Ketchikan: a Cruiser’s Guide to Alaska’s Gateway City
Popularly known as Alaska’s Gateway City, Ketchikan is the first town you’ll stop at while cruising north up the Last Frontier’s Inside Passage. Ketchikan’s roots are firmly planted in the salmon and timber industries, and that heritage still plays a vital role in the city’s current community narrative. Visitors could spend months in the Gateway City and still not discover all that Ketchikan has to offer, but when you’re seeing the city during a cruise ship stop, you’ll want to see the area’s leading lights.
The following suggestions are designed to help you make the most of your time in Ketchikan.
Where to Eat in Ketchikan
If you cruise to Ketchikan, make sure you bring an appetite. Another of the town’s well-earned nicknames is “The Salmon Capital of the World,” so don’t miss Annabelle’s Famous Keg and Chowder House. Conveniently located across the street from the cruise ship docks in the historic Gilmore Hotel, Annabelle’s serves lunch and dinner daily from a menu featuring smoked salmon chowder, freshly caught grilled salmon, halibut, crab, and house-made desserts.
Other notable Ketchikan eateries include The Alaska Fish House, New York Cafe, and the iconic Landing Hotel. If you want a quick, casual bite and a beverage in a classic commercial fishermen hangout, head to the Arctic Bar.
Guided Tours in Ketchikan Worth Taking
Some tours are better than others. Here’s Ketchikan’s best:
1. Misty Fjords National Monument
Just 22 miles due east of Ketchikan, Misty Fjords can only be accessed by air or by water. Flightseeing tours provide a popular way to get a raven’s eye view of what many consider to be the emerald heart of the Tongass National Forest. You’ll see crystal clear glacial lakes, free-flowing streams, and dramatic waterfalls all ringed by a verdant conifer rain forest. Wildlife is abundant, and typical sightings include moose, black and brown bear, Dahl sheep, mountain goats, bald eagles, ravens, hummingbirds, orcas, trumpeter swans, otters, seals, and sea lions.
2. Saxman Native Village Totem Park
You can get to Saxman via public transportation, but cruise ship passengers may be better off opting for a guided tour. Every totem tells a story, and your guide will share the tale of each one as you absorb its mystery and wonder. You’ll travel the two-and-a-half miles via an old-school trolley as well, and you might even be able to see local carvers at work creating the next generation of totems.
3. Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
An old-growth rainforest situated just outside Ketchikan proper provides an unforgettable nature experience designed to showcase SE Alaska’s wildlife, vegetation, and Native culture. You’ll see bears, eagles, salmon streams, one of the region’s first lumber mills, and an authentic totem park.
If guided tours aren’t for you, Ketchikan offers a compact cityscape that’s just right for free-range exploring. If you’re feeling energetic and are up for a short hike, the trailhead to Deer Mountain is within easy distance of the cruise ship dock. Otherwise, just wander around and see where your whims take you. One place they’re sure to meander to is historic Creek Street.
Ketchikan’s rough-and-tumble frontier history comes to life when you stroll down the boardwalk of historic Creek Street. It’s a particularly good choice if you want a free-range experience in Ketchikan instead of taking a guided tour. Creek Street got its start as the Gateway City’s red-light district, and it also served as the hub of the fledgling city’s illicit bootleg trade. As its name implies, it’s situated right next to a creek — and if you take your cruise in late summer or early autumn, you’ll understand why they call Ketchikan the Salmon Capital of the World.
Today’s Creek Street highlights include galleries, boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, and eateries. Don’t miss Soho Coho Art Gallery, owned and operated by Alaska’s unofficial artist laureate, Ray Troll, or Dolly’s House Museum for an authentic look at what a turn-of-the-century bordello looked like in America’s Last Frontier.
Be sure to bring sturdy footwear, light rain gear, and a willingness to be awed. Whether you choose to take guided tours, find your own way around town, or opt for a combination of the two, Ketchikan is sure to leave you wanting more! Let us know what you thought of your cruise to Ketchikan in the comments below!