A cruise along the Inside Passage of Southeastern Alaska is not complete without a destination stop at beautiful Ketchikan, Alaska. Perched against the backdrop of wild Alaska, the Ketchikan harbor is deep enough that cruise ships can dock right downtown, making disembarking and exploring this jewel of a town easy and accessible.
Mollie Breese is a local Alaskan resident, who has spent many summers exploring the wilds of Alaska. Currently residing on Kodiak Island, she spends her weekends exploring new trails, remote villages, and her next favorite local brewery. She has travelled extensively throughout Southeastern Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and along the road system of central Alaska.
Downtown Ketchikan looks just like the front of a postcard with its brightly colored homes tucked cozily along boardwalks. This town is the “gateway to Southeast Alaska”, and the self-proclaimed Salmon Capital of the World. While there is much to explore within the downtown area, cruise ship passengers also can take advantage of the endless wilds of the Tongass National Forest, just beyond the town’s boundary.
A visitor could spend weeks exploring everything Ketchikan has to offer. Unfortunately, Alaska is a big place, and there is much more to see along your voyage. Many cruise ship passengers may only have a day to explore this historic stop.
So, we’ve done the hard work and provided a line-up of the top things to do for a day in beautiful Ketchikan, Alaska. This list stays away from overpacked or overhyped stops, focusing on experiences that encompass the beauty, serenity, and adventure that Ketchikan offers. While some of these attractions may appear on other travel sites, we’ve taken the extra step to provide you with a local perspective on visiting this island during your Alaska cruise.
Walk Along Creek Street
Located just off Main Street, Creek Street is one of the most photographed spots in Southeast Alaska. Meandering along a cascading creek (hence, the name), the Creek Street boardwalk is a favorite for tourists and locals. Formerly the Red Light District, this boardwalk is now home to colorful homes, historic totem poles, local art and tourism shops, cafes, restaurants, and the Dolly’s House Museum. These attractions make it one of the best places to shop in town. If you’re looking for a gift for those back home, check out the Fish Creek Company. This is a great stop for quirky Alaskan souvenirs and quality products.
Starting in May, Creek Street is also one of the best places to view the salmon run, with various salmon species surging upstream in the crystal clear water as they head to their spawning zones. This run draws an array of eagles, otters, and seals. Visitors can look over the boardwalk railings to see a real-life display of wild Alaska.
While the Creek Street boardwalk is level and an easy walk, if you are looking for a more strenuous experience, then head up the Married Man’s Trail at the end of Creek Street. This extension is rumored to be the hidden path that married men used to take when attempting to visit the brothels along the boardwalk “discreetly.” Today, the path is a wooden staircase that extends up to Park Avenue, where walkers can get a higher vista of the town.
If you do this extra leg of the journey, be sure to check out the Salmon Ladder at the end of Married Man’s Trail. At this point of the creek, the water turns into a rushing cascade, and you can watch salmon attempt to jump over the waterfall as they continue upstream.
Depending on how much you shop and hike, plan to spend anywhere from 1-2 hours exploring the Creek Street area.
Visit the Tongass Historical Museum
The Tongass Historical Museum is one of the best displays of native Alaskan history in Southeast Alaska. Located off of Creek Street, this stop can be combined with the boardwalk to fill up an entire morning.
The Tongass Historical Museum is partnered with the Totem Heritage Center. Both museums offer an engaging educational experience. However, the Tongass Historical Museum is more centrally located in the downtown area, making it easier to visit when on a time restraint. While a fast visit can last about 20 minutes, if you take your time to appreciate each exhibit, then visitors can easily spend an hour learning here.
Exhibits cover the long and fascinating history of the inhabitants of Revillagigedo Island (where Ketichand is located). Visitors can learn about Tlingit history and culture, as well as the evolution of the town from a fishing port to the sixth-largest town in Alaska. Be sure to check out their homepage for current exhibits and any special events!
After your visit, head west down Dock Street to the 55North Bakery, one of the best places to grab a coffee and a delicious sweet bakery treat!
Go for a Hike in a Rainforest
Ketchikan sits in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. This temperate rainforest is full of lush ferns, rare flora, and towering trees. For any lover of the Pacific Northwest, you will be right at home in the acres of moss-covered trails set against the backdrop of mountains and glacier bays.
While cruise ships do offer excursions to visit this wilderness, visitors can also access trails straight from downtown. Just off of 3rd Avenue is the Rainbird Hiking Trail. This 2-mile trail is a popular hiking trail for visitors and offers amazing views of the inlet and town. The trail is rated as moderate on AllTrails, with a 541-foot elevation gain. While rocks and roots can make the trail difficult to navigate, the views and scenery make hikers feel like they are deep in the Tongass Forest.
Keep an eye out for local wildlife, including black bears, eagles, foxes, and ermine, as they can be frequent visitors along this trail and on the outskirts of the town.
Catch a Fishing Charter to Fill Your Freezer
Ketchikan is known as the Salmon Capital of the World, and it is a title well-earned by the masses of salmon that surge upstream from mid-May to September. However, Ketchikan is home to more than just salmon. Pacific Halibut, Yelloweye Rockfish, and a variety of pacific cod species are also common in these waters.
If you’re looking to try your hand at Alaskan fishing, booking a fishing charter for your day in Ketchikan is a great opportunity. While you can rent fishing gear in town to fish along the town streams, a charter provides all the gear, optional fish packing/shipping, and a knowledgeable captain to take you to the best spots. A fishing charter also offers the added benefit of enjoying the scenic Tongass shoreline from the water and the chance to get close to whales, orcas, and dolphins. If you’re trying to decide between fishing or a whale-watching cruise, a charter can combine both options. If you want to keep your catch, charters offer fish packing and mailing at an additional price, allowing you to ship your fish home and enjoy it for months to come.
There are a wide variety of charters available to book in Ketchikan. To get one of the best prices, book your charter a couple of months out from your cruise arrival date. With Ketchikan being one of the most popular ports of call in Alaska, the best charters can fill up quickly, and other charters can raise their prices.
Most charters are around 4-6 hours. Plan to bring plenty of layers, waterproof clothing/boots, bug spray, and your camera. For recommendation, Oasis Alaska Charters offers a variety of fishing excursions, including King Salmon fishing.
Important Note: You will need to purchase a fishing license (with a salmon stamp, if you plan on salmon fishing) prior to your fishing day. You can purchase your license online at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. Try and purchase your license at least a month before your departure date to ensure time for processing and mailing. You can also purchase a license in Alaska at any outfitter store, though this will take time away from your time on the water.
Take a Scenic Ride to Misty Fjords National Monument
Misty Fjords National Monument is not a local’s secret in Ketchikan. In fact, a quick Google search will show that this is a top favorite for most travel sites. But this high status is definitely earned.
Misty Fjords National Monument combines everything that is beautiful about the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. A trip to Misty Fjords guarantees vistas filled with towering peaks, glacial lakes, sea cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and lush rainforests. Unlike some of the passages frequented by cruise ships during your days at sea, small cruise vessels and kayak tours allow visitors to fully explore these narrow fjord channels. In the summer, the fjord echoes with the calls of migrating birds, sea lions, seals, whales, and soaring eagles.
To visit this area, visitors have a variety of options. You can take a small cruise that travels along the passage, typically about 2-3 hours long. You can also opt for a private kayak tour that will paddle along the shoreline, with the chance to spot bears and other wildlife. For a fancier option, floatplane charters also depart daily from Ketchikan, offering priceless views of the Tongass National Forest, Misty Fjords National Monument, and the picturesque islands spanning off into the horizon.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your day in Ketchikan, Alaska, you are guaranteed to enjoy it. This makes it one of the top stops to enjoy on your Great Alaskan Journey! Bon, voyage!
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