On the Water
The little islands and rocks that dot Sitka Sound are an invitation to the sea otter in all of us; you must get out on the water.
Many charter boats are available for salmon or halibut. The Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau keeps a detailed charter boat list online. Using the grid view (www.sitka.org/grid.html), you can compare boats, rates, and services, and link to the vessel's own home page.
Or book through Alaska Adventures Unlimited (tel. 907/747-5576; www.alaskafishing-sitka.com), which has set up charters in Sitka since 1982.
If you can handle your own boat, skiffs rent for $105 half-day and up from BJ's Boat Rentals (tel. 907/738-0481).
One Halibut Per Customer -- For years, ever more charter boats carried visitors to Southeast Alaska in pursuit of halibut, all chasing the same resource of fish. Although anglers take far fewer halibut than the commercial fishing industry, they have repeatedly overrun the annual limits set on their total catch. Consequently, federal fishery managers invoked a one-fish-per-day bag limit, with a size limit of 37 inches. If you enjoy fishing, the limit shouldn't stop you. A single 50-pound fish should be enough for anyone, and you can keep fishing and throwing back halibut until you decide to land and kill one. Or book a charter, in season, to fish halibut and salmon on the same day.
Sitka's protected waters and intricate shorelines are perfect for sea kayaking. You're almost sure to see sea otters, seals, sea lions, and eagles, and could see whales. A locally owned firm, Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures (tel. 907/752-0660; www.kayaksitka.com), offers day paddles of various lengths. A 2 1/2-hour outing is $69 for adults and $49 for children ages 6 to 12 (no children 5 and under), or take a half-day paddle for $149 and $109. Reserve ahead, then make contact at the blue bus in the parking lot of the Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Anglers should pick up the Sitka Area Sport Fishing Guide, which has lots of tips on streams, lakes, and fishing methods in the area. You can download the guide from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at www.alaska.gov/adfg (the URL for the guide itself is long; to find it, click on "Sport Fish" and then the Southeast region, the Sitka area, and finally on "Additional Information"). The site also has weekly fishing updates during the summer months. The local Fish and Game office is at 304 Lake St., Room 103, Sitka, AK 99835 (tel. 907/747-5355).
Forest Service Cabins
The Sitka Ranger District, 204 Siginaka Way, Sitka, AK 99835 (tel. 907/747-6671; www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/districts/sitka), maintains two dozen wilderness cabins on Baranof, Chichagof, and Kruzof islands, in sea-kayaking coves and on remote fishing lakes, where rowing skiffs generally are provided. The cabins and their facilities are described in a Forest Service handout or on their website. One cabin is accessible by road from Sitka. You will need camping gear to use any of the cabins, and a boat or floatplane to all but that one, a much greater cost than the nightly rental of $35 to $50.
For cabins on saltwater near Sitka, the most affordable way may be a water taxi, such as Esther G Sea Taxi (tel. 907/747-6481 or 738-6481 cell; www.puffinsandwhales.com). Operator Davey Lubin also offers educational marine wildlife tours, beach and forest tours, and kayak drop-offs to remote shores. Ken Bellows of Air Sitka flying service (tel. 907/747-7920) has been flying anglers, hunters, and cabin visitors out to remote spots around Sitka for many years. He also offers half-hour flightseeing spins for $250. His helpful office person is on duty Monday through Friday from 8am to noon, at 485 Katlian St.
Either way, allow time in your schedule in case bad weather prevents backcountry travel.
Sitka is a great hiking area, with trails threading all over the mountains behind the town. There are a dozen U.S. Forest Service hiking trails accessible from the roads around Sitka and another 20 rough trails you can get to by plane or boat. A beautifully made little book, Sitka Trails (Alaska Geographic), covers each trail with a detailed description and fine-scale color topographic map. If you need further advice, contact the ranger district office.
From downtown, the 4-mile (one-way) Indian River Trail is a relaxing rainforest walk rising gradually up the river valley to a small waterfall. Take Indian River Road off Sawmill Creek Road just east of the downtown. For a steeper mountain-climbing trail to alpine terrain and great views, the Gavan Hill-Harbor Mountain Trail is near the end of Baranof Street, which starts near the Russian Bishop's House. It gains 2,500 feet over 3 miles to the peak of Gavan Hill, then continues another 3 miles along a ridge to meet Harbor Mountain Road. The Sitka Cross Trail connects these trails and neighborhood streets, allowing you to start almost anywhere.
At the north end of Halibut Point Road, 7 1/2 miles from downtown, several wonderful trails loop through the Starrigavan Recreation Area. On the right, the Estuary Life Trail and Forest Muskeg Trail, totaling about a mile, are well developed and accessible to anyone, circling a grassy estuary rich with birds and fish. The pleasant Mosquito Cove Trail, starting from within the Starrigavan Bayside Loop picnic area on the left, circles 1.25 miles along the shore to the secluded gravel beach of the cove, returning over boardwalk steps through the old-growth forest.
Tide-Pooling & Shore Walks
Halibut Point State Recreation Area, 4 1/2 miles north of town on Halibut Point Road, is a great place for a picnic, shore ramble, and tide-pooling. The Mosquito Cove Trail is also promising. To find the best low tides, check a tide book, available all over town. It's best to go at the lowest tide possible, arriving on the shore an hour before the low. To identify the little creatures you'll see, pick up a plastic-covered field guide at a bookstore.
Humpback whales stop to feed in Sitka Sound on their way south in the winter migration. During October, November, December, and March, you can watch from shore -- the local government has even built a special park for the purpose. At the fun Whale Park, just south of town on Sawmill Creek Road, spotting scopes are mounted on platforms along a boardwalk and at the end of staircases that descend the dramatic, wooded cliffs. Excellent interpretive signs, located near surfacing concrete whales in the parking lot, explain the whales. The Sitka WhaleFest, in November, is the best time for whale enthusiasts, as then you can watch whales in the company of cetacean scientists. For summertime whale-watching, take a boat.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.