Alaska is often dismissed as simply a cold, frigid land devoid of life. Nothing could be further from the truth: from brown and black bears to humpback whales to our country’s national bird, the Bald Eagle, Alaska is teaming with wildlife and history. During the spring and summers, the vibrant greens carpeting the land rivals anything you’ll see in the tropics or Ireland, with stately mountains rising in the distance. The coastal town of Sitka offers the best of all worlds, from close encounters with local wildlife to a walk to living history, there is something for everyone, no matter what you’re looking for.
Sitka, as a whole, is brimming with local wildlife: puffins, otters, bald eagles, grey whales, and humpback whales. Whale watching is a popular tourist activity for both first-timers and returning visitors to Alaska’s shores. Because of its unique position as located both in Southeast Alaska and on the coast, Sitka seas humpback whales from July to December every year, anywhere from 200 to 300 of them loping through the ocean waters. They prefer the herring and capelin-rich waters near Sitka and come here after exploring Alaska’s interior waterways. Grey, orca, and minke whales don’t stay as long as humpbacks, but you can still see them as they pass through Alaska’s coastal waters.
A World War II bunker for forces stationed in the Alaskan town of Sitka, Japonski Island received its name from the Russians after Japanese fishermen were stranded on the island. The island served as a Naval Reservation after the United States finalized the purchase of Alaska from Russia. When the tragedy at Pearl Harbor occurred, NAS Sitka was the only military base in the Alaskan territory at the time. The base was used to house bunkers and gunning sites, and was decommissioned in 1944, before World War II had concluded. While no longer a military powerhouse, the island is rich in wildlife, including otters and sea lions in its waters.
The site of the final defeat of the native Tlingits against the Russians in the early 19th century, Sitka National Historic Park is Alaska’s smallest national park. The 113 acres of the property includes the Totem Trail, displaying the 18 totem poles originally exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 in the Louisiana Exposition booth before being relocated to Sitka. The totems are shrouded in lush foliage with threads of mist from the nearby sea weaving among the artistry, creating an iconic image for many visitors. The park also offers either self-guided or “Battle Walk” tours of the Tlingit fort still standing in the park. This is the same fort that the Russians attempted to seize, and it was only when the Tlingits’ gunpowder and flint ran out and they retreated from the fort that the Russians could claim victory.
The Fortress of the Bear is an educational center and wildlife rescue dedicated to informing the public about the local Brown Bear. Center staff rescue orphaned bear cubs and raise them until they can be relocated, often to wildlife sanctuaries and world-renowned zoos to live their lives in comfort. Before the Fortress was founded in 2007, the only alternative for orphaned cubs was to euthanize them, but now they have a chance. Visitors can watch resident cubs and adult bears play and explore the almost full-acre habitat. The rescue is funded by visitor admissions and donations, so make sure to take the time to check out this up-close encounter with some of Alaska’s most iconic creatures.
Book Your Next Alaskan Shore Excursion With ShoreTrips
This fun and adventurous tour begins with a tour of Sitka and ends with whale watching in the Pacific Ocean. Take in the breathtaking view of downtown Sitka from the O’Connell Bridge as you explore Japonski (the Russian word for Japanese) Island’s rich history and wildlife. Although wildlife sightings are not guaranteed, you’ll most likely see eagles, sea lions, otters, and various other animals.
This three-hour tour will take a maximum of six people at a time to the heart of this awesome abundance. Based on your personal preferences, we’ll tailor your experience to focus on what you want to see most. Whether it is whales feasting on herring, otters lounging in the kelp, puffins with bills full of sand lance, roaring sea lions, the unmatched drama of Saint Lazaria Island, or even a bear on the beach, this is the tour for you!
Start out by traveling on our sturdy transport vessel for the exciting 30-45 minute ride to a beach on a remote island. Once ashore, our guide will assist you in setting up your kayak before your “Kayak & Safety 101” orientation. After you’ve had some time to test out your kayak in the crystal clear shallows (and get comfortable with your craft), we’ll set off for the next group of islands. While paddling through mazes of reef and kelp forest (areas accessible only by kayak), your guide will help identify the colorful marine life visible below, including: crab, sea stars, anemones, sea urchins, jellies, and more.
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