At first glance, the thought of winter in Alaska sounds about as appealing as monsoon season in Calcutta. But go a little later in the season, and it might be the best-kept secret in travel. The aurora borealis is at one of its most active times of the year from late February into early March, and the short days mean more hours when you might catch the show. While Sitka’s skies aren’t always clear, the temperatures here are still mild, more like Seattle than the frozen tundra. Catch it on a cold, clear day, and you’ll see the lights minus the bone-chilling cold.
The main event of winter here is the Pacific Herring Migration, when Pacific herring converge on Sitka Sound. The fish themselves are pretty unremarkable, but in March and April bald eagles, bears, whales, and seals come here en masse to feed, making it the most intense Alaskan wildlife viewing experience you can get. Because big cruise ships don’t typically run until about May, you won’t be sharing the sound with an armada of megaships; the only cruise line that runs a trip is a 10-passenger boat from Alaskan Dream Cruises. With a warm jacket and a good set of binoculars, winter in Sitka can be the best time of year to see Alaska in the raw.