Ketchikan is often called the Gateway to Southeast Alaska since it is the southernmost city on the Inside Passage, and cruise ships often stopover in Ketchikan as either the first or last port of call on Alaska cruises. Ketchikan got its start in 1900 as a fishing and logging community, and the 13,000 year-round residents of the town live along a 10 mile stretch of waterfront narrowly spread along the Tongass Narrows.
Today the city is filled with tourists who have come to Ketchikan to fish, hike, kayak, shop, learn more about the Native American culture (especially totems), or explore the Tongass National Forest or Misty Fjords National Monument.
Ketchikan is also one of the rainiest towns in the USA, receiving about 13 feet (152 inches) of rain each year. Over 200 days each year have measurable rain, so don't forget your rain gear!
Here are some of the things to see and do in and around Ketchikan.
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Take a Stroll Along Creek Street
Until 1953, historic Creek Street was lined with bordellos frequented by the loggers and fishermen who worked in Ketchikan. Today the 30+ wood-frame houses built on stilts along the creek are renovated restaurants, shops, and art galleries.
One of the old buildings is Dolly's House Museum. Dolly Arthur was Ketchikan's most famous "madam", and the interior of the house looks much like it did in the 1920's. The "sporting women" who worked for Dolly probably had some fascinating stories to tell about all those men who came to Alaska to make their fortunes.
Creek Street is just about three blocks from the cruise ship pier, and it's an easy walk through the downtown area.
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Misty Fjords National Monument is about 20 miles from Ketchikan and can be reached only by seaplane or boat. The 2.3 million acre park is stunning, with huge glacial cliffs and secluded bays. The park is often foggy, with its peaks covered by clouds, giving it a mysterious ambiance.
Small ships sailing from Ketchikan often include a day in the park, but its narrow fjords are inaccessible to the larger cruise ships, so visitors will either need to take a tour boat or see the Misty Fjords from a seaplane.
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Learn About Totems and the Tlingit Culture
Ketchikan is famous for its many totems, and visitors to the town have many opportunities to see them either completed or being carved. There are outdoor totems at Whale Park, near the entrance to Creek Street. The Totem Heritage Center is near the City Park and about a mile or so from downtown. It houses a collection of over 30 original, unrestored totems from Tlingit and Haida villages, most from the 19th century.
Saxman village is about 2-3 miles south of Ketchikan, and it has an impressive collection of totems and a cedar community house. Visitors can learn about the Tlingit culture through the songs, dances, and stories. Totem carvers are often at work in the village, and native art is for sale in the shops.
The Totem Bight State Park about 10 miles north of Ketchikan is in a beautiful setting and was funded by the CCC of the 1930s. It has numerous totems with good interpretive signs, but no carvers onsite.
The U.S. Forest Service's Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is on Mill... Street in downtown Ketchikan. It features exhibits and interactive displays about the land, people, and culture of the region.
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The Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center was built in 1954 and is managed by the Ketchikan Indian Community. Located on Ketchikan Creek, the hatchery raises and releases more than 300,000 baby salmon each year. The Eagle Center is a rehabilitation center that cares for injured bald eagles and other birds.
The Center provides guided and narrated tours to visitors and locals of the Hatchery facility and operations and of the Eagle Compound. They are open during the tour season, which runs from late April to the middle of September.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Take a Walk Around Historic Ketchikan
Although cruise ships offer many fascinating shore excursions in and around Ketchikan, some visitors might prefer to pick up a map and do their own walking tour around the town. The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau has maps at its convenient location on the waterfront across the street from the historic "Welcome to Ketchikan" sign, the original of which first arched over Mission Street in the 1920's.
Ketchikan has two self-guided walking tours. The first is the downtown walking tour, which takes about two hours or more, depending on how many times you stop to shop or take photos. This walking tour covers the parks, museums, churches, and historic downtown areas like Creek Street. It starts at the Visitors Center and ends just on the other side of the tunnel at the Casey Moran Harbor. The second walk starts at the Harbor View Park (near the end of the downtown walk, and continues mostly along the waterfront. This tour is longer, and takes at least 2.5 hours, passing by historic... homes and businesses.
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Enjoy Outdoor Activities - Hiking, Fishing, Kayaking, or Zip-Lining
Ketchikan, like all of Alaska, is a dream destination for those of us who love outdoor activities. Ketchikan has several excellent hiking trails, including one to the top of nearby Deer Mountain. This 2.5-mile hike goes up 2,500 feet to the summit, providing excellent views of Ketchikan. The Rainbird Trail starts above the Third Avenue bypass and also offers great vistas. Other trails include two in the Ward Lake Recreational Area 7 miles north of Ketchikan--the Ward Lake Trail, an easy walk along a scenic stream; and the Perseverance Trail, which takes you into the rainforest.
Fishing is the most popular recreational activity in Ketchikan. Salmon fishing is king in the summer months, but halibut fishing is also a great option. Several outfitters will set you up with a boat and guide.
Kayaking is a wonderful, quiet way to see Southeast Alaska, and Ketchikan has at least two companies with kayaking tours. Zip-lining has really caught on around at vacation destinations around the world,... and Ketchikan has zip-line adventures in the area.
Ready to stay in Ketchikan before or after your cruise? We stayed at the New York Hotel and loved it, but there are also many other great places to stay in town.
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