Exploring Ketchikan: Families, Couples and Older Adults

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Outdoor enthusiasts have a wealth of options in the port of Ketchikan, with activities ranging from thrilling boat rides and scenic flights to beginner-level kayaking and mountain hiking. There are also several educational and cultural attractions designed for all ages — or anyone seeking a less physically demanding excursion. Whether traveling solo, with family, older adults, or your significant other, this list will help you narrow down the best way to experience Ketchikan.

For Solo Cruisers
A man kayaks in Ketchikan's Clover Pass while enjoying the view at Tongass National Forest
Credit: Ketchikan Kayak Co.

Small Group Kayaking/Eco-Tour

In addition to viewing amazing wildlife and scenery above the water, when kayaking in Ketchikan’s Clover Pass, travelers can also see a variety of marine life that’s under the water. Surrounded by the Tongass National Forest you’ll kayak by brightly colored sea stars and other sea critters clinging onto the sea walls. The guides focus on teaching you about the marine life and ecosystem of Alaska, making this kayak tour more of a combination kayak/eco-tour. You’ll then get close (but not too close) to an eagle’s nest and will have countless opportunities to spot sea lions, seals, humpback whales and orcas along the way. Because they use tandem kayaks, solo cruisers will have someone to kayak with. And if there’s an odd number, you can get a front-row seat and kayak with the tour guide.

What to Know:  Ketchikan Kayak Co. offers four-hour tours (about two hours are spent kayaking) with small group sizes so travelers will get to know each other. Prices (with transportation) are $129 per person. You’ll want to wear whatever you would wear to go on a hike. The company will provide you with rain pants and jackets, if needed.

Credit: Ketchikan Outdoors

Backcountry Zodiac Expedition

One excursion for thrill seekers is the Backcountry Zodiac Expedition from Ketchikan Outdoors. The two-and-a-half-hour tour gives participants the freedom to drive their own water zodiac (a small, inflatable boat) over rough coastal waters (you will get wet). If you’re traveling solo, they’ll put you with a group. Guides lead the way to places of interest like Saxman Native Village and bald eagle nests.

What to Know:  You will get wet, so you’ll want to pack a change of clothes if you plan to do exploring after the tour. Also, it is highly recommended to book in advance directly with Ketchikan Outdoors because this tour fills up quickly.  Tours cost $169 per person, and you must be 25 years of age to drive.

For Couples
6/29/08 04:08 PM
Credit photo by John Bromley | CC BY

Hiking Rainbird Trail

There are several beautiful hiking trails around Ketchikan, and one of the most convenient choices (due to its proximity to town) is Rainbird Trail, which spans just over a mile and takes a little over an hour. Even though it’s close to port, it remains an undiscovered charm in Ketchikan, typically with only locals and wildlife hiking it. And we say it takes an hour because you’ll most definitely want to stop to take in the amazing mountain views and panoramic views of downtown … and you might want some one-on-one quiet time with your honey.

If you’re a family cruising to Ketchikan and want to hike, this climb might be a bit too long for little ones. Families might be better off checking out Married Man’s trail. It’s a short little “snack” of a trail behind Creek Street.

What to Know:  To reach it from the docks, follow Schoenbar Road (near berth four) to the top (it’s quite a climb), and go left at Third Avenue. Or, take a taxi (about $10) to the trailhead located next to the University of Southeast Alaska parking lot. Animals love to munch on blueberry and salmon berry bushes scattered throughout the trail, so it’s best to hike with another person and make noise around sharp turns so you don’t startle any wildlife.

Bear Viewing

Credit: Alaska Seaplane Tours

For many visitors to Alaska, seeing bears in the wild (from a safe distance) tops their bucket lists. On the Bears of the Misty Fjords tour with Alaska Seaplane Tours, a float plane brings passengers to a peaceful watershed where bears are grazing and fishing for salmon. The plane will land on the water in the breathtaking Misty Fjords and disembark onto the floats for opportunities to take photos of the majestic black and brown bears.To reach it from the docks, follow Schoenbar Road (near berth four) to the top (it’s quite a climb), and go left at Third Avenue. Or, take a taxi (about $10) to the trailhead located next to the University of Southeast Alaska parking lot. Animals love to munch on blueberry and salmon berry bushes scattered throughout the trail, so it’s best to hike with another person and make noise around sharp turns so you don’t startle any wildlife.

What to Know:  The two-hour tour departs from the Ketchikan harbor and while this tour is great for anyone, there’s a two-person minimum for booking, which is why we think it’s great for couples. Book directly through Alaska Seaplane Tours for this bear particular bear-viewing excursion. Cost is $289 per person, $239 for children under 12.

For Older Adults
Tourists can ride through Ketchikan in a vintage limo offered through Ketchikan Vintage Limo Tours
Credit: Ketchikan Vintage Limos

Vintage Car Tour

See the tourism sites of Ketchikan in a stylish Rolls Royce Princess through Ketchikan Vintage Limo Tours. Two routes are offered (north and south), and guests are free to bring their own alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and customize their package with snacks, etc., for an added cost. After guests are picked up at the port, the driver stops by a combination of top attractions, as well as off-the-beaten-path destinations like Refuge Cove for beachcombing, Tongass Waterfall, the Hole in the Wall Bar and Saxman Native Village (depending on the route chosen). Both tours offer a combination of nature with Native Alaskan heritage and scenic stops, but the north tour has slightly more options for stretching your legs in the great outdoors.

What to Know:  Prices are $250 per car (which fits up to four people), and each tour lasts two-and-a-half hours.

For Families
Tourists look on as their Ketchikan Duck Tour begins
Credit: Ketchikan Duck Tour

Duck Tours

Duck Tours is a travel company found in several cities, but the branch in Ketchikan is the only one in Alaska. The tour “boat bus” is amphibious, allowing part of the tour to take place on land before riding into the water. The 90-minute tour goes past Ketchikan’s Whale Park for a glimpse at one of the area’s totem poles and historic Creek Street, the signature shopping and dining area. Then it makes a splash in the harbor of the Tongass Narrows past seaplanes, canneries and the downtown waterfront. The tour guides have an amazing sense of humor and promise to educate you in an entertaining way. It’s a unique way to see (and learn about) Ketchikan without breaking the bank.

What to Know:  Tours depart from the cruise ship dock, and tickets are $49 for adults and $29 for children. Book the tour directly through the Alaska Amphibious Tours website and try to book as far in advance as possible because the times fill up quickly.

GPS Rainforest Scavenger Hunt


Families on a scavenger hunt in Ketchikan
Credit: Best of Alaska

Families with a competitive spirit can take part in a rainforest scavenger hunt by geocaching, a popular game that uses GPS devices to find hidden clues to solve a puzzle. Families can compete against each other on a small island, and after the game finishes, groups gather around a campfire for a snack.

What to Know:  Transportation is provided, as is a 30-minute scenic cruise to the northwest corner of Betton Island, the area used for the game. Prices for the four-hour tour are $139 for adults and $104 for children.

Credit: Southeast Alaska Discovery Center

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center

Just a short walk from the cruise ships is the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, a great place to take the kids and learn about the natural and cultural history of the region. Visit a re-created native fishing village; hear about the importance of the Tongass National Forest’s ecosystems and wildlife; and watch an educational film in the theater. Kids can become junior rangers by participating in a series of activities such as a scavenger hunt, ranger talks and interactive exhibits, and they’ll get a free activity book with maps, puzzles and games.

What to Know:  Adult admission is $5 and children 15 and under are free. The center is located at 50 Main Street.

For Friends
A beautifully prepared fresh Alaskan Dungeness Crab
Photo Credit: Experience Alaska Tours

Crab Feast

No trip to Ketchikan is complete without trying some crab, and the four-hour Wilderness Exploration and Crab Feast from Experience Alaska Tours lets visitors learn about the life of crab fisherman before a massive, all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab feast. Travel by boat to the remote George Inlet Lodge for an impressive spread of crab, potatoes, salad and blueberry cheesecake. During the scenic boat ride, guides will explain the life cycle of the crab and the history of the area while searching for wildlife. Visitors also have an opportunity to pull the crab pots up out of the water (catch and release) for a hands-on experience.

What to Know:  Prices are $169 per adult and include transport from the cruise port.

Credit: Travel Ketchikan

Exploring Downtown Self-Guided Tour

Ketchikan is easy to navigate by foot, and Experience Ketchikan has put together a handy guide of the downtown area. To get things started, groups can gather at Good Coffee Company (between stops two and three) to socialize and check in using the free Internet. There are 34 stops in total, with notable places such as Whale Park, a small but picturesque city park; the fish ladder, where salmon can be seen swimming upstream; and historic Creek Street, a boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants and Dolly’s House museum (once the home of Ketchikan’s famous “lady of the night”). Toward the end of the tour, swing by Sourdough Cocktail Bar (301 Front Street), a local dive with darts, pool tables and Alaskan beer on tap.

What to Know:  The entire tour can be walked in about 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of your group and how long you take at each stop.

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