Alaska : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Alaska - state review
If you’ve got your sights set on Sitka, Alaska, you are in for an exciting and historic adventure.
The city sits among the 1,100 islands of the Alexander Archipelago and is just a massive mountain range with a great percentage of it underwater.
Sitka is a staple of many cruise ship ports and getting here by air will still require a ferry ride.
While many towns are built around tourist access, Sitka is more protective of its history than worried about easy access to its attractions.
Getting off the cruise ship will still require a 5-mile ride into town and, if you happen to fly, the airport is on a different island.
This city was once a Russian town, so there’s going to be a Russian influence in a lot of the attractions in town.
The Russian Bishop’s House is a historical landmark open for tours and the story of the Bishop’s influence is quite incredible.
Totem poles decorate the area and can be seen en masse at Sitka National Historic Park (but people called it Totem Park).
Totems are not just decorations, they are storytellers of generations gone by.
They honor the dead and celebrate the species in the Alaskan habitat.
On the horizon, you’ll see Mt. Edgecumbe and there’s a trail to the top.
You can also hike Mt. Verstovia with an entrance in the center of town.
Whether you are here for a day or a week, there’s just a lot to do in this small town of 8,500 people with a large wilderness area surrounding three sides.
Warnings & Dangers in Sitka
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk in Sitka. You'll probably read how high crime is in Alaska, but Sitka breaks any stereotype that might exist. Crime rates are very low and there's a lot to do. The biggest risk is preparing for the elements, but we're going to walk you through how to do that.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk and a lot of options. You can water taxi, land taxi, rent a car, or bicycle. The public transportation system is called "The RIDE" and does have a stop at the cruise terminal.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There were no pickpockets or purse snatching in 2020. That was a pandemic year, however, and cruise ships were halted. So I dug into the data from previous years. Going back through 2017, there was just one pickpocket reported in all that time. There's a low risk here. Those low numbers are probably helped by people using good safety practices, so follow their lead.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is the one medium-risk area. The city lists the following things as disaster risks: earthquake, tsunami, dam failure, power/communications failure, and water contamination. There is great information on the emergency preparedness city website so you can know what to do and where to go if a disaster happens while you're there. It's unlikely, but you still should be prepared.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There were just two robberies in 2020. One was a bank and one was a robbery in public. There's a low risk, but again, good safety preparedness probably helps keep the numbers low.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. Nothing of note around Sitka is a hard target.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of being scammed. Even in rural Alaska, the same old spoofing phone numbers scams impact locals, but nothing of note for tourists. That said, you should always be confident your tour guide or operator is licensed and insured. There's going to be a markup on a lot of prices because it's rural Alaska and a tourist town, but if something feels too pricey for what you're getting, walk away.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
When I research these articles for you, I do a lot of digging into all kinds of resources. One of them is watching travel guides from people on YouTube. Interestingly, many of the Sitka videos were single women doing everything from wandering Totem Park to going for a six-hour hike up a mountain. You should be safe here with low risk.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The city water has no violations according to the most recent quality report. For those who are particular about tap water, I do want to let you know this water isn't filtered from the Blue Lake source, due to the clean water quality there. The tap water is only disinfected before it reaches the pipes. While the supply is safe, things like flushing anything but waste and toilet paper down the toilet, or contamination in the recreation areas can throw the quality off balance. There's a low risk but proceed with caution knowing that information.
Safest Places to Visit in Sitka
You’re going to have to be comfortable on boats and small airplanes if you want to do some of the excursions in Sitka.
There’s a word you’ll need to learn (if you don’t already) in Sitka.
It’s fjord (pronounced “FEE-yord”).
The most basic and least scientific way to explain it is — these are waterways surrounded by steep cliffs that are deep.
When you arrive in town, you’ll have shopping and dining options.
I highly recommend saving room for a King Crab (and be VERY hungry because those things are huge!) Nearby is the Russian Bishops House, one of the largest reminders that this was once Russian territory and it thrived under their leadership.
125 years before Alaska became a state, it was Russian territory.
There are two floors to tour here.
Just past there, you’ll end up at the National Historic Park, where you can walk the Totem Trail and learn about the 18 figures that stand in the rainforest.
(Did I mention that all of Sitka is in a rainforest?)
The visitor’s center here also has artists making hand-crafted works.
You can fish in the park if you have a license.
The Mount Verstovia trail is just south of the park.
It’s a one-way trail best for only experienced hikers who can handle the rugged and slick walk up 2500 feet.
For an easier hike, try the Indian River Trail and you’ll get to see spawning salmon during certain times of the year.
If you want to hike Mount Edgecombe, you’ll have to take a 30-minute boat ride.
The hike is strenuous and steep at times.
It’s also a volcano, but don’t worry, it hasn’t erupted in 3200 years and is now dormant.
Animal lovers have a few options in Sitka:
- Alaska Raptor Center
- Fortress of the Bear
- Tours to see seals, whales, otters, and birds in the wild
The one thing that isn’t offered here that many Alaska cities have is gold panning tours.
Places to Avoid in Sitka
The real danger in Sitka is more the environment than the people.
Crime rates are very low and crime maps show what little crime there is spread throughout the community.
It’s also not a big enough city to have different neighborhoods on crime maps.
I’m not a fan of flying and small planes make me nervous, so I research a lot before I have to fly.
It’s good for nervous people like me to know Sitka is ranked as one of the most dangerous airports in the country.
It’s a small airport with one runway.
Snow, debris, and ever-changing winds and blowing snow can make the landings nailbiting or get them canceled altogether.
Coming to Alaska, you probably know to be prepared for colder weather, but you should avoid leaving rain gear behind.
It rains a lot in Sitka.
For 235 days of the year, you can expect rain or snow.
Load up on GOR-TEK gear to get the best experience in Sitka.
Avoid buying new hiking boots that you don’t wear until you arrive in Sitka.
Break them in for a few weeks before taking on the slippery, muddy trails that provide spectacular views.
If you’re Googling “Sitka” you are going to get directed to sites for SITKA Gear, which is a retail business and not connected to the city of Sitka.
That’s just a heads up.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Sitka
- Create a CODERED account so you can get emergency alerts from the weather service, the city, police, or emergency management in Sitka. You’ll get all the information you need while enjoying your excursions.
- Check with your mobile provider before you leave to see what kind of cell coverage you are going to get in Sitka. Some places offer WIFI, but it’s not going to be as prominent as you are used to. Always venture into the wilderness with a fully charged phone and a wireless charger.
- Planning what to wear is critical to an enjoyable time in Sitka, and I don’t mean fashion. There are preferred ways to layer up when visiting Alaska. What does it mean to dress in layers? The base layer should be thin and water absorbing. The second layer should be more insulating, like a fleece jacket and waterproof pants. Your outer layer should be a solid GOR-TEK type material that resists water as long as possible. Try on your clothing before you buy it, as that outer layer might need to be a size larger. Always bring several pairs of socks with you when hiking, as water or mud is bound to make it in.
- For wilderness adventures, bring or buy bear spray in town before heading out. There’s more of a chance you’ll see bears here than most hiking trails in America. They aren’t aggressive animals and usually, people are the ones who make the wrong moves, not bears, when they do become aggressive.
- If you do spot a bear that’s a little too close for comfort, for goodness sake, don’t stop to take a photo. Speak to the bear in a normal voice, maybe sing him the alphabet, to let him know you are a human and not a threat. Never turn your back on a bear, but back away slowly. Should the bear get TOO close, that’s when you make all the noise you can and wave your arms around.
- When hiking, always stay on the trails and don’t venture off. Not only is there a risk of getting hurt, but you might also stumble into a wolf’s den. The animals are pack animals and highly protective of their stuff (if you have a dog, you understand). When confronted by wolves, you should always go back the way you came. Running to the side could take you closer to the den and make the wolves angrier. One trick that works on wolves but not on bears? Climb a tree. Wolves can’t climb (but bears can and they are better at it than you are!)
- But what about those adorable sea lions? Surely they are friendly and cuddly! Nope. Just Google “sea lion bites” and you’ll see how mean they can be. Sea Lions are also very skittish and nervous around humans. Even watching at a distance can send them into an anxiety attack. They can’t see you well, but they do smell you. Never feed a sea lion as it puts their life at risk and makes them more likely to bite the next guy who comes along as they get desensitized to humans.
- If you want to drink the water from the rivers and lakes in Sitka, there are dangers, but always ways to make it safer. The water is generally very clean but can be contaminated with bacteria like giardia. Bring iodine tablets to clean the water. There are also portable water filters you can purchase. In general, it’s not a great idea to drink the water right from the source due to the risks.
- If you plan on hunting or fishing in the Sitka wilderness, you need a license. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game makes it easy to do online before you arrive. Also, if you want to see the salmon spawning season, it runs from the middle of July through the end of September.
- Be sure to plan your excursions wisely, especially if you are on a cruise. The trips last from an hour to full-day events. You don’t want to be stuck whale watching at the departure time or else they might leave you behind.
So... How Safe Is Sitka Really?
It’s incredibly safe.
Let’s just take a look at the crime numbers from 2019 (I’m using those since 2020 was canceled by the pandemic and that affects the number of people in town and crime).
- Homicides: 0
- Rape: 5
- Robbery: 4
- Highway Robberies: 0
- Assault: 106 (keep in mind Alaska has a problem with domestic violence tied to alcoholism and that can drive up the numbers)
- Larceny: 139
- Purse snatching: 1
- Pickpocket: 0
In a lot of my Alaska research, people keep saying the same things like “You don’t realize how assaulting the rain is until you get there” or “I thought I was a strong hiker but that mountain was incredibly hard to climb.”
Know your limits.
If you’ve never summited a mountain before, you aren’t going to magically be strong enough to do it just because you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
There are so many travel forums dedicated to Alaska with people who just wrapped up their first trip, to locals, to experienced cruisers.
Ask lots of questions in these forums as people are more than willing to help.
There aren’t a lot of those internet trolls in travel forums, which is a welcome relief.
However, don’t meet up with locals you meet online unless you are doing so in a public place.
How Does Sitka Compare?
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- Visas - You won't need to prove your citizenship in Sitka, as that gets taken care of by cruise ships or airports. While it seems obvious, remember, as Americans, this is a state, so you don't need a passport. If your cruise goes to Canada, you will. You won't be allowed on the cruise ship without proof of identity, so be sure to bring it with you.
- Currency - You still use the same U.S. Dollar currency here. So many of the excursions can be purchased with your cruise booking or reserved online ahead of time. I'm an impulse shopper, so if you are too, be sure to limit how many items you buy beyond your budget at the souvenir shops.
- Weather - It's cold in Sitka, but not COLD cold. It's not Fairbanks cold. The coldest part of winter will bring you highs in the upper 30s and lows in the 20s. Spring and fall bring highs into the 50s and lows above freezing. Summer peaks with highs in the low-60s and lows in the 40s. Remember - lots of layers of insulating and waterproof materials, bear spray, bug spray, sunscreen, and good hiking boots you've broken in before you visit.
- Airports - Sitka has one airport and one runway as we discussed. There's a good chance you'll be arriving by ferry or cruise ship. You can't drive to another airport, so if Sitka gets snowed in, you'll be stuck there.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is always a great idea when going to a rugged, remote area like Sitka because of natural disasters and weather emergencies that can happen. A lot of cruise passengers who didn't get travel insurance learned the hard way during the pandemic.
Sitka Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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