• Image of visitor center and totem poles

    Sitka

    National Historical Park Alaska

Frequently Asked Questions

 

How do I get to Sitka?

Sitka is accessible only by air or boat. You can find directions here.

What is there to see and do at Sitka National Historical Park?

You can learn about the attractions and activities in the area here.

 

When are the Visitor Center and the Russian Bishop's House open?

You can find the operating hours for the facilities here.

 

Where can I go for a hike?

Two miles of easy trails are located within the park; the trails are suitable for all ages and abilities. Visitors should allow approximately one hour to walk the trails, providing time to enjoy the totem poles, wildlife, and breathtaking scenery along the way. Get a map of the trails here.

Many other trails are available in Sitka providing opportunities for short excursions or full day hikes. Excellent hiking opportunities are available in the Tongass National Forest. You can find a map of the trails on the road system here.

 

What is a potlatch?

The word potlatch comes from Chinook Jargon, a language once used for trading along the Northwest coast of North America. Because potlatch has been used to describe different ceremonies in different cultures, it can bring to mind misinformed stereotypes. Today Tlingit people prefer to use their own word for these ceremonies, k oo.éex' (koo eekh).

K
oo.éex'
means literally-- "to invite." These large public ceremonies are given according to careful rules of traditional protocol involving balance and reciprocity between members of both the Raven and Wolf/Eagle "sides" or
moieties. ATlingit k oo.éex' is a time for putting away grief after the death of a beloved relation, a time to thank those of the opposite side who provided support during bereavement, or a time to witness and celebrate other significant events such as completion of a new clan house, carved house post or ceremonial robe. A k oo.éex' often includes speeches, dancing and gift giving and may last for many hours.

 

Which Native peoples live here and how long have they lived in the region?

The Tlingit (English pronunciation = KLING-it ) have lived in southeastern Alaska for thousands of years; their oral history dates back over 12,000 years. Find out more about the Tlingit here.

 

Historical photos show some Tlingit people wearing rings in their noses. Does this nose ring have any particular significance?

The nose ring is part of Tlingit regalia and would have been worn when dancing or for special occasions and ceremonies.

 

What do totem poles represent and what are they made of?

With their striking designs and colors, totem poles record the history and cultural identity of the Pacific Northwest Coast people who carved them. A totem pole generally served one of four purposes.

Crest poles capture the ancestry of a particular clan.

History or legend poles record a clan's important stories and legends.

Mortuary or memorial poles commemorate an important person.

Ridicule or shame poles publicly ridicule a person of high standing for failing to meet or recognize an obligation.

Poles are primarily carved from Western red cedar trees because they grow tall and straight and are rot resistant.

Find out more about the park's totem pole collection here.

 

How many Russians lived in Sitka in the mid 1800's? How many live in Sitka today?

Approximately 700 Russians, including Creoles, lived in Sitka in the mid 1800's. The Russians left Sitka when Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867. The Creoles remained and their descendents live in Sitka today.

 

How many Russians lived in Sitka during the Russian American period?

Approximately 700 Russians, including Creoles, lived in Sitka in the mid-1800s.

 

When and why did Russia sell Alaska? What was the purchase price?

Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7,200,000. After the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Russia found itself militarily and economically weakened. The value of the fur trade had decreased considerably during that period, but supplying the colony with food and provisions continued to be expensive. In the end, Russia preferred to sell Alaska to an ally rather than risk having it taken forcibly by an unfriendly power like Great Britain. The transfer of Alaska from Russia took place in Sitka atop Castle Hill on October 17, 1867-an occasion that is commemorated as "Alaska Day."

 

When was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka built?

Builders completed the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in 1848. A fire in the 1960s destroyed the original structure, so the cathedral we see today is a carefully constructed replica of the original on the same site.

 

Historical photos show Tlingit people with nose rings. What does the nose ring mean?

The nose ring is part of a Tlingit dancer's regalia and has no symbolic meaning.

 

What is the difference between an Eskimo and an Indian?

Geographic location, language, traditions, and physical appearance differentiate the two groups.

 

What is the Indian tribe that lives here? How long have they lived in the region?

The Tlingit (Lingit'). The Tlingit have lived in southeastern Alaska for thousands of years; their oral history dates back over 12,000 years. Find out more about the Tlingit here.

 
What do totem poles represent? What are they made of?

With their striking designs and colors, totem poles are bold statements of the identities and stories of the people who carved them. A totem pole generally served one of four purposes.

  • Crest poles give the ancestry of particular family.
  • History poles record the history of a clan.
  • Legend poles illustrate folklore or real life experiences.
  • Memorial poles commemorate a particular individual.

Today, the poles are primarily made from Western Red cedar because they are the larger of the tree and can be acquired easily.

Find out more about the park's totem pole collection here.

 

What species of salmon are found in the park?

Four of the five species of Pacific salmon return to the river in the park to spawn - chinook, coho, pink and chum salmon. Find out more about the fish in the park here.

 
I haven't seen a bear yet. Where are the bears?

Brown bears live throughout Alaska and are the only bear species found in Sitka. Brown bears use the full range of habitat in the area- forest, alpine, estuary, and intertidal. The bears generally avoid encounters with people.

Bears are sometimes sighted within the park; however, it is unlikely you will see a bear during your visit. The best opportunites for bear viewing in the Sitka area are found in remote locations accessible only by boat.

 

What type of forest is found in the park?

The southeast region of Alaska is dominated by a temperate rainforest. The temperate rainforest ecosystem stretches along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Alaska; other temperate rain forests are found in several isolated areas throughout the world. What defines a rain forest quite simply is rain--lots of it. Precipitation in Sitka approaches 100 inches of rain each year. The dominant species in the rain forest are Sitka spruce and western hemlock; some grow to tremendous size, reaching 300 feet in height and 23 feet in circumference.

 

What species of trees are found in the park?

Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and red alder are found in the park.

Did You Know?

Photograph of a brown bear

Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species. Brown bears found inland and in northern habitats are often called “grizzlies” while “brown bear” is used to refer to animals found in coastal areas.