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Established Trails Backcountry Routes
Trail Description
Route Description


Harbor Mountain
What is marked as the trail above actually includes the road which makes its way up Harbor Mountain. (It is the only road access to the subalpine in Southeast Alaska.) The only time you have to walk up the road is winter (unless you know someone with an ATV or snowmobile who is willing to give you a ride) or if the road is washed out at some point (which it was all Summer 1999). From the end of the road at the bottom of a large subalpine bowl there is a board walk trail which makes its way up to the ridge above the bowl. From here you can go to the first little peak for excellent views of Sitka and the Sound, or you can follow the main trail around this peak and along the ridge back towards the main peaks of Harbor Mountain. Where the trail gets to the base of the first rocky peak, there is a fork. Take the right fork to go south of the peaks and stay on the trail which eventually gets to Gavan Hill or continue straight to go up to the rocky peaks. There is a step or two of pretty significant exposure involved in getting to the top of the highest peak, but it does not seem too bad going up (going down, on the other hand...). < top >

Harbor-Gavan Trail
As the name might imply, this trail links Harbor Mountain and Gavan Hill. You can start at either end, but starting at Harbor Mountain allows you to have the advantage of 2000 feet of elevation gain in your car (of course getting back to the car from the bottom of Gavan Hill might take some doing unless you have made plans). There is a shelter about halfway which makes a nice place for camping, if you so desire. The ridge which goes to the northwest behind this shelter is also easily travelled to at least the base of Peak 2890. < top >

Heart Lake
A short hike to a small lake (which is heart shaped when viewed from the main peak of Mt. Verstovia). There is supposedly a trail linking Heart Lake and Thimbleberry Lake, but the one time I started off in that direction, I got slowed down by the fact that it looked like I was going to have to wade in the lake to get around it. My brother has made the trip and said it was just fairly brushy, but still passable. < top >

Green Lake
This route does not actually have to include any hiking at all. There is a road all the way to Green Lake, though unless you have the right keys (or know someone who does) you cannot take your vehicle out on the road past Herring Cove. It is a nice mountain bike ride but the hill at the end can be quite a grind (though it is fun to ride down, and you do not have to worry quite as much about cars as on Harbor Mountain Road). Also, watch out for the bears (as if that is not the case for any of these other hikes). < top >

Gavan Hill
I think Gavan Hill trail has more stairs per mile of travel than anything not described by the words "skyscraper" or "stairway to heaven." For this reason many people choose not to hike this trail (though its proximity to town assures that it still gets plenty of use). The stairs were put in a few years back to help curb the rampant trail erosion which resulted in some portions of the trail being a slog up a steep slope of mud. There is a decent view point about two thirds of the way up to the ridge line. Reaching the high point of Gavan Hill involves leaving the main trail (which skirts around the highest part and goes to the ridge connecting Harbor Mountain and Gavan Hill) and hiking up to the top. < top >

Beaver Lake
The first quarter mile is the worst part of this whole hike. 200 feet of the 250 foot elevation gain is done right at the beginning. After that the trail consists entirely of board walks which pass through muskegs and fairly open wooded areas. In 2003, the trail was extended completely around the lake. The trail follows the lake shore much of the way around, but for a section it leaves the shore and passes through open muskegs with excellent views of the surrounding mountains. There is usually a boat with paddles at the lake which you might be willing to risk using. < top >

Indian River Falls
Indian River trail is probably the most popular hiking trail around Sitka. I have been on it many times in many different conditions year round and I do not think that I have ever not seen someone else along the trail. The hike to the falls is a little over five miles one way, but a trip which does not go all the way is certainly not a waste of time. There are a number of places where people can have a picnic along the river. There is also a bench at the edge of a muskeg about three quarters of a mile up the trail. From here there is a view of the Sisters. The trail can be quite muddy in places, though the worst spots have either been filled with gravel or had board walks placed over them. In especially heavy rain the trail itself can become flooded, and just about every year there is a section of trail which is effected by a wash out or blow down. Overall the trail is well maintained, however. The falls are only at 700 feet or so, and most of the elevation gain is in the last mile. < top >

Medvejie Lake
There are a number of means by which it is possible to get to Medvejie Lake. Probably the easiest is to bicycle along the dirt road from Herring Cove to Bear Cove (except for those who are the right people or know the right people). Go up the valley behind the fish hatchery and look for the trail. Sometimes it is a little hard to find. You will have to cross the creek which may or may not have a convenient log across it. The water is cold, but never fear, it's not that far to wade. It is less than a mile from where you cross the creek until you get to the lake. Usually there is at least one canoe there, and sometimes it even looks safe enough to take out on the water, as long as you have some duct tape to patch the holes or a means of bailing water, that is. Along the the southeast side of the lake there is a waterfall tumbling down the side of the mountain. If you make it all the way to the head of the lake there is a small sandbar near the incoming stream where it can be nice to relax in the sun. For those that really want to get to the head of the lake, but really do not want to take the canoe, it is possible to hike around the side of the lake. Make sure you go on the Bear Mountain side, however, as the other side looks nigh on impassable due to brush and cliffs. < top >

Mosquito Cove
Mosquito Cove trail was constructed during 1999 by the Sitka Trail Works. It is a 1.25 mile loop that passes by the quiet little cove that gives the trail its name. One half of the loop goes overland to the cove while the other stays closer to shore. There are some hills, but overall it is a fairly easy hike. Mosquito Cove Trailhead (Including map). < top >

Sitka Cross Trail
The Cross Trail links Indian River trail to Charteris Street. On the way it connects with Gavan Hill Trail, the High School, and the city softball fields. It makes its way through both open timber and muskeg. It is a nice connecting trail for getting from one part of town to another in a way that is a little more scenic than going along the roads through town. < top >

Thimbleberry Lake
The hike to Thimbleberry lake is quite short, taking perhaps 10-15 minutes for a moderate pace. Theoretically it is possible to follow the powerline corridor to Heart Lake, but in practice I have heard it is a real pain due to the brush and blow down (I have never actually tried to go that route). < top >

Verstovia: Peak 2550
This is a two and a half mile trail which goes up the steep slopes of Mt. Verstovia and ends at Peak 2550 (often called Verstovia, while the true main peak is called Arrowhead). The trail recently underwent a much needed improvment and is in good condition. Accessibility to the trailhead is easy, though I would consider the trail itself moderately difficult due to the steep nature of the terrain. < top >

Verstovia: Main Peak
The true summit of Verstovia is often called Arrowhead by folks in Sitka. There is no officially made trail to the top, though it is easy to follow the trail which has been worn by people continuing on from Peak 2550. The main peak involves about a mile more distance and 800 feet more elevation than Peak 2550. There is a fair bit of scrambling and some exposure invovled in getting up to the top (though I have seen someone do it in sandals). < top >

Backcountry Bushwhacking

Bear Mountain: Beaver Lake Route
There are at least a couple of routes to get up to the summit of Bear Mountain, and this is one of them (the only one I have actually tried). On the plus side, you get the advantage of the extra couple of hundred feet afforded by driving up to the Beaver Lake trailhead. On the minus side, you end up hiking up a ridge that has an incredible number of false summits once you get above the treeline. < top >

Camp Lake
It takes a little bit of doing to get back to Camp Lake. First you find your way to Medvejie Lake then you find your way around Medvejie Lake by canoeing across in the (sometimes leaky) canoes which someone has so graciously left there or by hiking around the northwest side of the lake. After that generally parallel the stream which feeds Medvejie Lake (perhaps trying to pick one of the many colors of surveyor's tape to follow) and hope you find the "path" through the brush. (The path is bad enough at most times, the unpathed brush is much worse.) After the worst of the brush, it is not usually too hard to pick one's way through the open timber up to the treeline. Here the brush can be bad, and there is not really any trail. It seems that the best course is to stay on the brushless boulders as much as possible. Follow the valley around as it curves to the north and Camp Lake is just over the saddle. < top >

Cupola Peak
Like many backcountry destinations relatively accessible from Sitka, there are a variety of colors of old surveyor's tape to guide one along the way. Unfortunately, you never can tell whether the people who placed those colorful beacons actually knew where they were going or if they were lost and figured that at least they could backtrack by leaving the flags. The best way to go is with someone who has been there and that is what I did. It is a fairly strenuous hike, though the worst part is shortly before the treeline. After going perpendicular across a couple of ridgelines that run down from the peaks scramble up one to the main peak. There are nice views of the Indigo Lake and the high peaks of Baranof Island as well as back towards town. < top >

Heart Lake-Verstovia
This route probably falls into the category of "only once." It seemed like a good idea at the time, but by the end of the trip it I was pretty exhausted. Actually, it was not that bad, and given my current physical condition I would probably think it was not nearly as bad as it seemed that first time. There's a cut in the trees where a small flow of water keeps things cleared out by becoming a much bigger flow of water in times of high run off. There was at least one waterfall which we avoided by being in the trees (do not go in and out of the trees too much unless you are adept at ducking through thick patches of devils club). It got quite steep near the top, though there was not really any running water with the snow being all melted. As is too often the case when the hike "seemed like a good idea at the time," upon reaching the top we said to ourselves that there was no way we were going back down that. I guess it is better to plunge into the unknown difficulties of where you have not been than it is to suffer through the pain which is already known. So we made our way around the main peak of Verstovia and came down on the trail. < top >

Herring Cove to Beaver Lake
This route is a proposed trail in the comprehensive Sitka Trail Plan put together in recent years. There is currently a relatively easy to follow backcountry type trail which seems to get a fair amount of use. There are a couple of scenic waterfalls along the way as well as imposing views of Bear Mountain looming overhead. Follow the valley up and eventually you will come to Beaver Lake trail. If you do not make car arrangements, there may be a fair amount of road walking at the end (assuming you follow Beaver Lake trail down rather than backtrack to Herring Cove). < top >

Indian River-Katlian
This route is definitely not recommended. If, for some reason, you get the urge to hike over to Katlian Bay, I would suggest starting from Starrigavan or staying up on the ridge rather than going immediately down into the valley from the saddle like the route on the map indicates. The hiking is pretty easy going up across the first bridge on Indian River trail. After that, things are still pretty pleasant while making a way through the open timber and occasional washouts in the valley of the West Fork of Indian River. Eventually you get to the head of the valley and start going up. There are occasional patches of devil's club, though they are not impenetrable. Then all of a sudden you are really going up hill. There are numerous little rock outcrops in the trees and between them are gullies which have been washed bare by water. Once up to the tree line, it's a little easier to pick your way up to the saddle between the Katlian and Indian River drainages. The way up is no picnic, but it is nothing compared to the "hike" down if you choose to go straight into the valley. Essentially what you are faced with is a few trees here and there which break up an otherwise mostly solid mass of brush growing on what I would describe as a cliff. Of course once you start down you really do not want to go back up what you already know is wretched, so you hope that you can somehow make your way to the bottom. If you are lucky, you will be able to pick your way through the brush in such a way as to avoid most of the bare cliffs. Those few that cannot manage to avoid, you do your best to cross without slipping to your death. This is the one place you are actually thankful for heavy brush since it prevents you from taking the "fast way" down. Once you actually do make it to the bottom, it's pretty easy going to get to the ocean (unless you happened to go when the river was in flood stage, I suppose. When I was there with my brother in the summer of 1997 it was mostly just dry gravel beds with an occasional pool of water). It is nice to have someone with a boat to pick you up in Katlian Bay so that you do not have to make the hike back to town. < top >

Indian River-Middle Sister Loop
As can be seen on the map, this route takes you up and over the Middle Sister and then back down into Indian River valley above the falls. Before getting to the second bridge on Indian River trail hang a left and head up into the long muskeg which goes pretty much to the base of the Middle Sister. There is a bit of brush to get through at the transition between muskeg and forest, but once through that things are much nicer in the open timber. Stay along the ridge as much as possible since on either side of it there are pretty substantial cliff areas. It gets really steep in the trees, but there are enough roots and small trees to hold onto so that it is not too difficult. At the transition out of the forest to the alpine, the brush is again fairly thick. Getting past it is doable and once you are past it, the going is much easier for a while. From the summit of the Middle Sister, follow the ridge line back towards the other Sisters. It is steep in places and a little bit brushy, but things open up again into a nice broad ridge which goes over to the North Sister. It is probably possible to climb to the top of the North Sister from here, though it is quite steep and there is some exposure. Try to find a good way down into Indian River valley and proceed more or less directly down to the river. You should be able to pick up a flagged trail somewhere down here. There are thick patches of brush in the best of circumstances, and in the worst case, it is nigh on inpenatrable. Eventually if all goes well, you will find yourself back on Indian River Trail at the falls and the rest of the way is easy. It is almost certainly best to have already explored around the valley above Indian River falls before you try and find your way through it from the Sisters so that you have a pretty good idea of how best to make your way down to the main trail. < top >

Indian River-Verstovia Loop
While not strictly a loop, it comes pretty close. I started at Indian River and came down Verstovia, but in theory it could also be done the other way. I left Indian River trail quite a ways past the second bridge (but well before the third) with the intention of heading into Billy Basin and trying to hike up a ridge to Arrowhead peak. As it turned out I underestimated how far I would need to go to get past the ridge which forms the southwest of slopes Billy Basin and goes up to the next small peak along the ridge east of Mt. Verstovia. All was not lost, since I knew from previous experience that if I could make it to the saddle just east of Mt. Verstovia, I would be able to hike around he main peak and join the trail there. Getting to the saddle was really not all that difficult, though making my way through the dwarfed stands of hemlock sometimes took a bit of doing. The other option was to brave the very steep slopes just below the ridge line and go around those trees. I ended up doing a little of both. < top >

Starrigavan Loop
There is a nice little lake (unofficially) known as Baby Bear Lake on the ridge just to the north of Starrigavan creek. I had heard about this lake from someone and thought it would be a nice hike. If the number of flags was any indication, this is a very popular hunting area in the fall. The route goes more or less straight up the hill from the end of the road until you get to the first subalpine meadows among the trees. Then start heading more east while continuing to go up hill slightly (Update 2004: don't believe everything I write. I discovered that "slightly" is a bit of an understatement during a couple of recent trips). Baby Bear Lake lies nestled along the ridge between the forest and alpine meadows. From here you can continue along the ridge up to peak 2875, the high point on the ridge. Continue on along the ridge as far as you wish before going down into the Starrigavan drainage. There are probably some good ways to get down, but I did not happen to use one of those ways when I went down. Eventually you can either join up with hunter/game trails or just find your way down to the creek and parallel it to where you can get on the old logging road. < top >

South Fork Starrigavan Creek
This route runs more or less parallel to Starrigavan Creek along Nelson Logging road beyond the rifle range. It then takes a hard right and follows the South Fork of Starrigavan Creek along a washed out logging road. Eventually the road disappears and you follow the creek up as far as you choose. I am not sure what this area is like since it has been opened up for ATVs to use. < top >