Great Debate

Sitka vs Juneau: How to Choose for Your Alaska Trip

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Planning your Alaska trip is a series of seemingly impossible decisions. How long to visit, and when. How much to spend. Where to go, what to do, where to stay. Oh my! You might find yourself stuck between two different destinations, uncertain which will be the right one for you and the kinds of memories you want to make during your bucket list trip to The Last Frontier.

This is why I’ve started a new series of posts I call the “Great Debate;” in each post, I compare two Alaskan communities to help you choose between the two. If you have time to visit both, awesome – but if you (like most visitors) are time-constrained, these posts will help.

Sitka vs Juneau Hero

In this post, I’m comparing Sitka vs Juneau. I had the chance to visit both Juneau and Sitka during my Windstar Cruise in Alaska in June 2022. I’ve also been to both cities a few other times as well (Juneau in 2017 and 2021, and Sitka in 2021 as well).

So if you’re stuck on the great debate of Sitka versus Juneau, read on. This guide covers the similarities and differences between the two, as well as the unique aspects each one has to offer travelers. Then I end with a recommendation for which to visit, to wrap everything up nicely for you. Ready to dig in and settle this great debate for your own Alaska trip?

(Short on time? Use the Table of Contents to quickly navigate this post!)

Sitka vs Juneau: What are the Differences?

When comparing Sitka vs Juneau, you’ll notice distinct differences between the two.

Sitka is known as the first capital of Russian America – this should give you a hint of what you can expect! 

  • The city is all about historical charm with its rich blend of Tlingit, Russian, and American cultures.
  • This picturesque town is on Baranof Island and is a treasure trove of historical sites like St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Sitka National Historical Park.
  • It is surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, and its waters and skies are home to abundant wildlife, including humpback whales and bald eagles.

On the other hand, Juneau is the current capital of Alaska and serves as the state’s cultural and political hub.

  • Nestled between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts, and the Gastineau Channel, Juneau offers a dynamic blend of modern amenities and the outdoors.
  • The Alaska State Capitol provides a glimpse into the state’s political landscape.
  • Venues like the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and Perseverance Theatre highlight the city’s vibrant arts scene.
  • There are also hiking trails and the Mount Roberts Tramway that deposit you in the wilderness around the city.

As you can probably tell, each Southeast Alaska community offers something unique even though both were the capital of Alaska (at one point anyway!). Now let me dive a little deeper into each one…

Sitka: First Capital & Historic Hotspot

Sitka was the capital of Russian America and is steeped in history. This picturesque town was the site of the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867, but it has been the site of important chapters of Alaskan history since Time Immemorial and it is the traditional lands of the Tlingit people.

The iconic St. Michael’s Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church, and the Sitka National Historical Park, where the Tlingit fought against Russian settlers, are must-visit attractions. There’s also the Sheldon Jackson Museum with a diverse collection of Alaska Native artifacts.

If you’re more inclined toward science than history, the Sitka Sound Science Center is like a doorway to the city’s neighboring waterway, and you can visit cool wildlife rehabilitation programs like the Fortress of the Bear and Alaska Raptor Center to get up close and personal with some of Alaska’s wildest animals.

Like pretty much everywhere in Alaska, Sitka is surrounded by stunning landscapes, including the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Hiking trails, such as the Harbor Mountain Trail and Heart Lake, offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, islands, and ocean.

More Sitka Resources I’ve Written:

Juneau: Current Capital & Cultural Center

Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906. As such, it’s a hub of government and culture. Juneau is home to the Alaska State Capitol, where you can take guided tours to learn about Alaskan politics and history.

The city also boasts a vibrant arts scene, with venues like the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and Perseverance Theatre hosting a variety of performances. You can also – and often – find live music at some of the downtown bars; I’ve heard that a night at the Alaskan Bar is quite a slice of nightlife in the capital city.

If you’d like to include a bit of nature, the Mendenhall Glacier is a short drive from downtown and offers stunning views and hiking trails. There are also hiking trails all around downtown Juneau; you could also ride the Mount Roberts Goldbelt Tram up its namesake, to head out on one of the many trailheads up there. For a more adventurous experience, you can take a helicopter tour to walk on the glacier or go dog sledding.

More Juneau Resources I’ve Written:

Juneau or Sitka: How to Choose

Sitka vs Juneau - Bridge in Sitka

Okay, given all that, how do you choose between Juneau or Sitka? As you can probably tell, making the “right” choice is about understanding what you want to experience in Alaska.

  • Historical Interests: If you are fascinated by history and enjoy exploring historic sites, Sitka is the place for you. The city’s rich blend of Native, Russian, and American history offers a unique cultural experience.
  • Cultural and Politics: If you want to experience the political heart of Alaska and enjoy cultural activities, Juneau is your destination. The state capital provides a mix of historical insights and modern cultural events.
  • Outdoor Adventures: Both cities offer incredible outdoor activities. However, Juneau’s accessibility to the Mendenhall Glacier and diverse range of outdoor tours might appeal more to adventure seekers.
  • Diversity of Experience: As you plan your Alaska itinerary, I also think it’s important to craft an itinerary that shows you a variety of different aspects of the state. If you already have plans to visit other cities or ports that focus on one of these things, you might visit the other to experience and learn about something different!
  • Ease of Access: Consider the logistics of your trip. Juneau is more accessible with regular flight and ferry services. Sitka, while slightly less accessible, offers a more off-the-beaten-path experience. (If you’re trying to debate between two cruises where the only difference is these two ports, this obviously isn’t as important!)

In the end, there is no “right” decision; either Sitka or Juneau has its unique charms and attractions. Whether you choose the historical richness of Sitka or the cultural vibrancy of Juneau, you are sure to have an unforgettable Alaskan adventure.

Have any other questions about choosing between Juneau and Sitka on your Alaska trip? Let me know in the comments below!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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