A Winter Weekend in Sitka

As you probably noticed from my last post, I recently spent a weekend down in Sitka, Alaska on a work trip.  Before my trip I was googling like crazy trying to figure out what to do and where to hike while I was there, and information about visiting in the winter was hard to find.  So here’s what I did on my gorgeous February weekend in Sitka!  If you’re here in the summer I still recommend checking these things out.

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Sitka 101:  Sitka was the Russian capital of Alaska back in the day, and you can see lots of cool old Russian influence mixed with some Tlingit culture.  It is located on Baranof Island in the southeastern part of Alaska.  You either need to take a plane or a boat/ferry/cruise ship to get there.  It’s usually wet and rainy and is part of the Tongass National Forest.  The whole community is only 14 miles long by road, and almost 9,000 people live there.

Lodging:  Some things close down in the winter, so if you’re coming in the summer you’ll have more options.  I chose to stay in the new Aspen Suites Hotel.  It was downtown within walking distance of food, historical sights, hiking, and the boat harbor and I’d definitely stay there again.

Food:  Once again, things are somewhat closed down in the winter.  I also was really busy between hiking and working, so I didn’t get the chance to eat out much.  However, I recommend Highliner Coffee for good coffee and breakfast sandwiches, and the Mean Queen for delicious pizza and gorgeous views!

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Hikes:  I had 3 days to explore, so I tried to get to as many different scenic areas so I could see as much as possible.  I was given three suggestions over and over again, and they’re the ones I ultimately chose to do:  Mosquito Cove, Gavan Hill, and Herring Cove/Beaver Lake.  If you’re doing these in the winter, I would highly suggest bringing microspikes on all of these hikes and maybe even snow shoes for Gavan Hill if you can borrow a pair from someone.

The Mosquito Cove Trail is all the way at the north end of the road.  The parking lot was closed in the winter, but I parked on the side of the road and hiked in to the trailhead.  When I reached the official start of the trail I turned left and hiked along the coast first.  The views of the bay and Mt. Edgecumbe in the distance were gorgeous, but for me the best part was seeing the snow-free mossy trees and rocks in the forest!  Mosquito Cove itself was very tranquil and beautiful.  After reaching the cove, the trail cuts through the forest back to the trailhead (but if you have time I’d skip that part and return on the trail you came in on to catch more of the coastal views!).  The whole loop is 1.25 miles and I’d consider this an easy hike with many small ups and downs to keep things interesting.

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I wrote a detailed post about my solo summit of Gavan Hill via the Gavan Hill/Harbor Mountain Trail here.  I’d recommend this trail if you want to see incredible views of Sitka and the surrounding islands as well as Mt. Edgecumbe.  I would rate this hike as pretty difficult due to its constant steepness, but if you go slow and steady you’ll make it to the top of the 5 billion stairs that go up this mountain (approximate number, possibly an exaggeration) without feeling too tired.  The trail starts snow free but the farther up you go in the winter, the more snow you will find.  Most of this trail is in the woods, but it made the rare viewpoints that much more gorgeous.

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Gavan Hill from the bottom
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Gavan Hill from the top

On my last day in Sitka I hiked out to Beaver Lake on the Herring Cove Trail.  This trail starts at the very end of the road on the opposite end from Mosquito Cove.  The drive out here was gorgeous and I’d recommend pulling over at some of the pullouts along the road to take pictures.  I saw an eagle pull a fish out of the water and carry it up to a tree to eat it!

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Herring Cove
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An eagle flying over the water

The last part of the road is unpaved and was covered in ice this time of year, which was honestly terrifying in my little rented Yaris with no studded tires.  But once I got out there and started hiking I knew it was worth the drive!  The trail initially winds upwards through the forest as it follows a waterfall and a river.  Once you reach the top of the waterfall, it’s pretty flat until you get to the lake.  I was short on time so I only hiked along the lakeside for about 10 minutes.  I reached a gorgeous lookout point and enjoyed the views of the frozen lake before heading back to the car.  If you’re not short on time, the trail apparently goes all the way around the lake.  I’d love to fully complete this hike someday!  I would consider this hike easy with some moderate switchbacks at the beginning and end.

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A fun obstacle on the trail!
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First view of Beaver Lake

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Mossy rocks covered in snow

Historical Sites:  On a quick drive around town I saw a lot of totem poles.  So I was excited when one of the people I was working with over the weekend suggested walking from the small boat harbor over to the Totem Trail in Sitka National Historic Park.  The walk over to the park is along the gorgeous coastline and my friend was so kind as to let me stop 50 times to take pictures.  Once we reached the park, I was instantly blown away by the size and beauty of the Tlingit and Haida totem poles that seemed to pop out of the woods at every turn.  Between the totem poles and the gorgeous coastal views I was busy taking as many pictures as I could!  This trail is super easy and flat and would be great for non-hikers too.

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The only other historical site I visited was Baranof Castle.  It’s the site of old Tlingit and Russian forts.  It’s also the location where Russia officially gave Alaska over to the United States, and the first place our flag was flown when we became a state.  Now it’s just an overlook on the top of the hill.  There’s a wheelchair accessible trail that goes up to the top of the tiny hill.  The views of the town and the surrounding islands was definitely a must see.  Plus, it’s right down the street from the pizza place so it’s easy to hop on over after your meal.

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Overall opinion of Sitka:  It might seem like a bold statement, but this is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been.  Between the towering mountains, the open ocean, and the large amount of tiny islands popping up all over the place, I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty.  The rainforest at sea level made everything green and mossy, while the high elevation of the mountains provided lots of snowy vistas to enjoy in the winter.  Plus, it was a warm and sunny weekend (40 degrees!) which felt great after coming from cold and cloudy Anchorage – although I know that my luck at getting 3 great days of weather in Sitka was pretty rare!  I can’t wait to come back here at some point during the summer to check it out again.  I’d love to take a boat out to Mt. Edgecumbe and climb the dormant volcano, and I’d love to hike up to Harbor Mountain without any snow!

What’s the most gorgeous place you’ve ever been?  Have you ever been to Sitka?


22 thoughts on “A Winter Weekend in Sitka

    1. Honestly, it’s so far from every major city here (except Juneau) so I totally get it. And it was annoying to get there from Anchorage – I had to fly to Juneau and sit on the runway before flying into Sitka. But it will be fine, the rest of Alaska is gorgeous too! Where are you going?

      1. Whenever I finally get to plan my Alaska trip, I’ll be sure to email you for recommendations! lol

    1. You should do it! I came up here on my honeymoon and decided I had to move here. Anchorage is great and I love being able to travel to so many gorgeous places here. If you make it back up here let me know!

  1. Wow you fit so much into your trip!! I’m blown away by the views and diversity of nature. I’ve never been anywhere in Alaska but it’s definitely on my bucket list! I’m so glad you took so many photos and the one of the Eagle is insane! Would love to see that close up and personal.

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