10 Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska

The Gateway to Southeast Alaska


Dean Fikar / Getty Images

Ketchikan is often called the "Gateway to Southeast Alaska" as it is the southernmost city on the Inside Passage. Cruise ships often stopover in Ketchikan as either the first or last port of call on Alaska cruises.

In 1900, Ketchikan was a fishing and logging community, and now 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 come to Ketchikan to fish, hike, kayak, shop, learn about the indigenous culture, or explore the Tongass National Forest or Misty Fjords National Monument.

01 of 10

Take to the Skies

Ketchikan Aerial View from airplane

Shaunl / Getty Images

If you have a short amount of time in Ketchikan, the quickest way to see the most spectacular views is from the air. Multiple flightseeing tours operate out of Ketchikan, ferrying passengers through the clouds to get an overview of the fjords and glacial lakes. Tours can typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half and you can take off right from the water on a floatplane or hop in a helicopter.

02 of 10

Snorkel in the Tide Pools

Snorkelers explore the tide pools of Ketchikan Alaska

Visit Ketchikan

4031 S Tongass Hwy, Ketchikan, AK 99901, USA
Phone +1 907-247-7782

This is your chance to earn some serious lifetime bragging rights, because really how many people do you know that would go snorkeling in Alaska? Snorkel Alaska offers the chance to don a wetsuit and get a look into the underwater world of the Inside Passage, which is brimming with sea life. A hot shower and cup of cocoa will be waiting for you after this exhilarating experience.

03 of 10

Get a Lesson at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center Ketchikan

TripSavvy / Erin Kirkland

50 Main St, Ketchikan, AK 99901-6559, USA
Phone +1 907-228-6220

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. The museum focuses on the natural and cultural history of the Tongass National Forest, with exhibits that give you a sense of the historic fishing villages and offer insight into how the Tongass culture survives in local communities. During the summer, rangers lead guided walks.

04 of 10

Imagine Old Town Ketchikan at Dolly' House Museum

Dolly's House Museum seen on Creek Street in Ketchikan Alaska

Visit Ketchikan

Side of building, 24 Creek St, Ketchikan, AK 99901, USA
Phone +1 907-220-1188

One of the oldest buildings in Ketchikan 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 1920s. Although the subject matter of this historic "parlor" may not be kid-friendly, the museum does offer a unique look at the era of Prohibition and visitors will get a chance to peek inside Dolly's secret liquor cabinet and see photos of the grand lady herself and the other women of Ketchikan's red-light district.

Until 1953, historic Creek Street was lined with bordellos frequented by the loggers and fishermen who worked in Ketchikan. Today, more than 30 wood-frame houses built on stilts along the creek are renovated restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

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05 of 10

Visit Misty Fjords National Monument

Tracy Arm Fjord
Dean Fikar / Getty Images

Misty Fjords National Monument is about 20 miles from Ketchikan and can only be reached by seaplane or boat. The 2.3 million-acre park is stunning, with massive 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.

06 of 10

Learn About Totems and the Tlingit Culture

Totem poles lay on the ground at Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Keri Oberly / Getty Images
601 Deermount St, Ketchikan, AK 99901, USA
Phone +1 907-225-5900

Ketchikan is famous for its many totems, and visitors have many opportunities to see them either completed or being carved. 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 of which are from the 19th century.

Saxman Village is about 3 miles south of Ketchikan and has an impressive collection of totems and a cedar community house. Visitors can learn about Tlingit culture through 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.

07 of 10

Walk Around Historic Ketchikan

Birds eye view on historic residential neighborhood in Ketchikan Alaska

CREATISTA / Getty Images 

131 Front St, Ketchikan, AK 99901-6413, USA
Phone +1 907-225-6166

Although cruise ships offer fascinating shore excursions around Ketchikan, some visitors might prefer to pick up a map and do a walking tour around the town. The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau provides 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 1920s.

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 two and a half hours, passing by historic homes and businesses.

08 of 10

Go Hiking

The hiking footpath to Deer Mount outside Ketchikan town (Alaska).

 virsuziglis / Getty Images

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 amazing 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.

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09 of 10

Admire Art at the Scanlon Gallery

Scanlon Gallery & Custom Framing

Scanlon Gallery & Custom Framing

318 Mission St, Ketchikan, AK 99901, USA
Phone +1 907-247-4730

As the oldest gallery in Alaska, the Scanlon Gallery has a long history of supporting and featuring local talent. Founded in 1972, the gallery showcases original works in a variety of disciplines including painting, photography, woodworks, sculptures, ceramics, fine art books, and jewelry. The gift shop hosts a wide selection of books delving into the history of artists born in the state and an assortment of cute memorabilia that will make a great souvenir.

10 of 10

Hit the Water

Two kayakers enjoy the sights of Ketchikan's historic Creek Street by paddling the Ketchikan Creek.

 1Photodiva / Getty Images

Ketchikan, AK 99901, USA
Phone +1 907-225-3101

Ketchikan, like all of Alaska, is a dream destination for those who love outdoor activities. Although salmon fishing is king in the summer months, halibut fishing is also popular. Several local outfitters can set you up with a boat and guide. If you prefer to leave the fish in the water, kayaking is a beautiful, quiet way to see Southeast Alaska and there are many places to book kayaking tours around town.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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10 Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska