The best Tourist Attractions in Ketchikan, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Ketchikan, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan, one of Alaska's southeast cities, is the first stop for many cruises en route to the northern climates. Staying in Ketchikan itself can be rewarding, but since the city is the gateway to Misty Fjords National Monument, a very beautiful area, it is known as "Yosemite of the North". With steep valleys formed by glaciers and lava flows left behind by volcanic activity, Misty Fjords offers great views of natural formations, all reflected in the tranquil waters of the Pacific Inlets.

1. The best Attractions & Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska

ancient Tlingit fish camp in Ketchikan, Alaska

The site of an ancient Tlingit fish camp, Ketchikan (pop. edging toward 15,000) stretches for about 3 mi/5 km along Revillagigedo Island, but is only a couple of blocks deep (it wraps around the foot of Deer Mountain). Known as the rain capital of North America, the town gets up to 160 in/406 cm of the wet stuff annually. But don’t let the liquid sunshine (as residents prefer to call it) keep you on board the ship Ketchikan is worth exploring in any kind of weather.

 The 2-mi/3-km walking tour is an excellent way to see most of the sights. You don’t have to follow the map, however: With only two stoplights, the town isn’t big enough to get lost in. You might also want to drop by the Southeast Alaska Visitor Center on Main Street, one block inland from the cruise docks. It has lots of information about hiking in the area, as well as several good exhibits on Native traditions and local ecosystems.

Ketchikan Creek in Ketchikan, Alaska

Then head to Ketchikan Creek, the heart of town and its reason for being. When the first intrepid travelers to Alaska discovered its abundant salmon, they parked their boats and opened salmon canneries. (At one time there were 12 canneries in town, shipping two million pounds of salmon a year.)

Westmark Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan, Alaska

Strolling along Creek Street, poking your head in the various shops, is great fun. Or, just hang over the railings and watch the fish and kayakers go by. While you’re on Creek Street, catch the tram up to the Westmark Cape Fox Lodge. Other attractions in town include Whale Park, a tiny park full of flowers that contains the Chief Kyan Totem Pole a replica of a pole first erected in Ketchikan in the 1880s and the Knox Brothers Clock said to be the oldest timepiece in the city.  The museum is in the library building near Park Avenue and Dock Street.

totem column collections  in Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan has one of the largest totem column collections in the world. You'll find them in the city's gardens and on street corners. The largest single collection is less than a mile east of the city in the Center of Totem Heritage, a museum that, indeed, has begun to preserve totems recovered from abandoned original villages. The center contains 33 poles and pole fragments, many of which are more than 100 years old and in various stages of restoration. The center has guides as well as a 15-minute tour. 

Deer Mountain Hatchery in Ketchikan, Alaska

Near the heritage center is the Deer Mountain Hatchery, where biologists raise and release thousands of salmon each year. You can watch from the observation decks and examine displays on the salmon life cycle. 

Saxman Village Group in Ketchikan, Alaska

The Saxman Village Group of 24 totems is planted in the ground. Although most were brought from their original sites in the 1930s, others have been added since. Our favorite is a replica of the Lincoln Totem, which was carved from a picture given to the indigenous people by the first white men to stop at the village.


Lincoln's sculpture in Ketchikan, Alaska

Lincoln's sculpture is a wonderful resemblance, a high hat and everything, except that it looks very short - the sculptors only had a small cup to work from. In addition to the poles, there’s a cedar Beaver Clan House, a replica of an old clan house, and a carving shed (Native artists were working on a canoe and a totem when we were there). Tours include a performance by the Cape Fox Dancers and a play based on a historical legend. All tours are geared for cruise-ship passengers—if you take a taxi instead of the ship-sponsored tour, you may save a little money, but you’ll end up on the same tour as your fellow passengers.

Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska

Totem Bight State Park has 14 columns, most of which are over 50 years old. They are planted in the ground on the side of Deer Mountain overlooking Tongass Narrows. (There’s also a model of a Native village with a clan house.) To get to the site, you’ll walk along a path through the rain forest to a clearing abloom with wildflowers. The totems and the scenery are truly spectacular if you really want to appreciate the view, take along a picnic lunch and spend an hour or more there. Kiosks near poles interpret the carvings. Although there’s no admission charge, you’ll see a box for donations at the park service office.

Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan has plenty to offer those who want to do more than sightsee. The Tongass National Forest is practically in its backyard. Most hiking trails, however, are not accessible from downtown. The exception is the 3-mi/5-km Deer Mountain Trail, which begins at the Totem Heritage Center southeast of the ship dock. The trail is for moderately experienced hikers in other words, it’s steep, so wear your hiking boots (and take water with you). The first overlook is about a mile up you can always turn around there after you’re done gaping at the incredible views.