Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sitka National Historical Park (Blog Hike #352)

Trail: Totem Trail Loop
Hike Location: Sitka National Historical Park
Geographic Location: east side of Sitka, AK (57.04890, -135.31980)
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2011
Overview: A loop hike passing 18 totem poles and an historic battlefield.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Sitka, AK is accessible only by boat or seaplane.  Sitka National Historical Park is located at the end of Lincoln Street 0.4 miles east of downtown Sitka.

The hike: For an overview of Sitka and southeast Alaskan history, see the previous hike.  Due to the lack of gold and shallow harbor (too shallow for major cargo ships or cruise ships to dock), Sitka defied the American gold rush and preserved much of its Russian and Tlingit heritage.  The city’s Russian roots can be seen in the historic churches and other buildings in downtown Sitka, while Tlingit heritage is preserved here at Sitka National Historical Park.
The park’s centerpieces are the historic Tlingit fort site and the 1804 battlefield where the Russians defeated the Tlingit.  The Visitor Center contains some interesting exhibits about the Tlingit culture.  The hike described here begins at the Visitor Center and passes every major point of interest in the park.
Trailhead for Totem Trail Loop
              From behind the Visitor Center, the gravel Totem Trail Loop exits to the right and heads into the woods.  The first segment of the trail runs parallel to Sitka Sound, which can be seen through the trees to the right.  Tall spruce and hemlock trees line either side of the trail.  The wide gravel trail passes several colorful totem poles, replicas of ones once erected by the Tlingits in this area.
Totem pole near tall spruce and hemlock trees
Sitka Sound
            Ignore several side trails which exit left until, at 0.4 miles, you reach the site of the 1804 Battle of Sitka.  Tlingit warriors led by Katlian standing here on the shore endured bombardment from Russian ships in the sound for several days.  Eventually, they were forced to retreat and surrender their town to the Russians.  Just past the battle marker, the trail goes around the Tlingit fort site, which today is a grassy clearing marked by another colorful totem pole.  Unfortunately, very little physical evidence of the fort remains.
Tlingit fort site
            After tracing the perimeter of the fort, the trail heads northwest with the Indian River visible through the trees to the right.  Ignore 2 trails which exit left and provide short-cuts back to the Visitor Center.  0.8 miles into the hike, you reach a T-intersection.  We will eventually use the trail exiting left to return to the Visitor Center, but for now turn right and cross Indian River on a concrete bridge.  In late July and August, the Indian River hosts a large salmon run, and this bridge would make an excellent place to watch the salmon.  Unfortunately, my visit occurred in early July before the salmon run began.
Bridge across Indian River
            Now on the east side of Indian River, turn right to continue the Totem Trail Loop and head for the Russian Memorial.  The trail follows the Indian River downstream, retracing the trail you hiked only minutes ago on the opposite west bank.  At 1.2 miles, you reach the Russian Memorial, a set of four sticks erected in the shape of a cross and marked by a plaque-bearing stone.  The memorial pays tribute to the Russians killed at the 1804 Battle of Sitka.
Russian Memorial
            Past the memorial, the trail curves abruptly left and begins heading northwest, once again heading for the trail bridge over Indian River.  The park boundary lies just right of the trail here, and occasional traffic along Sawmill Creek Road can be heard.  At 1.6 miles, you reach a primitive restroom and a trail intersection.  Turn left here, descend slightly, and walk back across the trail bridge over Indian River.  Continue straight for another 0.1 miles to arrive at the Totem Exhibit behind the Visitor Center and complete the hike.

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