hikers on Harbor NtnHiking and Biking on Sitka's Trails

The modern city of Sitka is shoehorned into more or less the same footprint as its ancient Tlingit precursor. The wild country of the Tongass National Forest hems Sitka in on three sides; the Pacific Ocean on the fourth. A ten-minute walk from downtown will put you on the fringe of true wilderness.

There are several sources of information about our extensive trail system.

Hiking Sitka

Sitka enjoys an exceptionally developed trail system. Although there's not a bad trail in the book, only three are readily accessible from downtown.

Gavan Hill Trail. The trailhead is at the end of Baranof Street. This trail ascends just over three miles through muskeg, spruce-hemlock forest, and finally alpine. There is extensive boardwalk and stairs, so rubber boots are less critical here than on other trails.

Indian River waterfallIndian River Trail. The unsigned trailhead is at the end of Indian River Rd (.9 m. to trailhead) on the right. A short wheelchair-accessible gravel trail parallels the road and goes through the woods behind the houses. This trail joins the old trailhead and follows the pump house’s chain link fence. Once on the trail the route is obvious. This trail is 5 miles long on mostly level terrain, and terminates at a lovely, small waterfall.

Cross Trail. The trailhead is located .16 miles up the Indian River Trail. Its boardwalk passes through peat bogs, old growth forests, and areas that are regenerating after natural and human disturbances and intersects Gavin Hill Trail at about 1 mile. It can be combined with other trails and short roadway connections for loop walks.

Herring Cove Trail is 1.6 miles long and forms one section of the larger Sawmill Cove Loop trail system and is connected to the Beaver Lake Trail. The trailhead parking area is located 6 miles from downtown Sitka just past the gate at the end of Sawmill Creek road. The trail is exceptionally scenic, traveling along a cascading creek and ascending to view a magnificent waterfall. The trail is rated moderate in difficulty.

Biking Sitka

A mountain bike really opens up possibilities for seeing some country. Good sources of information are Yellow Jersey Cycles 907-747-6317 and Sitka Bike and Hike 907-747-7871.

Starrigavan Bay.An easy ride 7 miles NE on Halibut Pt Rd to Old Sitka State Historic Park and Starrigavan Recreation Area near the end of the road. Park your bike in the Estuary Life Parking Lot and hike any of the 3 trails located here (Mosquito Cove, Estuary Life Boardwalk and Forest & Muskeg). Ride back to Old Sitka and continue biking up Nelson Logging Rd (gravel road directly across from Old Sitka) crossing upper Starrigavan Creek and ending at a parking lot just before the rifle range. The Starrigavan Valley Trail (for ATV’s, hikers and bikers) begins just beyond the closed gate on the north side of the parking lot.
Harbor Nountain Road view

Harbor Mountain Road is accessed from Kramer Ave. which intersects Halibut Point Road about 3 miles west of Downtown Sitka. The ultimate test of a biker’s conditioning, Harbor Mountain Road is 5.5 miles straight uphill along a winding gravel road. The scenery is incredible. At the end of the road there is a short foot trail to the summit, where lookouts were stationed during WWII. On the ride down, stay to the right and be extremely cautious of automobile traffic (which can be very thick on clear days).

Thimbleberry Lake/Heart Lake Trail, a well developed trail accessable to persons with disabilities, leads from Thimbleberry parking lot to Thimbleberry Lake. A less developed trail continues around Thimbleberry Lake over a low pass to connect with Heart Lake Trail, passing by beautiful Heart Lake Trail, and ending down a steep trail at Blue Lake Road.

Blue Lake Road. (NOTE: The Blue Lake Road is closed due to Hydroelectric Dam construction.) Ride 7 miles east of Sitka on Sawmill Creek Road. Blue Lake Road forks to the left directly opposite the former pulp mill site. The gravel road is just over 2 miles and terminates above Blue Lake. Near the end, the road forks to the right and enters the Sawmill Creek Campground. The Beaver Lake Trail begins at the footbridge (leave your bike near here), and climbs about a mile to a beautiful, small lake that has been stocked with Arctic grayling. The trail connects with the Herring Cove Trail.

Silver BayGreen Lake Road. About 1 mile beyond the pulp mill, the Sitka road system ends at a gate blocking the utility corridor to the Green Lake Dam. From this point the road is off limits to motor vehicle traffic except for city electrical workers and the staff of the Medvejie Hatchery. The road runs seven miles along the northern shore of Silver Bay, a classic, glacier-carved ocean fjord. On the upland side of the road opposite pole G-52 is a dead tree topped by an eagle's nest (and there's another in a live tree not much farther beyond). The Medvejie Hatchery is about halfway to the hydro project, and you must pass another gate here. Near the end the road forks: the right branch goes down to the powerhouse, and the left branch goes up to the dam.

Kruzof Island. The crown jewel of Sitka bike rides is also one of the most challenging for visitors. The former logging road (6.5 miles) across Kruzof island is well maintained by the US Forest Service, and gets fairly heavy use from Sitkans on foot, bikes, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The road is also frequented by brown bears, as numerous dropping attest. However, Shelikov Bay, at road's end is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. You step out of the forest into a lush estuary called Iris Meadows, and follow the Shelikov River out to an enormous beach of black volcanic sand where Pacific breakers are thundering ashore. Practically any charter boat operator may take you to Kruzof, but he or she may not guide you on land. Inquire at the US Forest Service, 907-747-6671 for a map and directions. A cabin is available to rent for overnight stays. Other good sources of information are Yellow Jersey Cycles, 907-747-6317; and Sitka Bike and Hike, 907-747-4821.

A Word About Bears

Baranof Island is home to only one species of bear, the brown bear, or grizzly. These bears are solitary, furtive, and do not go out of their way to make contact with humans. The chances of a dangerous encounter with a bear are low as long as everyone who enters the forest acts sensibly to keep wild bears wary. brown bear on beach

Bears that are deliberately fed human food or allowed to scavenge garbage (or in other ways become habituated to humans) become dangerous. Likewise, a startled bear can be dangerous. The US Forest Service publishes a pamphlet called "The Bears and You" that has lots of good advice on how to behave in bear country like: travel in groups, make noise, and avoid remote salmon streams during spawning season.

Our number one tip is: don't let the fear of bears prevent you from enjoying Alaska. The bears and the wildness they represent are what living in, and visiting Sitka, are all about.

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