From my own trip to Ketchikan, Alaska, I remember being amazed by the rich history of totem poles and the sight of eagles soaring above. As a first-timer stepping off the cruise ship at Ketchikan, you’re in for a treat. It’s like walking into a whole new world where every street and every breeze has something exciting to show you. Believe me, it is not your usual shore excursion – it’s the kind of adventure you’ll be talking about for a long time!
This blog is all about sharing the best things to do there, right off the cruise ship. I’ll guide you through the top attractions and hidden spots in Ketchikan, ensuring your visit is as memorable and exciting as mine was.
Why Cruise Ketchikan, Alaska Is Worth It
Ketchikan really is something special, tucked away in the vast Tongass National Forest. I still remember my first time there, amazed by the green expanse of nearly 17 million acres. The highlight? Definitely the Misty Fjords National Monument. It’s so pristine and secluded, you can only get there by boat or floatplane.
In Ketchikan, adventure is part of everyday life. I’ve kayaked next to age-old glaciers and soared over towering cliffs in a floatplane – each experience was nothing short of breathtaking. And have I mentioned the amazing wildlife? Spotting bald eagles and walking among towering cedar trees made me feel like I was truly part of Southeast Alaska. For me, every visit to Ketchikan feels like reconnecting with nature’s soul, where every moment tells its own unique story.
Top 25 Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska
From the thunder of lumberjacks’ axes to the whispering wings of eagles, here are 25 extraordinary experiences that will leave you with tales taller than a Sitka spruce.
1. Witness the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is an unmissable highlight in Ketchikan, perfectly blending fun and action for a family-friendly excursion. Located just a short walk from the cruise ship port, the show runs multiple times a day, each lasting an hour. It’s a lively window into Ketchikan’s logging history, where world champion lumberjacks and jills, some even featured on ESPN, showcase their extraordinary talents.
The competition is the heart of the show, with events like speed climbing, log rolling, and axe throwing. I am always amazed by the athletes’ strength, skill, and endurance as they perform these traditional lumberjack games. The audience gets involved too, cheering on their favorite teams, adding to the excitement and community spirit of the event.
For those looking to enhance their experience, some show packages include personal axe-throwing training with a lumberjack. Alternatively, pair the show with an all-you-can-eat crab feast, complete with delicious sides and desserts, for a truly Alaskan experience.
2. Visit Totem Bight State Park
Ketchikan’s storied past is written not in words, but in the towering totem poles that dot its landscape. These majestic monuments are the sentinels of history, culture, and art that define the heart of this Alaskan haven.
Take a walk down this forest trail in Ketchikan and you’ll see totem poles towering above. Each of these majestic tall wooden sculptures is like a storybook, showing off the area’s deep indigenous roots. It feels more like an open-air gallery than just a park, with every pole giving you a glimpse into the local history and culture.
3. Pose Next to the Eagle Totem
Right at the entrance of the tunnel near Cruise Ship Dock 3, I came across this amazing Eagle totem pole. It’s a piece by Nathan Jackson, a local from Ketchikan. This spot is great for a quick photo – you can get the cruise ships or the tunnel in the background as well!
Did you know ‘Ketchikan’ comes from ‘Kitschk-Hin’, a Tlingit word meaning ‘thundering wings of an Eagle’? Pretty cool, right?
4. Paying Your Respect at the Totem Heritage Center
If you’re like me you’d be interested in Alaska’s indigenous art, and there’s no better way to go about it than visit the Totem Heritage Center. It’s like stepping back in time with all these ancient totem poles around you. These aren’t just any replica poles; they’re the real deal, hand-carved by the Tlingit and Haida people. The place feels more like a time machine that shows you how these traditions are still alive and kicking than just a museum.
Right outside, you’ll see two big totem poles – ‘Honoring those who give’ and ‘The Fog Woman Pole’. Plus, there are these cool carved doors and posts representing Eagle, Raven, Killer Whale, Bear, and Wolf. Trust me, these make for some awesome photo ops, especially at the entrance.
Inside, it’s a treasure trove of original Native American totem poles that were brought in from abandoned villages, along with masks, tools, and all sorts of artifacts. I can assure you it is an experience of a lifetime that shows you the heart and soul of native Alaskan culture
5. Check Out Chief Johnson’s Totem Pole
When you’re near Creek Street, make sure to stop by the Chief Johnson Totem Pole, right across from Whale Park. Standing tall at 55 feet and carved from a western red cedar log, it’s a striking sight. The pole narrates the legend of Fog Woman and the creation of Salmon, a significant piece of Native American storytelling.
This totem pole is a thoughtful replica, honoring the Kadjuk House of the Raven Clan. The original, which was raised in 1901, is now housed in the Totem Heritage Center. This replica, crafted by Israel Shotridge and raised in 1989, is a landmark project. It marked the first authentic totem pole carved and raised in downtown Ketchikan in over half a century. Shotridge’s work brought the community together for a grand celebration, complete with a traditional salmon dinner, dancing, and speeches.
6. Explore the Misty Fjords at the National Monument
If you’re up for an adventure off the beaten path, you need to check out the Misty Fjords and the Aniakchak National Monument. I loved kayaking through tranquil fjords, with massive granite walls around me, all shaped by ancient glaciers. It truly feels like you’re in the middle of a grand natural cathedral.
Aniakchak, out on the Aleutian Range of southwestern Alaska, is seriously wild. Centered around a volcano that’s erupted over 40 times in the last 10,000 years, it’s one of the least-visited spots in the National Park System. Why? It’s super remote and the weather can be a challenge. But that’s part of the allure.
The monument, established in 1978, covers over 600,000 acres, with a massive 6-mile wide crater at its heart. The peak of Aniakchak Crater and Surprise Lake inside it are sights to behold. But, getting there is an adventure in itself – most folks fly into Surprise Lake, but the frequent fog can make that tricky. Or you can fly to Port Heiden and trek overland to the crater.
It’s not your typical tourist destination – only about 100 people visited in 2017. But if you’re looking for something truly unique and off-grid, this is it. The beauty of the place, with its rugged landscapes and raw nature, is unprecedented.
7. Experience the Saxman Native Village
When you’re in Ketchikan, you’ve got to drive down South Tongass Hwy, just 2.5 miles south of the town, to Saxman Native Village. It’s a small Tlingit village, home to about 475 people, but it’s packed with culture and history, especially famous for its Saxman Totem Park.
In the park, you’ll find 24 totem poles, each with its own story. They were brought in from abandoned villages around Southeast Alaska and restored back in the 1930s. One of the coolest ones is a replica of the Lincoln Pole. The original, now in the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, was carved in 1883 using a picture of Abraham Lincoln. It’s kind of a big deal because it commemorates the first time the Tlingit people saw white folks.
You can just stroll around Totem Park by yourself. But if you want the full experience, book a two-hour village tour led by an Alaska Native. It cost me about $32, but it was worth it. You get to see a traditional drum-and-dance performance, hear stories about the totems, and even visit the carving shed where these incredible totems are made. The tours are usually set up for cruise-ship groups, but they’re super informative and fun for anyone interested in the local culture.
8. Check Out the Tongass National Forest
You can’t miss the Tongass National Forest if you’re ever in Southeast Alaska. It’s the largest national forest in the U.S., covering a whopping 16.7 million acres. Think of it as a giant, lush green playground that’s a temperate rainforest. It’s so vast and remote that it’s a haven for all sorts of rare plants and wildlife.
The Tongass stretches across islands, fjords, glaciers, and even into the peaks of the Coast Mountains. It’s got an international border with Canada along the Boundary Ranges, which is pretty cool. The Forest Service manages it, with offices in Ketchikan and ranger stations in several other towns.
This forest has a rich history, too. Theodore Roosevelt established it as the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve back in 1902, and then it became the Tongass National Forest in 1907. It expanded over the years, and now it’s this massive area that covers most of Southeast Alaska.
Walking through the Tongass, you feel like you’re in a different world. Whether you’re into hiking, wildlife watching, or just enjoying the peace of nature, this place is a must-visit.
9. Visit the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
For all nature lovers out there, you’ve got to head to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. Just 8 miles from Ketchikan, near Herring Cove, this 40-acre reserve is a slice of wilderness heaven. It was truly a journey through a living, breathing ecosystem. The towering spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees created this magical canopy, and the forest floor was like a carpet of mosses, wildflowers, and berries.
Strolling on the half-mile trail, you’ll feel miles away from everything. Eagle Creek runs right through the sanctuary – it’s one of Alaska’s top salmon spawning streams, so keep an eye out for wildlife. The whole place feels like a sanctuary, not only for the animals but for anyone who visits.
10. Experience the Thrill of Bear Watching in Ketchikan
Got a thing for wildlife? Then you can’t miss the opportunity of bear watching in Ketchikan. It’s more than just looking for bears though. You get to see these mighty Alaskan bears in their natural habitat, doing their thing, which is pretty awesome.
The bear-watching tours here are a big hit. You can choose from different kinds, like hopping on a float plane to Neets Bay or walking alongside a salmon-packed creek. I found that there’s something for everyone, whether you’re watching your budget or ready to splurge a bit. Just remember, these are wild bears, so seeing them isn’t a sure thing.
But the tours are timed with the summer salmon run, so your chances are pretty good. It’s an incredible experience, getting so close to nature and getting a glimpse into the wild, untamed side of Alaska.
11. Go on a Whale Watching Adventure
For an experience you won’t forget, go whale watching around Ketchikan. This isn’t your average boat trip; it’s like meeting the giants of the sea. The humpback and orca whales here are simply breathtaking. Imagine seeing them breach and play right in front of you.
The area is teeming with whales. The orcas start showing up in April, chasing the king salmon and seals. May and June are especially amazing – the orcas are everywhere, and after a big feed, you might even see them breaching in pure joy. It’s one of those things that makes you realize how incredible and fascinating nature is truly.
12. Hop on a Zodiac Coast Adventure
Ready for some real fun on the water? Jump on a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) and zip along Ketchikan’s coastline. It’s not just about the speed; it’s a chance to see Alaska’s amazing marine life and some jaw-dropping natural scenes.
The whole adventure takes about 3.5 hours, including training and transport from the cruise dock. You’ll be out cruising for 2 hours, but they’ll kit you out with all the gear you need – a skiff suit, dry bags, boots, gloves, and of course, a life jacket. Plus, you even get an Alaska Boatman Certificate at the end. Just a heads up, the weight limit is 350 pounds.
13. A Visit to the Raptor Center
This is a must-visit if you’re into birds. It’s tucked away in a 40-acre rainforest reserve, so you’re not just seeing these birds; you’re learning about them in their natural setting. They’re open year-round, with different hours depending on the season. Adults pay $15 and kids $6. It’s a great way to get up close with Alaska’s kings of the sky and learn something new while you’re at it.
14. Go Mountain Biking Through the Rainforest
Fancy a bit of adventure? How about mountain biking through the Tongass National Forest? It’s an off-road challenge that takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Alaska. You’ll be riding for about 5 miles on flat dirt roads and paths, so it’s a good mix of easy and adventurous.
The whole trip lasts about 2.75 hours and costs $99 per person, or $75 for kids 12 and under. It’s a fantastic way to experience the natural beauty and history of the Taiya River Valley.
15. Experience the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
If you want to dive into Ketchikan’s history and nature, head to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. It’s in downtown Ketchikan and has a bunch of interactive exhibits that really show off the area’s cultural and natural history.
They’re open from May 7 to September 30, Sunday to Friday 8 am to 4 pm, and Saturdays 8 am to noon. Entry’s $5, but locals can grab a season pass for $15. It’s a cool spot to learn about Alaska’s last frontier.
16. Vist the Dolly’s House Museum
For a peek into Ketchikan’s colorful past, visit Dolly’s House Museum on Creek Street. It used to be a brothel during the town’s Red Light District days. The place still looks like it did back then, with Dolly’s photos, her favorite wallpaper, and even a secret closet from Prohibition years. For just five bucks, it’s a walk through a lively part of Ketchikan’s history, right up until it closed in 1954.
17. Roam Creek Street: Ketchikan’s Historic Heart
Creek Street is a stroll through the Ketchikan history. It’s this charming boardwalk built on stilts along Ketchikan Creek. Back in the day, from 1903 to 1954, it was the city’s red light district. You’ll see famous spots like The Star. There’s even a trail called Married Man’s Way that clients used to escape raids!”
18. Explore Ketchikan’s Dining Scene
Foodies, listen up! Ketchikan’s got some amazing spots. The Alaska Fish House is where you want to go for fresh seafood, served right. Annabelle’s Keg & Chowderhouse in the Gilmore Hotel is another great pick for seafood lovers. I love that it’s got this classic vibe and comfy seats, perfect for enjoying their tasty dishes.
For coffee enthusiasts, Green Coffee Bean Company at Ward Cove is a must-visit. Locals love it, and their roasted coffee is top-notch. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, there’s this party bar with a diverse food menu, but it’s more about the vibe than gourmet dining.
And for a classic diner experience, there’s this local spot that just went non-smoking. It’s popular for its breakfasts, like fresh hash browns and eggs, plus they serve great burgers and reindeer dogs for lunch and dinner. The fast, friendly service really blew me away and my coffee cup never went empty!
19. Get the Sport Salmon Fishing Experience in Ketchikan
Fishing in Ketchikan is something else, especially if you’re after king salmon. I went on a trip with AK Fish Charters, and it was unforgettable. We were casting lines in the Copper River Valley, known for some of the best king salmon fishing in Alaska.
These fish are huge, often averaging around 40 pounds! The excitement of reeling in one of these is hard to beat. It’s not just about catching fish; it’s about the thrill of the chase and the beauty of the Alaskan waters.
20. Go on Hiking and Nature Walks on Revillagigedo Island
Hiking here is a dream for nature lovers. From challenging ascents like Deer Mountain to serene rainforest paths, the variety is fantastic. The trails are mostly near the road system, so they’re easy to get to. But be prepared for snow on higher trails until mid-May.
The hike up to Minerva Mountain from Carlanna Lake is particularly memorable – just follow the cairns through the stunning alpine scenery. The plant life is diverse, from dense rainforest canopy to muskeg meadows. Remember to carry a GPS and a map – the weather can be unpredictable, and it’s essential for safety.
21. Experience Kayaking and Canoeing in Ketchikan
Paddling in Ketchikan is an experience like no other. I took a guided kayak tour to Clover Pass with Ketchikan Kayak, and the serenity was unmatched. You’re surrounded by lush greenery and distant peaks, making for a truly immersive experience with nature.
The tour was well-organized, lasting about 4 hours, with half the time spent on the water. The calmness of the area makes for a perfect kayaking environment, ideal for both beginners and experienced paddlers.
22. Try a Zip Lining Adventure in the Tongass National Forest
The zip-lining adventure at Knudson Cove is a thrill-seeker’s paradise. The journey starts with a scenic drive from downtown Ketchikan to an off-the-beaten-track location in the Tongass National Forest. The park’s eight zip lines and aerial traverses offer a diverse experience, from gliding through old-growth cedars to flying into an ancient cedar tree.
The highlight for me was the ocean platform 50 feet over the water – the rush is incredible. And for those who love a challenge, there’s a 50-foot climbing tower. The guides are fantastic, ensuring safety while making the experience fun. It’s a well-rounded adventure, perfect for anyone looking to add a bit of excitement to their trip.
23. Check Out the Unique Excursions in Ketchikan
Ketchikan’s unique tours offer experiences you won’t find anywhere else. I tried the crab fishing tour, and it was amazing. The Dungeness crabs here are delicious, and the whole experience is a blend of adventure and culinary delight.
Snorkeling over the vibrant kelp forests is another must-do. And if you’re here during the king crab season, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These tours delve deep into Ketchikan’s natural bounty and are perfect for those wanting to explore beyond the typical tourist trails.
24. Go Ride-on Adventure Karts
The Adventure Karts Expedition is an exhilarating way to explore Ketchikan’s backcountry. You drive a 4X4 through forested trails, navigating Sitka spruce and western hemlock. The tour includes several stops, like a scenic overlook of Ketchikan’s waters and a hidden waterfall.
The adventure lasts about an hour and a half, following a 25-minute bus transfer from the cruise dock, during which the driver gives a great overview of Ketchikan. The guides equip you with full gear and provide a safety orientation before you start.
The terrain is diverse, and you might even spot local wildlife like eagles, deer, or bears. It’s an accessible adventure, suitable for all skill levels, and offers a unique perspective on natural beauty.
25. Shop at Crazy Wolf Studio and Other Shops
Visiting Crazy Wolf Studio in Ketchikan is like stepping into a vibrant world of Native Alaskan art. It’s a window into the region’s artistic spirit. You’ll find handcrafted pieces that tell the story of Alaska and its people.
But the treasure hunt doesn’t stop there. Ketchikan is full of unique shops where you can find the perfect souvenir. From intricately carved mini totem poles to locally designed jewelry, each item feels like a piece of Alaska. I popped into The Soho Coho, and it was a treat – they’ve got everything from quirky T-shirts to beautiful jewelry and art. Caribou Creek Company was another gem, showcasing fascinating items like Ice Age mammoth tusks.
If you’re into art, Alaska Galleries is a must-visit. They have stunning pieces that would make any home feel a bit more like Alaska. For jewelry lovers, Orca Jewels and Infinity Jewelry Ketchikan offer some stunning and authentic local pieces at reasonable prices. The Rain Barrel and Soaring Eagle are great too, offering a wide variety of Alaskan crafts.
For a more general shopping experience, Tongass Trading Company and Caribbean Gems are fantastic. Tongass has fair pricing and a great selection, while Caribbean Gems offers a comfortable shopping environment with knowledgeable staff. Shopping in Ketchikan is an adventure in itself, with each store offering a little piece of Alaskan charm and history that you can take home with you.
Whether you ventured on a shore excursion to Herring Cove to witness the majestic black bears or indulged in a sumptuous crab feast, Ketchikan is a chapter of your life you’ll revisit often. Ensuring you have a well-planned itinerary is key to experiencing the best of Alaska, as each stop offers unique and memorable activities. This is the journey where nature, culture, and adventure converge as a true Alaskan odyssey.
Can you walk around Ketchikan Alaska from cruise ship?
Indeed, Ketchikan is a walker’s delight, especially when you disembark from the cruise ship. The town unfolds in a network of charming streets and historic boardwalks like Creek Street, leading you to a wealth of sights. Downtown Ketchikan, with its rich collection of shops and cultural landmarks, is just a stroll away, offering a tangible connection to Alaska’s storied past and vibrant present.
Can I explore Ketchikan on my own?
Exploring Ketchikan independently is not only possible but also highly rewarding. The town’s layout, with attractions such as the Tongass Historical Museum and the iconic Chief Johnson Totem Pole, is perfect for a self-guided tour. You can leisurely navigate the storied paths, encounter the photographed totem poles, and enjoy the local eateries at your own pace, absorbing the unique spirit of southeastern Alaska. To make the most of your visit, packing wisely is crucial, considering Alaska’s varied weather and the diverse places you’ll explore.
What is Ketchikan Alaska best known for?
Ketchikan is best known as the salmon capital of the world, a title that sings of its rich maritime and cultural heritage. It’s a place where the famed Creek Street and totem parks coalesce with the bountiful salmon runs to weave a narrative of a vibrant, living history. Alaska’s First City is a canvas of natural beauty, dotted with cultural landmarks and surrounded by some of the most stunning wildlife.
Is Ketchikan Alaska worth visiting?
Absolutely, Ketchikan is a treasure trove worth discovering, and when cruising to Alaska, it’s essential to check if you need to bring your passport, as travel requirements can vary depending on your itinerary. It’s a gateway to unparalleled natural splendor, from Misty Fjords National Monument to the lively whale park waters. Visitors can immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of native culture, witness the awe-inspiring journey of chum salmon, and partake in unique Alaskan adventures.