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With a population of just over 8,000 people and a location along the southeastern coastal cruise route, the city of Ketchikan is a popular tourist destination in Alaska. This is a historic logging and fishing community with a waterfront setting and lots of opportunities for adventure. The scenery here is stunning, with forests, lakes, waterfalls, and the coastline. To get to know this Alaskan destination a bit better, here are some of the top things to do when you visit.
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Creek Street was where fishermen and loggers used to work, but today, it is a tourist hub lined with art galleries, restaurants, and stores. It is easily accessible from the cruise ship drop-off spot and also the downtown area. Dolly’s House Museum is here and worth checking out to learn about the famous “red light district” madam, Dolly Arthur. The colorful homes here are so picturesque, so bringing your camera along is essential.
Many travelers want to learn about the culture of the area when they visit Ketchikan because the area has many totem poles that have been beautifully carved. A great place to start your exploration of Tlingit culture is at Saxman Village a couple of miles south of town. Here you’ll find many totem poles and also learn about the carvings, native art, dances, and songs. You can explore the attractions on your own or as part of a guided tour. Take these lessons one step further by visiting the Totem Heritage Center closer to downtown to see many more totems that date back to the 19th century. Other great places to learn about totems and culture are the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center in the downtown area and Totem Bight State Park.
There is a lot to see and do in downtown Ketchikan, which is why self-guided walking tours are highly recommended. You can go on a downtown walking tour in about two hours or a waterfront walking tour that takes a little longer. Check-in with the Ketchikan Visitor’s Center for a map and walking tour routes. Stops on the routes include the Totem Heritage Center, City Park of Ketchikan, and Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery.
One of the most beautiful places to see in the Ketchikan area is the Misty Fjords National Monument, which is about 22 miles from town. You’ll need to access the area by boat or seaplane, but the journey is worth it to see the huge park with its quiet bays, dramatic waterfalls, and towering cliffs. This area spans over 2.3 million acres and is part of Tongass National Forest. Guided tours are usually the best way to get the most out of your trip to Misty Fjords National Monument and see as much as possible.
Ketchikan is often referred to as the ‘salmon capital of the world’, so if you enjoy fishing, trying your luck with the local salmon is a must. There are fishing charters and tours that you can book for your trip that departs from the Knudson Cove Marina. This is a sportfishing paradise, and popular charter options last for four, six, and eight hours. Another way to embrace the local salmon culture is to visit the Salmon Market to see the fish prepared in various ways and to buy a variety of locally produced foods.
Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds love going hiking in the Ketchikan area because of the incredible scenery and rewarding trails here. One must-visit destination is the Tongass National Forest. This forest spans about 17 million acres and is home to abundant wildlife, such as bears, moose, and beavers. You can see glaciers here that date back to the ice age and explore the 19 designated wilderness areas here. Three are over 700 miles of trails in the forest, and popular hiking trails include the Perseverance Lake Trail and the Lunch Creek area. Other hiking areas near Ketchikan to add to your itinerary are Deer Mountain and the Ward Lake Recreational Area.
With a landscape as vast as Alaska, one of the best ways to experience the area if you don’t have much time is to go for a seaplane tour. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of the grandeur of the region when you go flightseeing in a small plane. These flights usually hold between two and eight people, while helicopters an accommodate two to four people. One local company, Alaska Seaplane Tours, offers trips to see bears, glaciers, and Misty Fjord.
It’s also fun to take a kayak out in the water when you visit Ketchikan to experience the waterways for yourself. There are local guide companies here that will take you out on tours and set you up with all the gear you’ll need. One company, Southeast Sea Kayaks, offers tours that last between three and five hours. There’s definitely something special about paddling in these waters and being at one with the spectacular natural scenery that surrounds you.
Many people stop in Ketchikan because it is a port of call on Alaskan cruises. You can book a cruise from Ketchikan to explore other parts of Alaska. Popular routes from Ketchikan go to see the fjords and glaciers on the way to Juneau and Sitka.
While some of these “things to do” require advance planning and cost admission fees, other experiences don’t cost a thing except for maybe a bit of your patience. Ketchikan is an amazing place to view wildlife and marvel at the natural power of wild animals. For example, there is a large bald eagle population here that is drawn to the local salmon. Ketchikan is sometimes called the ‘Eagle Capital of America’, so slow down the pace of your travel and try to view some for yourself.