Surrounded by majestic wilderness and filled with a vibrant indigenous culture, Ketchikan, Alaska is nicknamed Alaska’s first city. Located near the southern tip of what is known as the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is one of the first ports of call for many cruise ships and visitors entering Alaska. Whether you are just passing through en route to other locations further north or staying in this unique and captivating city, there are so many interesting and exciting things to do in Ketchikan, making this city a must-see for anyone traveling to the state of Alaska. When planning your trip to Alaska’s first city, be sure to consult this list of the things to do in Ketchikan so you don’t miss out on any of this city’s amazing offerings.
Know Before You Go:
- Ketchikan gets over 140 inches of rain per year
- If you love salmon you are in for treat as Ketchikan is considered the “Salmon Capital of the World.”
- Alaska’s first city was: Ketchikan
- The start of the inside passage is this great city
The Ultimate List of Things To Do In Ketchikan:
Creek Street boardwalk
While in Ketchikan, be sure to check out historic Creek Street. The street itself is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts along the high-sloped east side of Ketchikan. Lined with great shops, this is a fun stroll—and it was home to the red-light district until the 1950s when brothels were banished. Many of the brothels have since been restored and re-purposed. One such brothel, the Star (located on 5 Creek Street), is now a historic commercial building that operates as an art gallery! On 24 Creek Street, Dolly’s House was the biggest brothel success story and it is now a museum dedicated to the history of Creek Street. For only five dollars, you can get a peek of Creek Street’s edgy and wild past! Despite Creek Street’s former reputation, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. So when visiting Ketchikan, make sure you check out this landmark that is buzzing with excitement and history!
Marvel at the majesty of the Tongass National Forest
Filled with 17 million acres of cedar, hemlock, spruce, and various other forms of lush vegetation, the Tongass National Forest is one of the largest forests in North America and the largest temperate rain forest that remains anywhere on the planet. This rugged and vibrant landscape is a protected home for a vast amount of flora and fauna, including black and brown bears, eagles, wolves, and mountain goats. Offshore of this protected area, humpback whales, orcas, seals, sea otters and other marine wildlife congregate at various times of the year to take advantage of this truly special ecological area. Numerous trails and guided tours have turned this sprawling forest into a tourist attraction, replacing the detrimental logging that had at one point threatened areas of the old-growth forest. One of the best things to do in Ketchikan is to take advantage of its proximity to this temperate rain forest. One trail in particular is highly suggested; the Ward Creek Trail. This five-mile hike can be easily completed in an afternoon and takes you along the rushing white water rapids of the Ward Creek through the dense forests and eventually to the creek’s end at Ward Cove, where the water spills into the ocean. If you’re lucky, you can spot black bears hunting salmon along the way!
Learn about Alaska at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
Located inside the Tongrass National Forest is the Alaska Rain forest Sanctuary, an educational ecology center dedicated to preserving and sharing the natural wonders of this area with visitors from all over the world. Here, you can take a guided tour through the vast and ever-changing landscape, explore the tidal estuary that houses the famed Alaskan Salmon, experience first hand the indigenous totem carving tradition, explore the history of logging in Alaska and best of all, get up close and personal with Bald Eagles at the Raptor education center located within the Alaska Rain forest Sanctuary. In under three hours, you will be given a full glimpse of everything this area has to offer, making a stop at this location one of the top things to do in Ketchikan.
Take a boat into the Misty Fjords National Monument
Another striking feature of the Tongass Forest is the Misty Fjords National Monument, a striking landscape of steep cliffs, deep fjords and rock faces rising a remarkable 3,000 feet straight out of the water. The best way to visit is seaplane, charter boat or for a truly up close experience, a kayak. The chance to see whales, bald eagles, sea otters and seals in the waters of the fjord make this experience one of the top things to do in Ketchikan.
Step back in time at the Totem Bight State Historical Park
Ketchikan is known as the totem pole capital of the world and for good reason! This state historical park is home to 14 replica totem poles arranged around a replica of a Tlingit clan house, one of the native tribes of Alaska. The totem poles here were painstakingly replicated during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, exact even in the colors chosen to match the paints made with natural resources hundreds of years earlier. One can’t possibly visit the totem pole capital of the world without seeing the totem poles, making a visit to this location one of the top things to do in Ketchikan!
Dive deep into the native culture of the area at the Saxman Native Village
For a deeper understanding of totem poles and the tribes that created them, one of the best things to do in Ketchikan is visit the Saxman Native Village. This area is home to the largest amount of standing totems in one location. Not only that, but you can get an in-depth understanding of how these amazing works of art were created while watching a native Alaskan crafting commissioned totem poles using the traditional tools of the tribes who originally created the totem poles so long ago. In addition, the nearby Saxman Village has a school and church from around the the late 1800s, incorporated as a Native Alaskan village in 1929, still home to approximately 400 individuals to this day!
See a Snapshot of Ketchikan at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
If you’re only passing through the city of Ketchikan, the easiest way to see a snapshot of everything this area has to offer is to visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Located right near the cruise ship docks, this small museum has a little bit of everything! Learn about the temperate rain forest, enjoy the interactive displays, go on a scavenger hunt with your kids or stop by the on-site theater for a film about everything from the local industry, arts, culture, history and so much more!
Explore more history at Guard Island Lighthouse:
Built in 1904, this century old structure stands on a tiny island off the shore of Ketchikan and has been guiding ships safely through the narrows ever since. The lighthouse can be seen from the highway north of the city but for a truly exceptional experience of the building as well as the waters it watches over, take a charter boat to the island and put yourself in the shoes of the intrepid keepers who would live and work grueling shifts day and night to protect the vessels passing through the waters. Plus, looking back at the vast forests that surround the city is surely one of the most breathtaking things to do in Ketchikan.
Hike the Deer Mountain Trail
Those looking for a true taste of the great outdoors can take the Deer Mountain Trail to the top of the famed Deer Mountain, the epic backdrop for the city of Ketchikan. Well-maintained trails with built in steps, wooden bridges and switchback turns that weave up the side of the mountain, eventually leading to the peak, which provides majestic views of nearby mountains, deep valleys and the sweeping Pacific Ocean in the distance. True nature lovers would find that camping overnight at the shelter near the peak is one of the top things to do in Ketchikan.
Ketchikan Creek & Falls
For those not eager to scale a mountain but still seeking a tiny taste of the epic scenery available around Ketchikan, the Ketchikan Creek and Falls is just a short walk from Downtown Ketchikan! There, one of the most iconic Alaskan scenes can be witnessed; the salmon runs at the ladder. Some say that the salmon leaping up the inclined rapids and white water froth of the creek are so numerous at times that it gives the illusion of being able to cross the creek on their backs! Being in such close proximity to such a well-known phenomenon makes it an absolute must of the things to do in Ketchikan!
Excursions to Consider With Norwegian Cruise Line
While these excursions are subject to change, this will just give you a brief overview of what could be available on your cruise and what I had access to during my Norwegian Alaskan Cruise during June on the Norwegian Joy.
- Saxman Native Village – visit one of the largest gathering of totem poles in the world!
- Wilderness exploration and crab fest – hop on board a boat and explore Alaska’s wilderness then feast on crab at George Inlet Lodge.
- Ketchikan Duck Tour – from land to sea. Explore Ketchikan in a duck coach that can drive on both and and water.
- Ketchikan pub crawl – 90 minute walking tour of Alaska’s first city where you will get to sample beverages in many local hot spots.
- Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show – witness some of the worlds BEST lumberjacks go head to head in competitions.
- Halibut fishing – enjoy 3.5 hours of fishing time in water depths up to 300 feet!
- Eagle Island sea kayak – this adventure takes you for a paddle through the Tongass Forest.
- Ketchikan Trolley Tour – take a 1,5 hour tour around the city and to Saxman Native Village. At the end of your tour you can opt to stay at Creek Street to shop, do your own thing or go back to the boat,
With so much to see and do, Ketchikan is a small but jam-packed city that acts as the gateway to America’s Last Frontier. From sweeping ocean views, lush mountain forests, wildlife at every turn and a rich cultural history, this city is sure to delight anyone venturing here, whether just passing through or staying for a spell. When planning your own voyage through Alaska’s First City, be sure to include some (or all) of the things listed in this article about the top ten things to do in Ketchikan!
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This post is written in partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line. As always, opinions are entirely my own.