Ketchikan, Alaska is an exciting, inviting, memorable, and beautiful destination that gives visitors the opportunity to see and experience so much of what the Last Frontier State has to offer.
A vast number of cruise ships stop in Ketchikan every day during the high season and the population of this tiny and remote little town expands greatly from its usual 8,200 whenever these massive ships dock here.
Although Ketchikan is small in both area and population, it has grown into a lively tourist destination over the past few decades, and there is so much to see and do when you are in this port.
The weather here is often far warmer than you might think, so don’t be afraid to check out some of the many outdoor activity options offered by your ship.
If you’re wondering how to best spend your time while visiting Ketchikan, you’ll find that there are many different options and that there is something offered for every type of personality.
What you choose to do here will depend on your tastes, interests, and desires, but there are so many different possibilities that it’s likely that you won’t even have time to do every single thing that entices you during your first visit.
Read on to check out a list of fourteen fun things to do in this northern destination. As you peruse this collection of activities, you can begin to plan for your stop in this port while you get excited about your trip. You’ll fall in love with Ketchikan.
In This Article…
- 1. Creek Street
- 2. The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
- 3. Sport Fishing
- 4. View Totem Poles
- 5. Misty Fjords National Monument
- 6. Tongass National Forest
- 7. Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
- 8. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
- 9. Dolly’s House Museum
- 10. Hiking & Walking
- 11. Souvenir Shopping
- 12. Whale Watching
- 13. Bear Watching
- 14. Relax and Enjoy a Meal
- Ketchikan Cruise Port
- Enjoy Ketchikan, Alaska
1. Creek Street
Creek Street is a historic boardwalk and collection of shops not far from the cruise ship docks. Situated on stilts above the Ketchikan Creek, his picturesque row of buildings sprung up around 1903; it was the home of the town’s red light district until brothels were outlawed in 1954.
Today, you’ll find a number of Alaskan-themed souvenir shops, galleries, restaurants, and more housed in these attractive and colorful buildings. If you don’t like shopping, you’ll still want to stop by Creek Street to take some photographs.
Once you’ve visited Creek Street, you’ll realize how frequently its image is used to symbolize traditional Alaska.
2. The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a fun event that the whole family can enjoy. The venue for this spectacle is within walking distance of the cruise ship port and every ship offers excursions for people who wish to attend a show. The show is one hour long and there are three to five opportunities to see the show each day.
You’ll be amazed at the strength, skill, endurance, and enthusiasm of the lumberjacks as they climb trees, chop and saw wood, balance on rolling, floating logs and more.
These men and women are professional lumberjacks and jills and most have appeared on ESPN and hold national and world titles in this intriguing sport. A visit to the lumberjack show will be something you’ll never forget!
3. Sport Fishing
If you enjoy fishing, there’s few places in the world that are more exciting for sport fishing than Alaska. There are a vast number of outfitters in town that offer charters, equipment and general guidance to anyone who would like to experience this sport in our northernmost state.
You can catch a wide variety of fish in southern Alaska including rockfish, herring, and twenty-six different species of cod, but most popular in Ketchikan is salmon and halibut fishing, and there are many different varieties of each to go after.
It’s said that the salmon in Alaska fight harder than any other fish, but if it’s size you want, you might want to consider halibut; some weigh in at over four hundred pounds.
No matter what you catch, your outfitter can clean, package, and mail your catch for you so you can enjoy eating it when you arrive back home.
4. View Totem Poles
Many peoples’ minds immediately think of totem poles when thinking of Alaska. If these beautiful works of art interest you, there are number of places that you can view them in Ketchikan.
Totem Bight State Historical Park
Totem Bight State Historical Park is one place you can see them. It’s located about twenty minutes north of town in a beautiful spot on the shore in Potlatch Totem Park.
In 1938, long before Alaska was a state, the US Forest Service started a program to restore totem poles that were abandoned when native people relocated to cities for work. They also hired skilled carvers to pass the totem pole tradition on to artisans of the next generation.
Totem Heritage Center
If you’d rather stay in town, you might consider visiting the Totem Heritage Center. This attraction is maintained and promoted by the City of Ketchikan and works to educate the public about the living artistic traditions of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. There are several totem poles on display here and admission is free.
Chief Johnson Totem Pole
The Chief Johnson Totem Pole is near the entrance to Creek Street. It was first raised in 1901 to honor Chief George Johnson of the Gaanaxadi clan of the Tongass Tribe. This totem pole was recently restored and it is one of the most photographed totem poles in the world.
Saxman Native Village
In addition to the totem parks mentioned above, Saxman Native Village is another place to visit to learn about the native people of southern Alaska and to also view totem poles.
This educational attraction is located in Saxman, about ten minutes south of Ketchikan. Here, guides will tell you about the history of and life in the Saxman tribe while you view more than twenty beautiful totem poles.
5. Misty Fjords National Monument
A great gem of the wilderness outside of Ketchikan is Misty Fjords National Monument. To visit this remote location, you’ll need to take a boat tour or a floatplane; when choosing excursions, you’ll find that excursions of both kinds are offered by most cruise lines.
All told, this wild area covers 2.2 million acres; it was proclaimed a national monument by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
Trips to Misty Fjords include wildlife viewing, photography, and fishing. Experienced guides will explain the ecology of the area and you’ll witness breathtaking views on your journey.
6. Tongass National Forest
Misty Fjords National Monument is just one part of a much larger natural area: the Tongass National Forest. This forest is the nation’s largest national forest land; it covers nearly seventeen million acres – almost all of southern Alaska. Ketchikan is located within this national forest, as is Juneau and a number of other Alaskan cities and towns.
The vast majority of this land is temperate rain forest and it is home to a vast number of plants and animals, some of which are endemic to the area.
It features mountains, glaciers, fjords, islands, rivers, creeks, and more, and over one million people visit it for exploration, hiking, recreation, and research each year.
Because it’s so easy to access from Ketchikan and other Alaskan destinations, it’s a great place to explore for anyone who wants to experience Alaska in its purest form.
7. Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary is about fifteen minutes south of Ketchikan and is also located in the Tongass National Forest. It opened in 2003 and offers a lovely combination of attractions that are typical to the area.
First, the coastal drive to this attraction from the ship offers spectacular views. Once you arrive, a guide will lead you on a short hike through dense rainforest where you may encounter bald eagles and black bears (from a safe distance of course!).
You’ll also have the opportunity to explore the estuary and will learn about the unique ecosystem where salt and fresh water meet.
When you return to the visitor center, you can visit a historic sawmill, view native-carved totem poles, and view the Alaska Raptor Center’s birds of prey exhibit.
You’ll learn much about all things Alaska at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, and the whole family will leave with new knowledge and great memories.
8. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is just a block away from the cruise ship port, so it’s a popular place to visit for anyone who wants to learn more about this region. Exhibits offer information about the natural history, wildlife, people, and culture of this unique part of the world.
Helpful staff are eager to answer any questions you may have about anything in Alaska. An informative film plays on a loop and the center’s comfortable theater is a great place to rest for a bit before continuing on.
9. Dolly’s House Museum
One building on Creek Street that catches the eye of many is Dolly’s House Museum. Although the majority of structures on this historic street have been turned into tamer and wholly legal places of business, Dolly’s House serves to educate visitors about the half-century of brothels that existed here during the first half of the twentieth century.
This attraction will give you a look into the darker side of Ketchikan’s history while recognizing and remembering some of the women who worked in this taboo field long ago.
10. Hiking & Walking
The Tongass National Forest offers so many opportunities for hiking and walking and there are several trails that are especially popular with cruise travelers.
The Deer Mountain Trail is only about a mile from the cruise ship docks but you might want to take a cab to the trailhead. There is a great elevation rise before you even begin.
Once you get to the trail itself, you’ll see incredible views of the land and water below. You may encounter mountain goats and you’ll likely be able to view salmon in the river.
The Ketchikan Rainbird Trail is quite popular and is easily accessible from town. It’s considered an easy trail that weaves through the thick rainforest and which offers lovely views of the harbor.
A third option is the Carlana Lake Trail. This hike is a bit more strenuous and you’ll need to hire a cab for your ride to and from the trailhead. Still, many people like this trail because it is less crowded and because it follows the shore of a lake.
11. Souvenir Shopping
If you love shopping, you likely visited Creek Street upon arrival, but that’s not the only place to buy souvenirs in Ketchikan. There are dozens of charming shops throughout this small town and you’ll be able to find the perfect gifts for each and every person on your list.
The majority of these shops are within easy walking distance from the cruise ship docks but there are some excellent options a bit further away as well if you care to seek them out. Whether you seek sweaters, salmon, jewelry, Alaskan art, candy, or any other item, you can find whatever you seek in Ketchikan.
12. Whale Watching
A number of charter boat companies offer whale watching experiences off the coast of Alaska that depart from Ketchikan. There are a number of different whale species that you can view in this area including orcas, humpbacks, grey whales, and fin whales.
Your captain will also try to find some dall porpoises for you to see as well. If you want to spend time on the water during your Alaskan adventure on a boat far smaller than your cruise ship, this might be a great excursion for you.
13. Bear Watching
A lot of people hope to spot a bear during their time in Alaska. This is an excellent goal to pursue and it is one that is fairly easy to achieve if you know where to look.
There are so many places in and around Ketchikan, Alaska where you can see black bears and brown bears fishing for and eating salmon in streams and doing what they to naturally in their native habitat.
If this is an activity that interests you, you may want to head out to Anan Wildlife Observatory, Traitor’s Cove and Margaret Creek, Herring Cove, or Neets Bay. Some of these locations are close to or are in Ketchikan, but some are further away. In all cases, though, bears are spotted in these locations in a regular basis.
14. Relax and Enjoy a Meal
At the end of a long day, or even amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy vacation, sometimes it’s nice to just sit down with your travel companions to relax and enjoy a good meal and a tall drink. One great way to help support small businesses in Ketchikan is to visit and patronize local restaurants.
There are a wide variety of these establishments near the cruise ship docks. Many or even most of them offer Alaskan fare including caribou burgers and a vast variety of local salmon and seafood dishes. Bon appetit!
Ketchikan Cruise Port
Ketchikan has four berths and your cruise ship is bound to dock at one of them. However, if there are many ships in port, you might be forced to tender as your ship drops anchor offshore.
The cruise ship pier is found right in front of the town and is only separated by a waterfront Melancon. Once you disembark you can quickly get to Ketchikan town by just crossing the streets.
Enjoy Ketchikan, Alaska
As you can see, there are many things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska – far more than you might expect in a town this small. After a day in port in this amazing little place, you’ll have a good understanding of the history, culture, and ecology of this northern state.
You’ll fall in love with Ketchikan and you’ll be planning your next visit almost as soon as you depart. Have fun and soak it in. Ketchikan welcomes you with open arms!
If you’re looking for more information about cruise ports and fun excursions for every taste, check out the Port Tips section of our site.