The bears may be hibernating, but Sitka’s skies are still full of eagles and the occasional whale spout rises on the horizon. Even as the weather gets colder and a soft layer of snow blankets the Three Sisters mountains, there are many opportunities for winter wildlife viewing in Sitka.
Hiking along a Scenic Trail
By choosing one of Sitka’s beautiful hiking trails, you can enjoy nature and explore the Tongass National Forest at your own pace. Walk along the beachfront trail at Sitka National Historical Park to watch bald eagles and seagulls coast overhead while sea lions splash in the water nearby.
At the end of Halibut Point Road, Starrigavan Estuary Life Trail is an ADA accessible trail bordering an estuary teeming with life. If you visit in early winter, you might even see a bear! The estuary is visited by over 120 species of birds, including great blue herons, bald eagles, belted kingfisher, canvasbacks, mallards, and common mergansers.
Exploring the Sitka Sound Science Center Aquarium
The Sitka Sound Science Center has a variety of programs to help you experience their aquarium, interact with intertidal species in the indoor touch tank, and learn more about the local ecosystems. In addition to one hour aquarium tours, you can also purchase tickets for the Aquarist for a Day program. As an aquarist in training, visitors will have the chance to clean tanks, inventory and collect animals, prepare food, and feed touch tanks.
If you’re traveling with small children, check out Education Afternoons at the Aquarium and ask about how your child can earn their very own Junior Naturalist badge! Schedule your visit through the Sitka Sound Science Center website.
Visit the Alaska Raptor Center
With a forty year history, the Alaska Raptor Center is a raptor rehabilitation and research center located just a 15-minute walk from downtown. Currently, the Alaska Raptor Center houses eagles, peregrine falcons, kestrels, and multiple species of owls.
Call the center at (907) 747-8662 to check their winter hours and schedule a tour. Even if the center itself is closed, you can still visit some of the birds in their outdoor enclosures and enjoy the natural trail loop through the surrounding forests.
Whale Watching and Wildlife Boat Tours
Although the humpback whales of Southeast Alaska often migrate during winter, Sitka has several resident whales that swim in Sitka Sound year round. Occasionally, pods of killer whales will also cruise the channel and around neighboring islands.
While weather can be unpredictable, making booking in advance difficult, take advantage of a clear day by scheduling a wildlife boat tour. Several tour providers, such as A Whale’s Song Expeditions, are excited to guide off-season tours in the area. Check out the Visit Sitka website for a full list of tour providers.
Did you see any wildlife during your visit? Tag your best photos with the hashtag #visitsitka or check out the Visit Sitka Instagram account (@visitsitka) for more travel inspiration.
Cover photograph and photograph of killer whales were both taken by Zaide Allen, marketing photographer for Allen Marine Tours.