Written By: Rhonda and Bruce Conine, Owners of Sitka Wildlife Tours
Alaska. Just the word alone conjures up images of rugged, snow-topped mountains, celestial glaciers, magnificent wildlife and untouched wilderness. That’s why Alaska is on the bucket list of travelers from all over the world. And one of the top places to visit in Alaska is Sitka. Sitka is such an intriguing place to visit that Smithsonian Magazine named Sitka, Alaska, one of the Top 20 Small Towns to Visit in America.
Sitka is the fourth largest city in Alaska with a population of approximately 9,000 people. The Borough of Sitka is made up of 300 islands located along Alaska’s famous Inside Passage.
Sitka is a popular destination for fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing because of its mild climate which comes from its location in the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rainforest along the Inside Passage, and facing the Pacific Ocean.
Summers in Sitka are beautiful, with average highs in the 60’s. Winters are mild and mostly rainy with average lows in the 40’s. Sitka gets approximately 132 inches of rain per year, most of which occurs during the winter months.
The cruise ship is the most popular way to visit Sitka. Approximately 100,000 cruise ship visitors stop in Sitka every summer.
Although Sitka gets plenty of tourists, you won’t experience the typical “touristy” feel that you get in most places. The residents of Sitka prefer to be low-key and to keep the community focused on being a community, not a tourist trap. So when you visit Sitka, you’ll experience it like the locals do.
Sitka’s Rich History
Sitka Alaska is the first and oldest city, in Alaska, with some sources saying that the city is over 10,000 years old. It was established by the Tlingit (pronounced “Klin-ket”) tribe of Native Americans who still have a strong presence in Sitka today.
Sitka was the site of the signing of the Alaska Purchase on October 18th, 1867, when Russia officially sold Alaska to the US.
Prior to the Alaska Purchase, Sitka was a major Russian port where they traded and shipped valuable sea otter furs. When you visit Sitka, you’ll see a strong Russian influence in sites such as the historic St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Every year on October 18th the community of Sitka pulls out all of the stops to celebrate Alaska Day. There is a parade, festival, concerts, dances, and a reenactment of the signing of the Alaska Purchase in full historic regalia. It’s truly a spectacular sight for Sitka residents and visitors alike.
One of the most popular activities for visitors to Sitka is wildlife viewing, and one of the most popular tour companies in Sitka is Sitka Wildlife Tours having earned a Certificate of Excellence in 2015 from TripAdvisor for consistently earning great reviews from travelers.
The owners of Sitka Wildlife Tours, Bruce and Rhonda Conine, are Alaska natives and have lived in Sitka most of their lives. They love to show visitors the Sitka that they know and love.
“Our inspiration came while on a cruise to Jamaica. Our guide showed us such a good time on our shore excursion, we knew we could do the same in Sitka!” says Bruce Conine.
Sitka Wildlife Tours provides small group land and marine tours of the beautiful sights and sounds of Sitka, Alaska.
Here’s what guests say about Sitka Wildlife Tours:
“See Sitka Through the Eyes of a Local
While in Sitka, my wife and I wanted to see the area in a small group, away from the cruise ship crowds. So we took the 2-hour scenic tour through Sitka Wildlife Tours.
We had a great experience. Our guide, Maria, grew up in Sitka. We knew this would be a special tour when we saw her waving to and acknowledging other residents everywhere we went. Her enthusiasm and love for the area was evident in our tour.
Besides visiting the standard tourist sites she showed us places that were important to her as a local. In doing so she gave us some insight about the history of the area, the people who live there and the area wildlife. Most interesting was learning how Sitka’s residents live while faced with constant challenges from Mother Nature.
We were able to visit more sites in the small group. We didn’t waste a lot of time getting on and off a bus. We could always hear our guide and she was always available to answer our questions.
The cost was not much different than a similar tour booked through the cruise ship and the experience was well worth the price. Plus, we felt good about supporting a local business and the year-round residents who run it. The next time we are in Sitka we will definitely do another tour with Sitka Wildlife Tours.” Ed R. Laguna Hills, California, (via TripAdvisor).
Most tour guests visit during the summer cruise ship season which runs from May through September. And the wonderful thing about visiting Sitka during the summer is that visitors will see amazing wildlife.
“You’re always going to be amazed when you take one of our tours because we take you places that the larger tour companies can’t go to because of their size,” says Conine.
On the two-hour Sitka Wildlife Tour land tour, you’ll take a tour of historic Sitka in a small group of 8-10 people, in clean and comfortable vans. You’ll see the major historic sites such as historic downtown Sitka, home of St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the site of the original Russian American Company fur traders.
You’ll view Sitka’s most famous landmarks including the Pioneer Home, Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka Sound Science Center, Russian Bishop’s House, Totem Park, home of the towering totems, and the stunning Silver Bay.
Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the Bald Eagle and see a live Eagles’ nest as well as you’ll visit an area where bald Eagles make their home.
Depending on the season you might see the annual salmon run in the Indian River, where for thousands of years, millions of salmon have made their way from the Pacific Ocean to the mouth of the Indian River to lay their eggs and begin a new cycle of life in Alaska. Visitors are awed when they look in the river and see millions of salmon fighting to swim upstream.
The salmon are a critical element and foundation to the ecology of Alaska, not only providing food for man and beasts alike, but also providing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen which helps the forest grow lush and strong, providing food, and shelter for the multitude of wildlife that live in Alaska.
On the Sitka Wildlife Tour land tour guests will also get free admission into Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear, Alaska’s only bear rehabilitation facility where guests will get within 25 feet of eight live orphaned bears who have been rescued from certain death. The bears range in age from cubs to full grown adults and they truly are a sight to behold. Many guests say that this is one of their favorite experiences of the tour.
Marine Life – Whale Watching Tours
On Sitka Wildlife Tour’s Marine Tour guests will have the opportunity to see Killer whales, Humpback whales, Gray whales, porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, seals, and over 280 species of birds living in the pristine waters of Sitka, Alaska. It’s always a thrilling sight to watch the whales swimming so close that you could touch them.
Our vessel for this amazing marine life tour is a new, Coast Guard inspected 26-foot Glacier Bay Catamaran. This twin engine boat was constructed specifically for a smooth ride in the sometimes choppy waters of Alaska. The catamaran has a warm, comfortable cabin with large windows to maximize wildlife viewing from indoors, as well as a spacious deck for the open-air experience.
This two-hour marine tour takes a maximum of six guests to see some of the most breath-taking scenery and animal habitat in the world.
Weather and sea conditions will determine the itinerary for that day. The main focus is whale watching, but the captain will also try to tweak the tour based on guests’ preferences. Whether it is whales feasting on herring, sea otters lounging in the kelp, barking sea lions, or the unusual sea birds such as puffins, murres and cormorants, guests are sure to see something amazing on our Marine Life Tour.
What visitors need to know about visiting Sitka Alaska
Be on the lookout for bears. Sitka has more bears per capita than any other place in Alaska and bear sightings are frequent. The Alaskan Brown Bears or Grizzly Bears are the largest bears in the world growing as big as 2,500 pounds and can run as fast as 30 miles per hour.
These bears are not to be messed with. Never go hiking alone and carry bear spray when you go into the forest. Never approach a bear. If you come across a bear, the best thing to do is to freeze and back away slowly or play dead. If you run, the bear will think you are prey and run after you. You can’t outrun a bear.
Also, don’t assume that the bears will stay in the forest. Hungry bears are known to wander into neighborhoods and ransack garbage cans and eat small animals such as dogs and chickens. Sitka residents participate in a bear watch and notify each other of bear sightings.
Dress for rain: Since Sitka is located in a temperate rain forest rain should be expected. Bring a light rain jacket and dress in layers. Make sure you have waterproof shoes too.
For Travel Professionals:
Most tours are booked as shore excursions from guests on Alaskan cruises. Holland America, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises Lines are the ships that most often travel to Sitka.
Airlines serving Sitka, include Alaska Air and Delta Airlines (summer months only). There are many lodging choices in Sitka including hotels, bed and breakfast and cabin rentals. We recommend contacting Sharon at Sitka Travel. www.sitkatravel.com
Private and custom tours are available as well. To book a tour with Sitka Wildlife Tours, contact us at 907-738-1733 or visit us online at http://www.sitkawildlifetours.com.