Located in the southernmost part of Alaska, Ketchikan is one of the state’s most popular cruise ports of call. Ketchikan is surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, America’s largest national forest at almost 17 million acres in size. This tiny city of less than 20,000 year-round inhabitants swells dramatically during the late spring and summer months when cruise ships visit Ketchikan. Sometimes as many as five cruise ships call on Ketchikan in a single day.
Ketchikan is home to the largest collection of totem poles in the world as well as the largest Clan House in Southeast Alaska. Cruise guests can view dozens of massive totem poles carved by Tlingit and Haida native carvers and learn about their significance at Saxman Native Village and Totem Bight State Historical Park. There are a number of totem poles in the central area of Ketchikan as well.
Visitors always enjoy strolling around Creek Street, one of the most photogenic areas of Ketchikan. Since the city is located in an intertidal zone, Creek Street’s picturesque boardwalk area is built on wooden stilts and pilings over the water to prevent floods from tidal swings of over 20 feet. Cruise guests flock to Creek Street to take pictures of the historic buildings, dine, and shop at local boutiques. Creek Street was a rowdy area during Prohibition and it also served as the city’s Red Light District in earlier days. It’s also a popular fishing spot in August when salmon make their run up Ketchikan Creek. Plan to walk up Married Man’s Trail to see salmon jumping up the Salmon Ladder if you’re in the area.
Ketchikan is sometimes referred to as the “Rain Capital of Alaska” due to its wet weather, so make sure to bring along some rain gear if you’re planning to visit. It’s also fun to sample plenty of Dungeness crab and local seafood at Alaska Fish House or Annabelle’s Famous Keg & Chowder House while you’re there. If you’re taking a cruise through Southeast Alaska, are five great things to do while you’re in Ketchikan.
1. Viewing Misty Fjords National Monument. As part of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, breathtaking Misty Fjords National Monument spans well over 2 million acres. The spectacular steep fjords found in this pristine wilderness area are gorgeous. Here you’ll see massive sheer granite cliffs crowned with waterfalls, icy glaciers, crystal clear lakes, snowcapped mountain peaks, old growth rainforest and a wide variety of wildlife. Experiencing this area is often one of the highlights of any Alaska cruise vacation. Visitors can explore Misty Fjords National Monument by aircraft or boat. Some shore excursions combine both, and certain flightseeing tours include landing on a lake and a forest hike as well. Tongass National Forest helicopter excursions are also available. Ketchikan flightseeing trips are very popular, so make sure to reserve these well in advance if interested.
2. Fishing for Salmon, Halibut and Sea Crabs. Ketchikan is well-known for its exceptional fishing opportunities. Many cruise vacationers enjoy going out by boat to reel in salmon or halibut. Fishing licenses are required. Both small group and private charter fishing options are available here and caught fish can generally be processed and shipped home. One of Ketchikan’s most popular tours is the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour for those interested in a different kind of fishing. Cruise guests can board the Aleutian Ballad, featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch show, meet its crew and sail with them inside the protected waters around Ketchikan. As the fishermen haul in their catch, guests can see a variety of marine life including halibut, rockfish, prawns, sea stars, and large Alaskan king crabs. Stedman Bridge at Creek Street is a popular fishing spot in mid-July and August when salmon make their run up Ketchikan Creek. Fishing gear rentals and required licenses are available along Creek Street for those wishing to fish while in town.
3. Wildlife Spotting by Boat or Kayak. The Tongass National Forest and the waterways around Ketchikan are excellent locations for wildlife viewing and taking in some of Alaska’s most beautiful scenic vistas. Cruise lines and private tour operators offer a number of excursions that allow guests to experience this magnificent area by kayak, canoe and small boat. On these excursions, guests may see humpback whales, bald eagles, orcas, seals, sea lions, river otters, mink and deer. Black bears are sometimes spotted as well. Canoe and boat tours are often combined with nature hikes through the old-growth rainforest, seafood feasts, trips to Totem Bight State Park and other adventures. These trips can be well-suited for families as well.
4. Enjoying Thrilling Ziplines and Backcountry Adventures. Cruise guests looking for an adrenaline rush can find their fun in Ketchikan. Ketchikan’s Rainforest Canopy & Zipline Expedition course lets cruise guests soar along eight different ziplines and work their way across three aerial bridges suspended up to 135 feet above the ground. An alternative Ketchikan zipline option at Southeast Exposure Outdoor Adventure Center features eight ziplines and an optional 50-foot climbing tower. Other adventure tours take cruise passengers hiking, biking, backcountry jeep touring, and on adventure kart expeditions.
5. Bear Watching Flightseeing Excursions. The greater Ketchikan area is one of Southeast Alaska’s best places to see black bears. If you’re looking for tours with frequent bear sightings, Ketchikan has several flightseeing tours that fit the bill. Flightseeing excursions to Neets Bay commonly offer views of the black bears that live in this area. Other flightseeing tours take cruise guests to Traitor’s Cove or the Prince of Wales Wilderness area where black bears are also found. Those wishing to possibly see both black and brown bears may want to opt for flightseeing excursions to Anan Wildlife Observatory or Misty Fjords National Monument where both types of bears may be seen. It’s important to note that bear sightings are not guaranteed on any flightseeing tours. Bear viewing at Anan Wildlife Observatory is typically best from early July through mid-August, while the other locations are often best from late July to early September. Bear can also sometimes be seen around Herring Cove at the very south of Ketchikan during salmon spawning season. They’re reportedly more likely to be spotted here in August and early September. This area can be accessed by road, making it possible to get here by vehicle. Bears can also be spotted at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, a 40-acre reserve located at Herring Cove.