Indian River Trail
One of the finest of Sitka’s trails, Indian River Trail is an easy valley hike within walking distance of town. The route follows a clear salmon stream through the rain forest, with a chance to see brown bears and deer. Begin by heading out Sawmill Creek Road and turning left onto Indian River Road. Continue past the gate about 0.5 miles to the city’s water pump house.
The gentle trail leads from here up along the Indian River and a tributary to the right as far as a lovely 80-foot waterfall in a V-shaped valley. The last mile of the trail is not well maintained. Allow six hours round-trip to cover the 5.5-mile trail.
Gavan Hill Trail
This “stairway to heaven” walkway starts at the end of Baranof Street and climbs three miles to the top of 2,650-foot Gavan Hill. (Bear right at the junction with Cross Trail just under a mile up.) Gavan Hill Trail then switchbacks to a long ridge that opens onto subalpine meadows before a steep final climb up the last 200 feet of elevation.
From here, it’s relatively easy to follow rock cairns through the alpine area, connecting to the Harbor Mountain Trail. This makes an outstanding loop hike with impressive vistas of Sitka Sound.
Harbor Mountain Trail
One of the easiest and most scenic ways to get into the alpine area is via Harbor Mountain Trail. Built by the Army during World War II, the road originally provided access to a lookout post for invading Japanese ships and submarines (none were ever seen, though a whale was once mistakenly bombed). Head four miles out on Halibut Point Road and turn right onto Harbor Mountain Road.
The gravel road climbs five miles up the mountain to an elevation of 2,000 feet. Snow blocks the road until June, but you can park at the gate and walk up if you don’t mind hiking on snow. On sunny days the view over Sitka Sound is breathtaking. Those without a car or mountain bike should be able to hitch a ride up with locals.
A trail begins at the parking area on top and switchbacks up a side hill before leveling out in the subalpine meadows. A spur trail heads to an overlook here, but the main trail turns right and continues past the ruins of wartime lookout buildings. Beyond this, rock cairns follow the ridge, and the path eventually connects with the Gavan Hill Trail back to town. A small hut provides a camping place approximately three miles in.
Mt. Verstovia Trail
On a clear day, get spectacular views of Sitka Sound and Mt. Edgecumbe from the Mt. Verstovia Trail, a strenuous climb to this pointy peak overlooking Sitka. The steep 2.5-mile trail begins on the west side of the Kiksadi Club, two miles east of town on Sawmill Creek Road. The trail is brushy and poorly maintained, and inexperienced hikers have gotten lost. You’ll pass some old Russian charcoal pits (signposted) only 0.25 miles from the trailhead.
The route switchbacks to a ridge, which you follow to the shoulder of Mt. Verstovia. The true summit is farther northeast along the ridge. Allow four hours for the return trip as far as the shoulder (2,000 feet), six hours round-trip to the top (2,550 feet).
Beaver Lake Trail
This family friendly mile-long trail begins at the bridge in Sawmill Creek Campground seven miles east of town. The path gains 250 feet in elevation as it climbs through the forest and out onto a boardwalk over the muskeg to Beaver Lake. The lake has been stocked with grayling and is one of the only places to catch these fish in Southeast Alaska. There are fishing platforms along the lakeshore.
Mt. Edgecumbe, a 3,000-foot volcanic cone that looks like Mt. Fuji, can be climbed via a 6.5-mile trail that starts on the southeast shore of Kruzof Island. The last mile is above the tree line and runs through red volcanic ash. The island is 10 miles west of Sitka and can be reached by kayak (beware of ocean swells) or by arranging for a skiff drop-off.
Stay in Fred’s Creek Cabin at the trailhead or in the free three-sided shelter halfway up. Panoramic views can be had from atop this dormant volcano.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition