Communities in Southeast Alaska – While enjoying your Inside Passage luxury cruise with Alaska Boat Cruises, you’ll probably want to spend a day before or after your cruise exploring Sitka, Juneau and/or Petersburg. These charming Alaskan communities will impress you with their native arts, friendly locals and picturesque architecture as you shop for mementos and gifts to take home to family and friends after your cruise.
SITKA – Communities in Southeast Alaska
Communities in Southeast Alaska – Sitka is Located on the west side of Baranof Island in Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago. Sitka is Alaska’s fourth-largest city (by its population count of over 8,863 in 2018) in Alaska and is the largest city in the United States in terms of square footage. The name “Sitka” is derived from “Sheet’ká” (a contraction of the Tlingit name Shee At’iká) and means “People on the Outside of Shee”. Sitka is also often referred to as “Sitka-by-the-Sea.”
Sitka encompasses portions of Baranof Island and the smaller Japonski Island which is connected to Baranof Island by the O’Connell Bridge. O’Connell Bridge, constructed in 1972, was the first cable stayed bridge built in the Western Hemisphere. Sitka is the only town in Southeast Alaska that directly faces the Gulf of Alaska. Mount Edgecumbe, a 3,200-foot-tall dormant stratovolcano, is located on southern Kruzof Island. It can be seen on a clear day from Sitka. The Sitka region includes the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Sitka National Historical Park and part of the Tongass National Forest.
Sitka, Alaska was originally settled by the native Tlingit (Kolosh) Indians but was discovered in 1799 by Alexandr Baranov, the governor of Russian America and a representative of the Russian-American Company, a “semi-official” colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. In 1802, the Tlingit destroyed the original “Old Sitka” establishment known as Redoubt Saint Michael and massacred most of the Russian inhabitants. Governor Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers. In 1804, Baranov returned to Sitka with a large contingent of Russians and Aleuts aboard the Russian warship Neva and successfully fought the Tlingits in the Battle of Sitka and forcing them to retreat into the surrounding forest. The Russians then established a permanent settlement (Fort “Novoarkhangelsk” or “New Archangel”) in a reference to Arkhangelsk, the largest city in the region where Baranov was born. In 1808, Sitka was designated the capital of Russian America.
There are twenty two buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places including many historic churches and cathedrals. Sitka was also the city which hosted the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867. Sitka continued as the capital of the Alaska Territory until 1906, when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau. While gold mining and fish canning paved the way for the town’s initial growth, it wasn’t until World War II, when the Navy constructed an air base on Japonski Island, (with its 30,000 service personnel) that Sitka finally came into its own.
JUNEAU – Communities in Southeast Alaska
Located on the mainland of Southeast Alaska, opposite Douglas Island, Juneau lies at the heart of the Inside Passage along the Gastineau Channel. Founded during the gold rush in the late 1800s and named after prospector Joe Juneau, Juneau is one of the more scenic state capitals in the U.S. and is sometimes referred to as ‘little San Francisco.’ Lying under the protective gaze of Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts, Juneau’s charming streets wind their way between a network of staircases.
Juneau provides a wealth of sightseeing opportunities for visitors including its waterfront Marine Park and the historic district of Franklin Street. Many of Juneau’s buildings date to the early twentieth century. The State Capitol, built in 1929, houses the legislative chamber and the governor’s office and hosts free tours for visitors. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894, is also a popular local attraction in Juneau and is the oldest church in the Inside Passage. Other local sites include the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the waterfront view from the Alaska State Library’s balcony, the Governor’s Mansion with its renown totem pole (a gift to the Governor from the Tlingit Indians in 1940) and the Alaska State Museum with its collection of artifacts from Athabascan, Aleut, Inuit and north-west coast people including the Inside Passage Tlingit. You also might enjoy a Sealaska Cultural Park’s Naa Kahidi Theater production, tram ride up Mount Robers or a visit to one of the 32 local gold mines near Juneau. Or take in the impressive collection of railroad lines, ore cars and more at the The Last Chance Mining Museum built in the former compressor house of the Alaska-Juneau Mine.
With a population of just over 31,000, Juneau is optimally located for trips to nearby Admiralty Island National Monument and hiking trips into Tongass National Forest. Juneau, sometimes referred to as the “Gateway to the Glaciers” hosts 42 glaciers within a 1,500-square-mile radius of the city. Mendenhall Glacier lies 13 miles from Juneau’s center. While you can drive to Mendenhall, flightseeing over Juneau’s glacier landscapes is an even more spectacular way to see these local icefields as well as Juneau Icefield, Lynn Canal and Stephens Passage. Juneau’s waters are also popular with many kayaking enthusiasts including Auke Bay, Taku Inlet, Berners Bay and Oliver Inlet.
PETERSBURG – Communities in Southeast Alaska
Petersburg, Alaska lies at the north end of Mitkof Island, where the Wrangell Narrows meets Frederick Sound in Southeast Alaska. Located halfway between Juneau to the north, and Ketchikan to the south. Petersburg is charming and authentically Alaskan with just over 3000 year round residents and home to the 12th most lucrative fishery in the U.S. Named after Peter Buschmann, a Norwegian immigrant who arrived in the area in the late nineteenth century, Petersburg was incorporated in 1910 and became the home of many people of Scandinavian origin thus giving Petersburg the nickname “Little Norway”.
Mitkof Island is covered by low mountains bordered by lowlands comprised of “muskeg”, a type of soil made up of plants in various states of decomposition. Le Conte Glacier is a popular side trip from Petersburg and is known for its “shooter” icebergs which calve off underneath the water and then shoot upwards into the waters of Le Conte Bay.