Sitka National Historical Park

Top choice in Sitka

This mystical juxtaposition of tall trees and totems is Alaska’s smallest national park and the site where the Tlingits were defeated by the Russians in 1804.

The mile-long Totem Trail winds its way past 18 totems first displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition in St Louis and then moved to the park. These intriguing totems, standing in a thick rainforest setting by the sea and often enveloped in mist, have become synonymous with the national park and, by extension, the city itself.

Eventually you arrive at the site of the Tlingit fort near Indian River with its outline still clearly visible. You can either explore the trail as a self-guided tour or join a ranger-led "Battle Walk."

Back in 1804, the Tlingits defended their wooden fort for a week. The Russians’ cannons did little damage to the walls of the fort and, when the Russian soldiers stormed the structure with the help of Aleuts, they were repulsed in a bloody battle. It was only when the Tlingits ran out of gunpowder and flint, and slipped away at night, that the Russians were able to enter the deserted fort.

The visitors center (8am to 5pm) displays Russian and indigenous artifacts, and a 12-minute video in the theater provides an overview of the Tlingit–Russian battle. There's also a workshop where you can observe and talk to native wood-carvers.