Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “first city” due to its location at the southern tip of the Inside Passage – it is the first city you reach as you cruise north, and for many visitors, their first introduction to the beauty and majesty of Alaska.
If you spend enough time in Ketchikan chances are good it will rain at least once. The average annual rainfall is 162 inches, but it has been known top 200 inches. Local residents call it ”liquid sunshine” and umbrellas are rarely used. Rain or shine, the beauty of Ketchikan's setting is immediately apparent. The city is backed by forested slopes and distinctively shaped Deer Mountain and faces Tongass Narrows, a waterway humming with floatplanes, fishing boats, ferries and barges hauling freight to other Inside Passage ports.
Just 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Ketchikan hugs the bluffs that form the shoreline along the southwest corner of Revillagigedo Island. Stretching 31 miles long but never more than 10 blocks wide, Ketchikan is centered on Tongass Avenue. On one side of the avenue, many businesses and homes are built on stilts out over the water, while on the other side they cling to the steep slopes and often have winding wooden staircases leading to their doors.
Things to do
The downtown area is the main commercial district and contains two large harbors, several cruise ship docks, and many of Ketchikan’s main attractions, including historic Creek Street, a boardwalk road built over Ketchikan Creek on pilings. The city center is best viewed from Ketchikan’s Waterfront Promenade that skirts the busy shoreline and is equipped with historical markers and whale-tail benches for visitors to rest and take in the view.
The road system extends both north and south of the city and leads to more parks, attractions and accommodations. RVers often depart the Alaska Marine Highway and head north to a handful of campgrounds including Settlers Cove State Recreation Area at the end of the road, 18 miles north of Ketchikan, where the sites are nestled among a lush rainforest overlooking a scenic coastal area. To the south, South Tongass Avenue leads to totems and hiking trails. For more information on campgrounds, trails and public-use cabins contact the U.S. Forest Service Ketchikan-Misty Fjords Ranger District.
Ketchikan also serves as the departure point for side trips to Prince of Wales Island, Annette Island, numerous bear viewing sites and the area’s most impressive attraction - Misty Fiords National Monument. This 3,570-square-mile wilderness is a natural mosaic of sea cliffs, steep fjords and rock walls jutting 3,000 feet straight out of the ocean. Trips into the monument, whether by tour boat, small airplane or kayak, provide wildlife sightings like seals, otters, bald eagles and whales.
Founded as a salmon cannery site in 1885, Ketchikan's livelihood was initially fishing and for years the city was known as the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World.” Logging became an important industry as well, and when cruise ships started plying the waters of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan naturally became a popular port of call.