ALASKA IS FABULOUS for a number of reasons, but perhaps most compelling is the way the United States came to possess such a remote, funky, and mysterious piece of land, at least by 19th century standards. Don’t know much about Alaska’s history? Why not take an autumn escape to Sitka and learn a little bit more about this territory-turned-state?
Located on Baranof island in southeast Alaska, Sitka is a place of tall spruce and tranquil waters, and has provided her residents with a bountiful basket of resources for thousands of years. It was the bounty of fur and fish that first prompted white settlers to gather on the shores near what’s now called Sitka Harbor. Russia held the land until 1967, when the country’s leaders, fearing an impending war with Britain, wanted to dump the 586,000-square mile land mass on someone else. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward oversaw the purchase for a mere .02 cents per acre, leaving many politicians across America to cry “crazy!” at his bargain buy, and assigned Alaska the nickname “Seward’s Folly”. At any rate, for better or worse, on October 18, 1867, Russia formerly handed over the new Territory of Alaska to the U.S. upon Castle Hill in Sitka, and every year Alaskans gather to commemorate the occasion. And nobody’s laughing now, either.
Sitka Harbor seen from Castle Hill...
Alaska Day (Thursday, Oct. 18) in Sitka is known for the blending of cultures along with the celebration of ownership, and it’s here that kids can truly grasp the significance of such tradition within a broader scope of Last Frontier community. While many cities across the state do celebrate Alaska Day with a day off from work or some sort of school ceremony, Sitka jumps headlong into festive mode, and it’s a wonderful tradition for families.
Getting to Sitka is pretty simple, really. If you’re already in southeast Alaska, take a day to explore your local waterways aboard an Alaska Marine Highway ferry, sailing from Juneau early in the morning and arriving in Sitka late in the afternoon. Take note of the changing seasons, too, with cooler temps, funky clouds, and yes, lots of rain. But kids won’t care - ferries are delightfully less crowded in the fall, and rates are cheaper, too ($45/adults, $23/kids one way for a walk-on trip).
If you’re a southcentral or interior resident, hop on board Alaska Airlines, the only major air carrier serving Sitka. PFD Sales are happening right now, and while it might not seem affordable to spend $150 for a one-way ticket, it’s still cheaper than the summer months. Or, use your Mileage Plan miles and go for free (15,000 miles for in-state, round-trip travel).
Worried about taking the kids out of school?Many institutions in southcentral Alaska have a freebie day on Friday, October 19, so make it a long weekend; the Sitka Visitors Bureau has a long list of great lodging options and restaurant picks. Be sure and check out the Alaska Day Festival website for a full schedule of events, including the parade, running race, and Coast Guard demonstrations. But also spend time at local attractions, too.
Taking a stroll in Sitka Nat'l Historic Park...
Sitka National Historical Park is a splendid place to spend an afternoon hiking and searching out the large number of totems scattered throughout the property to recognize the rich Tlingit culture and history of the area. The indoor visitor center offers insight into the carving of totems and the popular Junior Ranger program, too, so make sure you stop by.
Don’t miss the New Archangel Dancers, either. This all-woman troupe performs traditional Russian dances in their homemade, and incredibly beautiful costumes. With lots of movement and humor, the dancers always deliver plenty of family-approved entertainment.
This year, make Alaska Day more than a day off. Make it something special for your whole family, and swing into Sitka. You’ll be glad you did.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and the publisher of AKontheGO.com. For more on visiting Sitka with the fam, check out Cycling with Kids in Sitka, Autumn Getaways to Soothe the Soul, 3 Alaskan Spots for Educational Travel.