7 Things to Do in Ketchikan
Ketchikan, a popular Inside Passage cruise stop, is known for its vibrant downtown, historical tours, and Alaska Native roots. It’s also a recreation hotspot, where you can fish Tongass National Forest’s shimmering fresh-water lakes one day, then kayak past tumbling waterfalls the next. Here are seven ways to love Ketchikan during your stay.
1. Experience Alaska Native Culture
Kichx̱áan was originally a summer fish camp used by Alaska Native peoples, and Tlingit culture remains a major influence in present-day Ketchikan. Perhaps the most noticeable symbols of traditional heritage are the totem poles, which tell stories of people, places, and events. Ketchikan has more totem poles than anywhere else in Alaska, ranging from 19th-century poles from now-abandoned villages to more recent carvings. As you view the totems, look for symbols of the raven and eagle moieties, which represent matrilineal groups, as well as different clan symbols such as the frog, bear, and orca whale. The poles’ formline designs and black, red, and blue-green pigments blend into the region’s rainforest environment yet stand out as sentinels of community and culture.
Wander amid the totems and view traditional items such as baskets, masks, and ceremonial objects at the Totem Heritage Center, located just outside of downtown Ketchikan. Totem Bight State Historical Park just outside of town includes 13 totems, some of which were restored or replicated from older totems by master carvers hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Be sure to visit the Clan House, a replica of a historical Tlingit clan house that would have housed 30 to 50 people.
2. Wander Historical Creek Street
When you visit Ketchikan, you’ll likely find yourself wandering the shops and historical buildings on Creek Street. This pedestrian boardwalk is built on wooden pilings above Ketchikan Creek. Shops, restaurants, and museums are nestled between Ketchikan’s rocky hillsides and the creek that gave the city its name. Take a self-guided tour of this former red light district, where bootleggers made midnight deliveries through hidden trap doors connecting the creek to the bawdy houses join a guided walking tour of the city.
From Creek Street, visit the neighboring Stedman-Thomas Historic District. This area, originally the site of an Alaska Native fish camp, was settled by gold seekers and immigrant workers. The district’s false-front commercial buildings and houses, built on wooden pilings, date from the early 1900s.
2. Take a Day Cruise
Day cruises let passengers glide through Ketchikan’s scenic waters with views of nearby glaciers, 3,000-foot vertical cliffs, and abundant wildlife. These quiet, unhurried vessels give you the time to delight in destinations like Rudyerd Bay (a historic cannery), New Eddystone Rock (a volcanic spire that extends above sea level), and the spectacular sights and wildlife of Misty Fjords National Monument. This activity is perfect for guests hoping to let someone else do the guiding while they spend time on the water for the chance to spot whales, seals, and other marine wildlife.
3. Go Trout and Salmon Fishing
Visitors looking to reel in a trophy salmon can try their luck at angling in Ketchikan’s backyard, the Tongass National Forest. The forest is home to dozens of freshwater lakes and streams as well as access to saltwater fishing. Travelers are also welcome to fish for salmon off the bridge next to Creek Street. This iconic location is a perfect spot to drop a line right outside of town.
Visiting anglers won’t necessarily need a guide to catch a fish in Ketchikan, though it’s recommended to use a local expert. Outfitters in Ketchikan provide everything from camping gear to kayaks, boats, and rain gear — meaning visitors will have everything they need for a successful fishing trip.
If you’re looking for a more remote experience and setting, try booking a trip to fly to one of Ketchikan’s secret fishing holes. Local guides know first-hand where the best fishing spots are on the area’s streams and lakes. They will make sure your catch can make it to your freezer back home, giving you a taste of your summer trip to Alaska year-round.
4. Attend the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
Travelers will be entertained at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. This show is a staple of Ketchikan and brings guests a thrilling competition of skill and strength that highlight Southeast Alaska’s logging history.
These world-champion athletes are sure to impress all ages with 7-pound axes, 6-foot razor-sharp saws, tree-climbing gaffs, and more. The one-hour performance is packed with action. Audience members will be on the edge of their seats as they watch burly lumberjacks freefall from towering trees, scamper across floating logs, and show off their strength as they chop and saw.
Get in on the “axe-tion” with a group of friends and try your own hand at the axe-throwing competition. The lumberjacks meet up with participants after the show and demonstrate the art of the throw in a head-to-head battle. Don’t forget your flannel — you’ll want to look the part when you’re in the boisterous crowd.
The full show is offered three to four times daily, giving guests plenty of opportunities to add it to their schedule.
5. Kayak Fjords and Creeks
Ketchikan is a kayaker’s dream. Home to the picturesque Misty Fjords National Monument, the 2.1-million-acre monument leads guests through cascading waterfalls, steep glaciers, and an abundance of opportunities to spot wildlife. A kayaking trip here can range from just a few hours to a multi-day adventure that includes camping in remote locations and exploring hidden treasure.
Ketchikan Creek, located beneath the aptly named Creek Street, also offers a unique experience for visitors to paddle 6 miles to Tongass Narrows for opportunities to see spawning salmon, seals, and other marine wildlife.
6. Tour Misty Fjords National Monument
Escape to the temperate rainforest wilderness of Misty Fjords National Monument just east of Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest. There are no roads here, so the only ways to explore the area are by sea or by air.
Take a day cruise to experience the largest intact coastal rainforest in America or take a water taxi and kayak among glacial ice. Steep hillsides carved by glaciers nearly 17,000 years ago drop into deep, narrow fjords. Look for bears, wolves, and mountain goats amid the old growth forest of Sitka spruce, cedar, and hemlock, and listen to the roar of rain-fed waterfalls coursing down the fjord’s walls into the 100-mile-long Behm Canal.
Another incredible way to experience Misty Fjords is by a flightseeing tour. Seaplanes — generally single-engine planes with floats instead of wheels — line up at the dock in Ketchikan’s harbor waiting to take you on your journey above the clouds. Similar to seaplane opportunities, helicopter tours take you into the heart of this pristine area and boast eagle-eye views of the lush, coastal rainforest. Flightseeing tours provide guests a new perspective of the national monument as well as breathtaking aerial views of the Tongass National Forest.
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