Ketchikan, Alaska is known as the Salmon Capital of the world, it houses the world’s largest collection of standing Totem Poles and it dubs itself Alaska’s First City. Ketchikan got its name because it is the first port of call for cruise ships in the state of Alaska as you Cruise North along the Inside Passage. There are plenty of things to do in Ketchikan and we’re going to highlight a few of its top attractions to help you decide what excursion to take if you are on a cruise, or what to see and do if you are traveling independently.
Top Things to Do in Ketchikan
We have visited Ketchikan three times and during our last trip, it was our last stop on our Alaskan Cruise with Holland America Lines. Our cruise ship, The Nieuw Amsterdam anchored steps away from downtown Ketchikan making for an easy tour of the town.
1. Black Bears Feeding on Salmon
Ketchikan is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and for a good reason. Visitors can go salmon fishing in the many rivers, streams, and lakes that surround the town but if you really want to see something extraordinary, book a tour to see black bears feeding on spawning salmon.
The best time to see bears feeding in the streams is between July and September as they fatten up for their winter hibernation. This time of year, the streams are filled with salmon making their way upstream to spawn and lay their eggs. Once their eggs are laid, they stay in the streams to die. This creates a feast for the black bears. You can book this one of a kind trip in advance here.
When we visited in August, the bears had been eating so much that they weren’t even eating the full fish anymore, they were simply biting into them for their eggs. As our guide told us, the eggs are like their dessert.
Before the tour, we took a guided walk to learn about the bears. We saw where the bears sleep between feasts, and what they like to eat and we saw a few places where they have scratched and climbed up trees.
It is truly a fascinating tour with the star attraction being the 90 minutes at the hides where we watched half a dozen bears hunt and interact in their natural habitat. Details here.
2. Scenic Flight to Misty Fjords
During our trip to Neets Bay, we were treated to an extraordinary scenic flight. But you can book stand-alone scenic flights in Ketchikan and we highly recommend it. Ketchikan scenic flights take you over the forest and fjords of the Gulf of Alaska. You’ll get a stunning view of Ketchikan and the surrounding islands from the air, including the Tongass Narrows, Revillagigedo Island, and Gravina Island.
This 1 hour scenic flight takes you over sheer cliffs, waterfalls and the lakes of Misty Fjords. Window seat is guaranteed which is a bonus. One of the most breathtaking views is the Misty Fjords National Monument. This natural wonder has towering cliffs, pristine lakes, and lush forests.
Ketchikan is located in the Tongass National Forest which is the largest national forest in the United States. It covers much of Southeast Alaska and from the air, you can see the vast expanse of this incredible wilderness.
We saw waterfalls and we even saw a group of sea lions basking on an island during our flight. It is not uncommon to see whales from the seaplane. More details here.
3. Self-Drive Zodiac Adventure
One of the best tours we took in Ketchikan was the zodiac adventure. We were suited up with our rain gear and warm clothes before setting out on our own self-drive adventure. After a brief introduction, we followed our guide along the coast of Ketchikan through the Tongass Narrows in search of whales and bald eagles.
And we saw both! As we made our way out to open water, we spotted a humpback whale breaching in the distance. After watching in awe from our tiny vessels, we then set out closer to the shore to see the abundance of bald eagles. We even saw one dive for fish.
It was then more time zipping through the water riding the wake of our leader taking in the sites. We even stopped to let a float plane land before continuing on to dry land to enjoy smores by the campfire.
This excursion truly was a blast. It was pouring rain during our trip which made it even more fun as we cruised through the famous misty fjords of Ketchikan. Book the trip here.
4. Bear Watching
Seeing bears in the wild is one of the most magical experiences. Alaska has the densest population of bears in the world, and places the the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary and surrounding forests have a high concentration of Black Bears.
This highly rated tour offers black bear viewing without needing to get in a plane. Visit the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary where you’ll hike to an elevated boardwalk to watch bears from the safety of the raised platforms.
You’ll also go through the wetlands of Eagle Creek in search of bald eagles and other wildlife in the area. Book your tour here.
5. Misty Fjords National Monument Cruise
While seeing the Misty Fjords National Monument from above is amazing, one of the best ways to explore it is on a boat tour. Book this private small group tour to cruise past its glacial fjords, dramatic cliffs, and waterfalls. You’ll also be keeping an eye out for sea lions, whales, bears, and mountain goats.
Places that you will see are Rudyerd Bay, New Eddystone Rock, and Punchbowl Cove, and have a private commentary and tour as you cruise at your own pace. This 6 passenger bot cruise takes you by private charter to see the cliffs, whales and wildlife of the Misty Fjords to see Rudyerd Bay, New Eddystone Rock, and Punchbowl Cove
6. Go Shopping on Creek Street
We love historical Creek Street. It was pouring rain our first time in Ketchikan so we really didn’t understand just how picturesque this elevated boardwalk running along Ketchikan Creek is. That is until we finally explored it on a sunny day.
Creek Street is filled with boutique shopping, museums, and restaurants. The boardwalk was once the town’s red light district and there are still signs from the Gold Rush days of the 1890s.
The historic colorful buildings line the boardwalk along the water and look the same as they did in the 19th century. Take your time to enjoy the views from Creek Street and keep an eye out for salmon spawning in Ketchikan Creek. We even saw a sea lion swimming in the water.
7. Dolly’s House Museum
One of the buildings that really stands out on Creek Street is Dolly’s House Museum. This museum is located in the former home of Dolly Arthur, a famous madam who ran a brothel on Creek Street during the early 20th century. The museum offers a glimpse into the history of prostitution in Ketchikan and the life of Dolly Arthur.
8. Salmon Ladder
If you see a crowd gathering while looking at the creek, chances are you have come to Salmon Ladder. Creek Street is built over Ketchikan Creek, and during the summer months, you can watch salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The creek has a ladder that allows the fish to bypass a waterfall and continue upstream. So you will see a lot of them congregating right here.
9. Chief Johnston Totem Pole
The Chief Johnson totem pole is one of the tallest totem poles in the world, standing at 55 feet tall, and is a prominent landmark in the city. The totem pole was originally carved in the late 19th century by Tlingit artist Charlie Jones and stood in front of Chief Johnson’s house in Tongass.
You can’t miss seeing this work of ar, it stands at the entrance to historic Creek Street where it has become a popular tourist attraction and a symbol of the region’s Native American heritage. The totem pole features a number of different figures, including an eagle, a bear, and a human figure, each with its own symbolic meaning.
10. Visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
Ketchikan is filled with cultural and historical experiences and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is no exception. The museum showcases the history and culture of Alaska’s southeastern region through interactive exhibits.
One of the exhibits includes a simulated rainforest, a replica Tlingit longhouse, and displays about the region’s fishing and logging industries.
There is also a media center where visitors can watch films to learn about the history and culture of Alaska and its Indigenous people.
11. Tongass Historical Museum
If you want to see some more museums, or if it raining in Ketchikan (as it often does), The Tongass Historical Museum exhibits the town’s history and heritage. There is a free shuttle from the cruise ship port in the summer making it perfect for a rainy day.
12. Visit the Totem Heritage Center
One thing you’ll notice all around downtown Ketchikan are the totem poles. To learn more about them, the Totem Heritage Center is a must. The museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the art and history of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples.
But what attracts many people to the museum is its impressive collection of totem poles, some of which are more than 150 years old. You will also see traditional masks, carvings, and art as well as exhibits showing the Indigenous culture of the area that includes traditional hunting and fishing.
The museum offers a range of educational programs, including workshops on traditional arts and crafts, guided tours, and cultural performances.
The Indigenous People have inhabited the Ketchikan area for thousands of years and visiting the Totem Heritage Center is an excellent way to gain a better understanding of their culture.
13. Take A Tour of the Salmon Hatchery
We had three tours in one while watching the bears feed as it took place at the Neets Bay Salmon hatchery (And we had a gorgeous scenic flight) If you can’t make the trip to Neets Bay, you may want to take a tour of a salmon hatchery downtown.
The Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center is focused on breeding salmon and releasing them into the waterways. Visitors can take tours to learn about the process and the importance of sustainable fishing practices. The hatchery also has a viewing area where visitors can watch the salmon as they swim upstream to spawn.
10. Eagle Center
Another popular attraction within the center is the Eagle Center which is home to several rescued eagles that are unable to survive in the wild due to injury or other factors. The center provides a safe and natural environment for the eagles and allows visitors to observe these majestic birds up close.
The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center is an important cultural and educational center in Ketchikan, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to learn about traditional indigenous practices and the local wildlife.
11. Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States and covers over 17 million acres. When you visit Ketchikan, you can book tours to explore the forest’s vast wilderness and observe a diverse range of wildlife, including black bears, and bald eagles.
There are plenty of hiking trails, camping sites, and fishing spots within the Tongass National Forest that offer a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Alaska. This electric bike tour takes you through the town’s highlights followed by a trek through the wilderness. Book your tour here
12. Wildlife Tour of Ketchikan
Ketchikan is known for its abundant wildlife, so taking a wildlife tour is one of the best things to do in Ketchikan. You won’t be hard-pressed to spot bald eagles, black bears, humpback whales, and sea lions. Visitors can take a wildlife tour, where you can observe these animals in their natural habitat.
This whale and wildlife viewing trip is perfect for those with a short time and who want to see more in less time. The tour includes whale and wildlife viewing boat trip that includes snacks and non alcoholic drinks.
14. Saxam Native Village
The Saxman Native Village is a cultural center is located in the Saxman Village, which is a traditional Tlingit community that has been inhabited for thousands of years. The center showcases cultural performances and demonstrations. where visitors can watch traditional Tlingit dances, listen to Tlingit music, and see demonstrations of Tlingit arts and crafts.
The Saxman Native Village is home to the Saxman Totem Park, which features the largest collection of totem poles in Alaska. Visitors can take a guided tour of the park to learn about the history and significance of the totem poles, as well as the culture and traditions of the Tlingit people. The park also features a replica Tlingit longhouse, where visitors can learn about traditional Tlingit life.
15. Totem Bight State Park
Another important place to visit in Ketchikan Alaska is Totem Bight State Park. The park is home to over a dozen totem poles that were either carved in the early 1900s or were created in the 1970s as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Each totem pole has a unique story and meaning, and there are informational signs that provide more information about each one.
The park offers guided tours and you’ll be able to watch cultural performances including traditional dance and music. This Ketchikan 4 in 1 Tour will meet you at your ship dock to take you on a journey through the highlights of Ketchikan including Creek Street, the Totem Parks, search for sea creatures in tide pools and a salmon hatchery.
18. Go kayaking
We have done a lot of kayaking in Alaska and it is one of the best tours you can book. Kayaking is a popular activity in Ketchikan, as the town is surrounded by water. Visitors can rent a kayak and explore the many coves, bays, and inlets that make up Alaska’s coastline but we suggest taking an organized tour for safety and to really experience the beauty of the landscape.
Kayaking is an excellent way to get up close to Alaska’s wildlife and to experience the beauty of the area’s scenery we have seen a lot from a kayak in Alaska and Ketchikan is an excellent place to have some encounters. You may have the opportunity see to a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, seals, sea otters, and even whales. Because you are silently paddling through the water, chances of spying on wildlife are greatly increased.
This kayaking tour truly takes you off the beaten path. Take a high speed boat to Orca Cove and then paddle through the islands and coastal coves following an experienced guide. You’ll enjoy snacks on your boat ride back to town while keeping an eye out for wildlife.
19. Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
If you are looking for some fun entertainment in Ketchikan, check out the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. This is a battle between Alaska and British Columbia that takes place at Ketchikan’s Lumberjack Sports Arena.
The lumberjacks compete in events that celebrate their logging heritage. Things to expect to see are lumberjacks running across floating logs, chip and saw wood at lightning-fast speeds, an ax-throwing competition, and more. You’ll learn about lumberjack history and have a rip-roaring good time followed by a meal featuring Dungeness crab. Book your tickets in advance here.
20. Deadliest Catch Fisherman’s Tour
One of the more unique things to do in Ketchikan is to head out on the sea to get a feel of what life is like for fishermen in Alaska. Hop aboard the Aleutian Ballad fishing boat to cruise the Inside Passage. Seasoned fishermen haul their catch on deck as share their experiences and lore of the sea.
This tour is two trips in one as you keep an aye out for wildlife like whales, sea lions, and eagles. If you are a fan of the show on Discovery, you will love this tour. Get more details here.
21. Trolley Tour
If you simply want an overview of the town of Ketchikan, a trolley tour is a great option. The Totems, City & Wildlife by Cable Car Trolley takes you around in a San Francisco style trolley to see the Saxam Native Village and fish ladder. You may even spy bears, seals and a bald eagle ore two with a stop at the Herring Cove viewing area. Book your trolley tour here.
22. The Rock
Make sure to stroll along the waterfront of Ketchikan and keep an eye out for The Rock sculpture. The Rock is a beautiful piece of Alaskan art depicting the origins of Ketchikan City. It displays seven figures that represent the people who helped to build the city. Chief Johnson stands at the top surrounded by a native drummer, a frontierswoman, a minor, fisherman and a logger. This is one of the top stops for photographs.
We love Ketchikan. From its abundant wildlife to its rich history there is something for everyone. If you are looking to experience Alaska or an Alascan cruise, make sure to add Ketchikan to your list.
This small town in the southeastern part of Alaska, known for its high concentration of wildlife, totem poles, and its rich native culture. With a population of approximately 8,000, Ketchikan offers visitors a unique and unforgettable experience with plenty of exciting activities and attractions to explore.
There is no denying that Ketchikan is a popular port of call for cruise ships, with several ships stopping in the city each day. Chances are you’ll be visiting Ketchikan by cruise ship. For us, each stop we made was by cruise ship, and while it took us a few trips to be able to experience a lot of Ketchikan Alaska, you can see a lot in a short time.
Downtown Ketchikan Map
It is easy to explore downtown in just a couple of hours if you don’t spend too long in museums.
If you choose a tour that combines a scenic flight with wildlife viewing, you’ll be able to have two tours in one. You’ll then have the rest of the afternoon to explore downtown Ketchikan and the former red-light district. You can probably even pop into Dolly’s House Museum for a quick tour.
Cruise Ships in Ketchikan
We took a Holland American Cruise that included a stop in Ketchikan and it was outstanding. Our ports of call on our cruise included Anchorage to Whittier, Juneau, Skagway and cruisin through the Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage and Vancouver. More details on our Yukon, Denali Land Tour with Holland America here.
The Cruise ship dock is located downtown and is just a short walk to the old red light district of Creek Street. Even if you don’t book a tour of Ketchikan, you’ll be able to experience a lot of this cool Alaskan Gold Rush town.
Have you been to Ketchikan? What is your favourite thing to do?
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