneau. We ate at the Nugget, which is still in operation there. Fish and chips is a typical meal option in Alaska, so that’s a safe choice if you’re unsure what to get. The dessert was also tasty!
Long layovers can sometimes feel like an inconvenient disruption to your trip, but sometimes they can be a beautiful detour. The great thing about Sitka is that it’s so tiny that you won’t feel like you don’t have time to do it all. Six hours is really all you need to enjoy the best of what it has to offer. Staying a day or two is also highly recommended. Enjoy!