Surrounded by the stunning Tongass National Forest and the Tongass Narrows waterway, it’s no surprise that most activities in Ketchikan involve venturing out to the temperate rainforest or viewing marine life on the water. But if you prefer a (sort of) tamer experience, where you trade the wild animals out for white-knuckled lumberjacks and want to learn about the history that makes Ketchikan unique, we know just what you need.
Here are 10 things to do in the port of Ketchikan.
The Aleutian Ballad was made famous by the television show Deadliest Catch, which follows the perils of crab fisherman in the Bering Sea. Today, the ship offers tourists a chance to experience crab fishing in calmer waters. After gathering at the main cruise ship dock in downtown Ketchikan (which is the same dock for the cruise ships), visitors will board the Aleutian Ballad to meet some of the crew members from Deadliest Catch. As the boat moves along the water, the fishermen will tell stories about their crab fishing experiences, show you how crabs pots are pulled from the ocean and also provide chances to touch and photograph some of the creatures they pull from the sea.
What to Know: The three-hour tour is offered via most cruise ships sailing to Ketchikan and will cost $169 for adults and $109 for children.
Get off the beaten path with the only electric-assisted bike tour in Southeast Alaska. Ketchikan Kayak Company (KKC) offers a four-hour e-bike and hike excursion that departs right from the ship docks. The e-bikes work the same as a normal bike, but you can add some boost when going through difficult areas (and for maximizing your time).
You’ll start out the tour by biking along a paved road with dense trees on both sides. When you come to end of the road, you’ll hop off the bikes and begin hiking through the rainforest alongside of a stream that will drop off at the shores of the Inside Passage. Once you return back to the oceanfront KKC facilities you’ll enjoy a smoked salmon snack, with craft beers available for purchase nearby.
What to Know: Prices are $129 each and you must be at least 16 years old. You can only book this tour directly through the Ketchikan Kayak Company.
Located 22 miles east of Ketchikan is the Misty Fjords National Monument, a picturesque wilderness of steep cliffs, icy blue lakes, snowcapped peaks and gorgeous waterfalls. There are two ways to reach the monument: by air or boat, and several operators are available. Misty Fjords Air provides two-hour floatplane tours with an hour and fifteen minutes of narrated flight time and a water landing at the monument.
What to Know: Most cruise lines offer variations of the floatplane tour, but we went on this tour and recommend booking directly with Misty Fjords Air if you want this specific excursion. Tickets start at $249 per person and transportation is included.
Those who prefer to visit by boat can book the four-and-a-half-hour excursion with Allen Marine Tours for a chance to see harbor seals and bald eagles.
What to Know: Boat tours can be booked through the cruise lines and are around $200 per person.
For those who would like to do some hiking in the rainforest without anything too strenuous, the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary is an excellent place to get a “taste of the Tongass.” The 40-acre private reserve located in Herring Cove is just eight miles from Ketchikan. On a guided tour with Spirit of Alaska Tours, visitors will walk an easy half-mile trail to soak in the beauty of the forest. They can also visit the aviary exhibits to see bald eagles up close, watch a master totem-pole carver at work and explore an historic Alaskan sawmill.
What to Know: Tours are $89 for adults and $59 for children and include transportation. Be sure to check on their website because they tend to have a $10 off code you can use if you book online.
With Alaska’s average summer water temperatures of 55 degrees, snorkeling isn’t a common excursion, but Snorkel Alaska offers this unique experience. Wiggle into a wetsuit to stay warm and dry, and dip into shallow water along the shoreline. The instructors will take you on a one-hour guided marine life tour where you could see brightly colored sea stars, urchin, kelp, sea cucumbers and jellyfish, to name a few. Bus transportation, hot cocoa and hot showers are provided. Don’t forget to bring a towel, swimsuit or shorts to wear under the wetsuit and an extra pair of socks to wear while snorkeling.
What to Know: Tour prices are $108 person (including transportation) last three hours with at least one hour of snorkeling.
Totem Bight State Historical Park opened in 1938 as a preservation project to salvage the large cedar totem poles of the Tlingit and Haida cultures. When the Natives left their villages, they also left behind their totem poles, and overtime everything was overgrown by the forest and eroded by the weather. The poles have either been restored or duplicated by Tlingit and Haida skilled carvers.
Now visitors can view 14 Native Alaskan totems that tell stories through symbolic images of bears, ravens, wolves and other wildlife. Every detail that went into the pole has a specific meaning, from the placement of the designs to the colors used. There’s also a replica clan house (community house) on the park that visitors can explore.
What to Know: The park is located 10 miles north of town (9883 N. Tongass Highway), and the most economical way to get there is by public bus ($1 each way) via the silver bus line route, which runs every hour. Entrance to the park is free.
Depending on the time of the year, you can reel in salmon, or halibut on a four-hour charter through the Inland Passage with Experience One Charters. They provide all of the gear (including rain gear and warm gloves), and you get to keep your catch and have it shipped home (for an additional charge). There are complimentary snacks served, such as smoked salmon, homemade cookies, fruit, veggies and drinks. They even have fishing licenses and king salmon stamps available for purchase on board in case you didn’t purchase yours ahead of time. Fishing in Alaska is completely different from fishing in the Caribbean. Sure, the Caribbean has turquoise water and warm weather, but Alaska has whales, seals, otters and other marine life. And it’s a different kind of fishing, especially for halibut.
What to Know: You’ll need to book this fishing charter directly through Experience One Charters. The company has the only boat in town that can carry more than six passengers, making this specific tour a great option for families. It costs $190 per person, and you must have a minimum of four in your group. The boat is docked within walking distance of the cruise ships.
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a one-hour live production in which professional white-knuckled lumberjacks compete in 12 challenges of timber sports. These include balancing on a rolling log, wood chopping, speed climbing and axe throwing, just to name a few. Parts of the show might be a little cheesy, but it’s a fun experience for all ages and not something you can do in every cruise port.
What to Know: Tickets are $37 for adults and $18.50 for children; the stadium is an easy walk from the ships. (420 Spruce Mill Way).
Take the wheel of a Tomcar (go-kart designed for rough terrain) and set off on a 10-mile adventure course with Adventure Karts. Spanning over three hours in total, the tour winds along backcountry trails to see the Behm Canal, Tongass National Forest and stunning scenery of the Inside Passage. Embrace the weather — splashing through puddles is part of the fun! The tour includes round-trip transportation, a safety briefing, and an hour and a half in the karts.
What to Know: You can book directly with the company or through your cruise line. We recommend booking through the cruise line because it has designated time slots for cruise passengers, ensuring the tour starts after the ship arrives in port and the cruisers are back at the ship on time. A valid driver’s license is required to drive, and an adult must accompany children under 18. Tours start at $209 per person.
Ketchikan’s iconic image of pastel-colored homes on stilts is the legendary Creek Street, considered the city’s “red-light district” from the 1920s to the 1950s, when fisherman and miners would frequent the brothels. Today, Creek Street is known for shopping, restaurants and Dolly’s House museum, the home of Ketchikan’s most famous “sporting woman.” Visitors can also ride the funicular cable car ($2) to Cape Fox Lodge for sweeping views of the city and surrounding area.
What to Know: Creek Street is within walking distance of the ships.