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Sitka's History & Wildlife

Russian Orthodox Church in Sitka, Alaska

History, culture and wildlife blend in the Sitka area. As the former capital of Russian Alaska, Sitka, on Baranof Island, is where humans and wildlife have harmonized for thousands of years.

The Kiksadi Clan of the Tlingit Indians chose what is now called Baranof Island as their home, establishing a community at what is present-day Sitka. The Tlingits lived undisturbed until 1799, when Russian explorers arrived and Alexander Baranof, Manager of the Russian-American Company, built a fort a few miles to the north. After a series of clashes, the Tlingits attacked and destroyed the Russian outpost in 1802. But Baranof retaliated and soon pushed the natives from the area.

The Russians renamed the settlement New Archangel. The Russian Orthodox Church spread its influence into the area and built fortress-like structures on a hilltop overlooking the shoreline; this area is now known as Castle Hill.

Killer Whales Rich wildlife resources in this area allowed the Russian-American Company to flourish - for a time it was the most profitable fur trader in the world. But over harvest of sea otters and other animals caused the Russians to lose interest in the new world. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. The transfer ceremony occurred in Sitka. Today, the Sitka culture is a blend of Tlingit, Russian and American.

Sitka is one of the world's best places to view wildlife. The surrounding waters provide important feeding grounds for many species of whale. Sea otters, sea lions and other marine wildlife are abundant in this area. Summertime provides wonderful opportunities to view many kinds of sea birds. On St. Lazaria Island, a federal wildlife refuge at the mouth of Sitka Sound, sea birds nest and raise their young on sheer volcanic cliffs where they are easy to spot. You can always see puffins, murres, petrels and other species. This is a short twenty minutes from QUEST ALASKA LODGES® on Hummingbird Island.

Black bears and grizzlies live on the mainland, and on some of the larger islands. Bear problems are not common here — the bears have plenty of wilderness to roam and they usually stay away from people. Tours can be arranged to take people to areas where they are likely to see bears.

Wildlife in Sitka, Alaska Our picturesque islands and straights are popular destinations for cruise ships and tour boats. Sea kayakers also enjoy exploring this area. Of course, world-class salmon and halibut fishing attracts anglers from all over the world.

Sitka is surrounded by the largest temperate rain forest in the world — the Tongass National Forest. It offers an extensive trail system through rugged mountains. Backpackers, photographers and hunters delight at seeing wildlife at almost every turn.