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Baranof Island, also known as either Baranov or Sitka Island, lies in the northern Alexander Archipelago in the Alaska Panhandle. Famed for its brown bears and Sitka deer, its major industries are fishing, processing seafood and tourism.

With an area of 4,162 square kilometres and a population of under 9,000, Baranof is the smallest of Alaska’s so-called ABC islands (along with Admiralty and Chicagof). Most of it falls within the limits of Tongass National Forest.  Measuring roughly 170 kilometres by 50 kilometres, its shoreline measures around 1,000 kilometres, and the highest peak in the Alexander Archipelago lies near its centre. 

The Island’s capital is Sitka, on the west coast Port Alexander, whose population is fewer than 100, lies in the extreme southeast; there are a few more tiny settlements on the east coast. In around 1900, many small-scale mining operations were based around Sitka and on the north side of the island; at this time canneries, whaling stations, and fox farms were established here and on the smaller surrounding islands, but most had already been abandoned by the start of World War II. 

It was named in 1805 by a captain of the Imperial Russian Navy to honour Alexander Andreyevich Baranov, senior manager of the influential Russian-American Company that controlled the region’s fur trade, who became the first governor of Russian Alaska. The native Tlingit people, however, refer to it as Sheet’-ká X'áat'l or, more simply, just Shee. Much of the forested island is officially designated as the South Baranof Wilderness.

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: brown bear, bald eagle, Steller’s sealion, sea otter, tufted puffin
  • Where: Southeast Alaska, Alaska
Recommended cruise vessel:

Snow Goose

This comfortable and roomy 20-metre steel-hulled motor-vessel is ideal for expedition cruising in Alaskan waters. Perfect for research and educational programmes, she sleeps 12 passengers in six private cabins, has an expert naturalist on board and carries a motorised inflatable and kayaks for island excursions.