Located twenty miles west of the small city of Sitka, St. Lazaria is a rough area of wilderness that’s home to some stunning examples of Alaskan flora and fauna. The island is part of a chain of islands that make up the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge; as such, tour guides and guidebooks often refer to St Lazaria as the Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge. Whatever you decide to call it, St Lazaria certainly makes for a memorable day trip away form the creature comforts of Sitka. This is an impressive and isolated part of the world, and most visitors get a joyous kick out of exploring its landscape.
St Lazaria Island qualified to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge thanks primarily to its astounding bird population. The island is no bigger than 65 acres of land, yet around half a million birds are believed to live on the island, representing a whopping 7,000 different species. It comes as little surprise, then, that Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge is an absolute haven for bird-watchers, who head here by day to get a glimpse of cormorants, guillemots, and murres, to name a few. The island is popular destination for wildlife tours in the area.
Saint Lazaria Island is known for its daily shift of birds: The island’s populace switches from day to night, with certain petrels, murrelets, and auklets landing on the island following sundown and then leaving once the sun rises again. Naturally, bird-watching come sundown is a tricky task, and those who do visit tend to limit their activities to the sunlit hours of the day.
The Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge isn’t the easiest place in the world to access, and visitors normally confine themselves to Sitka tours that happen to visit here or guided group tours that explore the island more thoroughly. Whichever route to St Lazaria Island you chose, there’s a strict set of rules that must be followed when spending time here. For example, it’s considered of vital importance that visitors stick to the walkways and ladders that have been specially laid out. Anyone who strays from these runs the risk of trampling over birds’ nests, as many seabirds make their homes and lay their eggs out of the way of danger underground.
For many visitors, a boat trip that coasts by St Lazaria Island is a memorable experience without actually having to disembark onto the island. That is because the island’s cliff faces prove one of the most sought after sights here, and they are best seen from out at sea. These cliff faces are the nesting home of an incredible array of the species that live on the island.
Some of the cruise lines that follow a route through Sitka organize shore excursions to St Lazaria. Tour operators in the area are also easy to find should you wish to book a tour on your own accord. Tours that visit St Lazaria will often also incorporate a spot of fishing in their itinerary, as the waters here are renowned for their large salmon and halibut populations.