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Top 10 things to do in Ketchikan

08 Apr 2022
Jenna DeLaurentis

Ketchikan is the southernmost port in Alaska visited on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Known for its fresh seafood, Native culture, and gorgeous scenery, this small town is often a favorite among those cruising to Alaska.

Ketchikan is a port that is easy to explore with no prior planning, as the town’s center is very walkable, offering many dining options, museums, walking trails, souvenir shops, and activities. Nonetheless, it’s always helpful to have an idea of what opportunities are available in your port of call to ensure you have the best day possible.

Here’s a list of our top ten activities to do on a cruise to Ketchikan. From hiking through nature to learning about the town’s history and Native people, there’s sure to be an activity waiting for you in Ketchikan.

Walk through Creek Street

Wandering through Ketchikan’s historic Creek Street is a must on any visit. The town’s infamous red-light district in the past is now a scenic walkway, offering the chance to learn about Ketchikan’s history.

Creek Street is famous for its history and unique over-the-water architecture. The district was founded around 1903, when the Ketchikan Town Council ordered all brothels to relocate to the east side of town. A popular spot for the many young single (and married) men working men in Ketchikan, houses of prostitution were active on Creek Street throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Outside of Creek Street’s fascinating history is a beautiful walk through unique, colorful buildings with shops and museums. As it is located right over a creek, you’ll also have the chance to spot wildlife such as salmon and otters playing in the water.

If you continue out of Creek Street into the woods, you’ll run into Married Man’s Trail. Named after the married men who would take a more conspicuous path to Creek Street as opposed to being seen on the walk in town, this is a short nature trail that offers nice views of town while walking through the forest.

Tour Dolly’s House Museum

The most famous attraction on Creek Street is Dolly’s House Museum. A brothel turned museum, Dolly’s House was the home of Dolly Arthur, a madam working in Ketchikan between the years of 1919 to 1954, at which point prostitution became illegal. Despite the average Ketchikan worker bringing home around $1 per day, it wasn’t uncommon for Dolly to earn $75 or more each day.

Dolly’s House was particularly popular in the prohibition area, when she sold small portions of liquor at a high price. This was common at the houses on Creek Street, as they often had a secret door beneath the house allowing liquor to be brought in. Dolly’s House is still filled with Dolly’s belongings and furniture just as she left it when she moved into a nursing home.

Deer Mountain Trail

Of all the mountain peaks near Ketchikan, Deer Mountain will likely be the one to catch your eye the most. Peering down at the town of Ketchikan and your cruise ship while docked is the pointy, 3001 ft. peak of Deer Mountain.

If you’re looking to break a sweat while in Ketchikan, consider hiking to the peak of Deer Mountain. While a challenging hike, hard work will be rewarded at the top of Deer Mountain, with panoramic views of surrounding islands and mountains, the city, lakes, and rainforest.

The roundtrip hike is around 6.5 miles, but as there is 3000 ft. of elevation gain, hikers should budget 5-6 hours for the roundtrip hike depending on fitness level.

The trailhead is located 1.3 miles from where cruise ships dock in Ketchikan, but it is a very steep walk through town to get there. Taking a taxi to the trailhead is an option for those who have more limited time or who want to save their energy for the trail itself.

Get active

Photo credit:

Outside of hiking, there are plenty of other ways to get active in Ketchikan. Whether kayaking, ziplining, or canoeing, getting active can be a fantastic way to explore more of what Ketchikan has to offer.

The “Tatoosh Islands Wilderness Kayak Adventure” takes guests on a guided kayak tour of the Tatoosh islands with the chance of encountering bald eagles, seals, whales, sea lions, and otters.

The “Rainforest Canoe & Nature Trail” excursion also brings guests out on the water, but aboard a 37-foot canoe instead of a kayak. Following a canoe ride is a nature hike where visitors can learn more about the native flora and fauna of Tongass National Forest.

Those looking for a more thrilling adventure may be interested in the “Rainforest Canopy and Zipline Expedition,” where guests fly through eight zip lines across a rainforest canopy.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

Photo credit: Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack show is a lumberjack competition (yes, that’s a real thing), in which Alaskan lumberjacks put their chopping, sawing, tree climbing, log rolling, and axe throwing skills to the test.

Unique, funny, and entertaining, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is sure to be something you have never seen before.

The lumberjack show is located near where cruise ships dock in Ketchikan and lasts only around an hour, making it a nice option to add to other activities during the day. Tickets can be purchased via a Royal Caribbean shore excursion or at the door.

Learn about Tlingit culture and history

While an Alaska cruise brings stunning landscapes and wildlife, there is also the opportunity to learn more about southeast Alaska’s Native culture and history.

The Saxman Native Village is a small community near Ketchikan and a popular destination for passengers interested in Native culture to visit. Here guests can learn about the Tlingit peoples’ history, culture, and ways of life through a local guide, dance performance, and visit to the Beaver Clan House.

Visits to the Saxman Totem Park are recommended as well, home to one of the largest collections of authentic and handmade totem poles in the world.

Tour the Misty Fjords National Monument

22 miles east of Ketchikan is the Misty Fjords National Monument, a natural array of cliffs, fjords, and 3,000 ft. mountains emerging straight up from the ocean. The area is a dense rainforest complete with waterfalls and glacial lakes, as well as abundant wildlife.

Visiting the Misty Fjords is a popular tour in Ketchikan, as it allows passengers to get a closer look at Alaska’s nature and scenery in a small vessel. Guests travel along the Behm Canal to Rudyerd Bay and view New Eddystone Rock, a 237 ft. pillar of basalt sticking out of the water, along with the stunning scenery and wildlife found on either side of the fjords.

Visiting the Misty Fjords National Monument via seaplane is an alternative tour option. These tours take guests on a small seaplane for an hour-long ride around the Misty Fjords, offering unparalleled views of this remote wilderness area from above. Seaplane tours include a water landing, sure to be a unique experience for most passengers.

Alaska Bear Adventures

Another adventure by air takes guests to scenic, remote destinations near Ketchikan that offer a high chance of spotting bears and other wildlife.

Bear-sighting tours, such as the “Alaska Bear Adventure by Floatplane” tour, include a floatplane ride to Neets Bay followed by a short trail to an observation deck. Here guests have the opportunity to watch bears feasting on salmon in the rainforest.

Due to the floatplane transportation, these tours tend to come at a higher cost than other excursions.

Go fishing

Alaska is a dream destination for avid fishermen, and fishing is possible for cruise passengers visiting Alaska. Local fishing companies can be chartered for a day while in port, offering the chance to customize fishing excursions on the water.

Rockfish, cod, herring, salmon, and halibut are popular throughout the Ketchikan area, although salmon and halibut are the most common. 4 and 6 hour fishing charters are usually available for those arriving to Ketchikan by cruise ship.

Fish processing is available for those who would like to take their catch home and enjoy tasty Alaskan seafood after their cruise is over. Fishing excursions can also be booked through Royal Caribbean directly.

Enjoy Ketchikan’s culinary scene

You’re likely to have some down time during the day in Ketchikan, especially if you did not plan any organized tours for the day. Luckily, the town offers a variety of places to eat and drink, taking in local culture and cuisine while enjoying delicious food.

The Alaska Fish House is sure to be a busy lunch spot while in Ketchikan, offering some of the freshest seafood in town. From fish tacos to salmon chowder and Alaskan king crab, this is the place to eat in Ketchikan if you want to try Alaska’s seafood.

If you’re not interested in seafood, Ketchikan offers other types of cuisines. There’s Chico’s Mexican restaurant which, despite its name, is said to have the best pizza in town. If you’re in the mood for a burger, don’t hesitate to try Burger Queen, a no-frills restaurant serving up fish and chips, big burgers, and milkshakes. 

If you’re looking to enjoy a beer, check out the Bawden Street Brewery. Located a short walk from the cruise ship, Bawden Street Brewery is the only microbrewery in Ketchikan and focuses on ales, saisons, and sours. While a small brewery, it offers a relaxing way to wind down after a busy day in port prior to boarding the ship.

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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