A visit to Sitka, Alaska should definitely be on your travel bucket list! The state offers majestic views and a laid back way of life that isn’t found in other parts of the United States. I was lucky enough to live in Alaska for five years of my childhood when my dad was stationed at the Coast Guard base on Kodiak Island.
I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to various other places in the state including Anchorage, Juneau, and Ketchikan. However, more recently, I took a trip to Sitka, and I have to say, it is one of my favorite spots in the state.
You’ll find the small town of Sitka on Baranof Island, and it is home to around nine thousand people. It was named New Archangel when it was the Russian capital of Alaska all the way until 1867. Before the Russians came, the area was populated by the Tlingit people, and today you can see a mix of both the Russian and indigenous influences in the architecture, art, and culture of Sitka.
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The Best Time to Visit Sitka
Just about everywhere in Alaska is at its most accessible in the summer months with mid-July being the peak. Summer is when the weather is mostly mild, there are tons of daylight hours, and the best fishing days. The Sitka weather forecast is no exception to that rule.
Summer temperatures in Sitka run from the high 40s to the low 60s on average. The driest month tends to be June, but that definitely doesn’t mean you can leave the rain gear at home. June still has, on average, a 36% chance of rain every day. By the end of August, that moves up to a 53% chance of rain each day. The rainiest month is usually October, however, with an average of 12 inches of rain.
The days of summer are long in Sitka giving you nearly 18 hours worth of daylight. Sunrise is somewhere around 4 am with sunset happening close to 10 pm (or later!)
All of that being said, Sitka, AK weather is one of the more even climates in the state, and the temperatures don’t actually fluctuate that much over the course of the year. Winter weather generally means lows in the 30s, and there is far more rain than snow pretty much all year long. You will miss out on those gloriously long days if you choose to book a trip in the winter months, however. Average daylight in December drops down to just seven hours per day or less.
How to Get to (and Around) Sitka
Before you can enjoy the mountains and crisp fresh air on the island, you have to get there, right? There are two ways you can get to Sitka: you can fly or you can arrive on a boat.
If you are arriving by sea, you have a few more options. From May to September, major cruise lines like Norwegian and Carnival make stops in Sitka’s harbor. Some of the smaller cruise lines also make the trek to the island during the cruising season.
Sitka is also part of the Alaska Marine Highway System which means the ferry finds its way to Sitka’s port all year long. You can hop on the ferry from as far away as Bellingham, Washington with or without your car!
If you aren’t interested in cruising on a big ship or spending time on the ferry, you can always charter a boat for a more personalized experience. But like all custom experiences, it will come with a “custom” price tag. If you have your own boat and would like to set sail for Sitka, you can contact the harbormaster at (907) 747-3439 to find moorage for your vessel.
Once you’ve arrived on Baranof island, you will find that Sitka is quite easy to navigate on foot because the town is pretty condensed. Nearly all of the main points of interest are within walking distance of each other, and during tourist season it is easy to find a lift to the ones that aren’t. Many people opt for bicycle rentals to make their way around town as Sitka is a very bike-friendly place.
There are also cabs, rental cars, and the occasional Uber driver to get you most anywhere you want to go.
Where to Stay When Visiting Sitka
On my visit to Sitka, I was able to cheat on accommodations because my dad lives there. We spent the week sleeping in his boat, but not everyone has that kind of travel trick up their sleeves. No need to worry though because there are plenty of options when it comes to booking a room during your Alaskan vacation.
Those looking for a budget-friendly option may want to book a room at Super 8 by Wyndham which offers a decent room near the Tongass National Forest. A continental breakfast is included with your room stay, and there is also free WiFi and a hot tub for beating the chill on those rainy days.
If you are a fan of Airbnb, you may want to check out Water’s Edge. This one bedroom property offers an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains. You man not even need to leave your deck to catch a glimpse of a whale or a sea otter. If Water’s Edge isn’t big enough (or is too big) to suit your needs, you will find plenty of other Sitka Airbnb choices to explore.
Of course, there is always the option of staying right in the middle of town at the Sitka Hotel. In addition to the convenience of being nestled in among all the shops and activities, you also get mountain views, a bar area, and a fine dining restaurant at your fingertips. The hotel also offers concierge services and a shuttle to the airport or ferry.
What to Pack When Traveling to Sitka
When traveling to Alaska, the best thing to do is bring layers. The weather can definitely fluctuate. Besides, 60º may feel warm when the sun is shining, but it can feel quite chilly on a cloudy day or while out on the water.
So that means you need to fill your bag with a couple long-sleeved tees, a hoodie or two, and maybe even a pair of thermals. If you are traveling in the winter months, add in a few heavier items, make the thermals a definite, and be sure to pack thick wool socks. There is not really a need to bring along anything fancy. Alaska is a unique place, and no one seems to turn their nose up at you, even if you are eating in a higher-end restaurant in your Carharts and flannel (or your LBD and heels!) Things just move a little differently than they do in the ‘Lower 48’.
A few essentials for your bag, no matter the time of year you travel include a raincoat or rain poncho, a beanie to keep your head warm, and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes. I would also suggest a pair of sunglasses, and if you are traveling in the summer months a sleeping mask. You may not appreciate that 4 am sunrise blaring you in the face.
Books to Get You in the Sitka Mood
If you are looking for a bit of reading to get you hyped for your Sitka trip, you may want to check out the Lonely Planet travel guide for Alaska. You can buy the whole thing which comes in a hard copy and an e-book. However, if you only want the portion that talks about Sitka, you can grab a PDF version of the Juneau & Southeast chapter.
The majority of the movie The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds takes place in Sitka, but it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. So, don’t be surprised when actual Sitka doesn’t look like the shots in the film.
Now that you have all this Sitka information, you can get your trip planning started! If Alaska is on your travel bucket list, then you can’t go wrong with choosing Sitka as your destination in the Last Frontier.