Sitka’s hiking trails
While Brenda visited family in Minnesota I took the “fast ferry” Fairweather (only 4.5 hours!) over to Sitka to hike the trails that are accessible from the road system. Although all of the trails are doable as a day hike it was possible to string together the Harbor Mountain, Gavan Hill, Sitka Cross, Indian River and Mount Verstovia Trails into one continuous three day trek. The others I hiked as day hikes with a lighter pack.
Below is a map of the trails around Sitka, click or right click / open link, to view map and photos full size.
Trail Days Mileage Elevation
Harbor Mt. Galvan Hill Trail 2 11 2500’
Sitka Cross Trail .5 2.5 100’
Mt. Verstovia 2 6 2550’
Indian River Trail 1 9 700’
Beaver Lake & Herring Cove Trail .5 3 250’
Thimbleberry Lake Trail .5 1.5 350’
Starrigavan Rec. Aria Trails 1 4 300’
The trail up Harbor Mountain and around to Gavan hill was in the process of being resurfaced by the Forest Service’s contractor and was mostly completed and in great shape. Note the fresh crushed rock trail bed, nice. I spent my first night on a high ridge near the shelter between Harbor Mountain and Gavan Hill, that day clouds shrouded the mountains giving me only tantalizing glimpses of Sitka Sound and the islands below.
Sometimes when the big scenery is obscured I focus on the small beauty at my feet like this Mountain Heather in bloom.
The trail down Gavan Hill was mostly wooden stairs like this, by the end of the day my knees were kinda sore.
My second camp was half way up the Indian River Trail in a grove of huge spruce and hemlock trees, from nearby muskegs views of the surrounding mountains and upper valleys can be seen. The trail meanders along the Indian River through forest and gentle terrain and then steepens slightly at the last mile to the falls at the very end.
The Trail to Mount Verstovia is steep and direct with only a few breaks in the trees to glimpse the world below until the summit is reached at 2550 feet. There are numerous switchbacks but only to make walking possible, it is often so steep that ropes and cables have been installed to help pull oneself up and along. Going down is no picnic either. By the time I reached the top clouds had obscured any view, so after a hasty meal I crawled into my tent mumbling curses at coastal Alaskan weather, humph, typical! But while I lay there writing in my journal a bright reddish light struck one side of the tent. Bewildered as what it could be I scrambled back out to see what could be going on. Miraculously the clouds had vanished and the setting sun had set the sky and surrounding peaks ablaze in the evening sunset.
No longer tired and with camera in hand I sat up until eleven pm watching the colors change over Sitka sound and the emerging lights of town sparkle as night came to the valley below.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast I loaded my pack and made the arduous trek back to Sitka and for the rest of my stay and planned to explore the remaining trails, mostly short day hikes, and the cultural and historic highlights of Sitka.
If you are interested in hiking in the Sitka area here are a few online resources:
NPS Sitka area hiking map
Matt Goff’s Sitka trail guide and blog
Alaska Geographic’s Sitka Trails book
Sitka’s art and history
One of my favorite places in Sitka is the Sheldon Jackson Museum at 104 College drive, the museum's collection has been called a jewel in the crown of Alaska ethnographic collections and has one of the finest collections of historic kayaks in the world.
Next door is the Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska's oldest federally designated park was established in 1910 to commemorate the 1804 Battle of Sitka where the Tlingit Kiks.ádi defended their homeland against Russian mercenaries and their Aleut serfs as depicted in this painting by the renowned artist Louis S Glanzman.
While at the visitors center I had the opportunity to chat with Tlingit artist Tommy Joseph, who is an artist in residence at the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center located at Sitka National Historical Park, who had recently traveled to many national and international museums to study their collections of Tlingit battle armor. A brilliant carver he had several helmets and full body armor, completed or in progress, in his studio for his upcoming show at the Sheldon Jackson Museum on November 13th. I am hoping he will bring his work and talk here to Juneau in the near future.
The best meal in town (in my opinion) can be found at Ludvig’s Bistro at 256 Katlian Street. The food is “rustic Mediterranean” made with fresh Alaskan seafood. Be sure to make a reservation though because it’s small and fills up fast.
For good coffee and yummy pastries go to the Backdoor Café in the back of Old Harbor Books, my favorite place to hang while I’m in Sitka.
I am currently reading; Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America, The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804 - edited by Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Richard Dauenhauer and Lydia Black The book explores an era from the 1790s through 1818 when Russians expanded into Southeast Alaska to take control of the Northwest Coast fur trade and the Tlingit people resisted the incursion into their ancestral homeland and events culminated in two historic battles between the Russians and Tlingits in 1802 and 1804. Published by Sealaska Heritage Institute in association with the University of Washington Press it is very well written and accurately portrays both sides of the conflict.
A few more hikes
Before leaving I made one final camp at the Starrigavan Recreation Aria at the end of the road near the ferry dock. Starrigavan has two short but very pleasant walks; the Mosquito Cove Trail is a loop that runs through an old forest with high rock walls and ends at a beautiful cove and the Forest Muskeg Trail that will take you back to the ferry dock and meanders through a river estuary and a muskeg meadow with fine views of the surrounding mountains. Along the way I found this shelter overlooking the Starrigavan River estuary, note the carved herons on both sides of the entrance. Nice, way to go Sitka!
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir