Known as Alaska’s first city, Ketchikan is the southernmost gateway to Alaska’s famous Indian Passage. Many see the vibrant Ketchikan town as the entrance to the last frontier. This is a popular destination port for many cruises that are set to venture further north, but Ketchikan as proven itself to be a wonderful destination itself. There’s so much nature to explore here and so many adventures to be had; Ketchikan has outgrown its small fishing town vibe. Although it has become touristy in the last few years, it still maintains a small town feel with its friendly communities, genuine history, and rich culture. If Ketchikan, Alaska, happens to be on your bucket list, make sure to check off the 20 best things to do here on your trip.
20. Chief Johnson Totem Pole
As a symbol of and tribute to the Kadjuk House on the Raven Clan, the original Chief Johnson Totem Pole was raised in 1901. There’s not much documentation on the Tlingit Chief Johnson, but we do know that he was a wealthy leader born in a village near Cat Island. Chief Johnson led his people in a migration to Southern Ketchikan in 1887. The totem pole you can visit today is an exact replica of the original, and it shows a lot about the histoy of the area.
19. Knudson Cove Marina
If you belong to a family that loves fishing or if you’re out in Ketchikan for some fishing on your own, the Knudson Cove Marina is the best place for you to be. You can stay at the marina, rent your boat from the marina, and dream about your next adventure here as well. The views from the marina are spectacular, but it’s the expeditions that will make this area the most memorable.
18. Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour
Voted as the Best Alaska Tour, the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour will totally give you Deadliest Catch vibes. Step aboard the incredible and dangerous world of Alaskan crab fishing and leave feeling like a true adventurer. You don’t have to be a fan of the show in order to appreciate this tour. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you really can only get at the this tour. Price is about $209 per adult for 3 hours.
17. Ketchikan Kayak Co.
There’s nothing like experiencing the waters of Ketchikan on kayak. With the help of the Ketchikan Kayak Co., you can get as close to the water as you can. The guided sea kayaking tours here is the best. Everything you could ever need is provided for you. It’s a chance to become one with the water here intimately and quietly. You might get lucky and get up close and personal to some amazing species on the water. The company has been providing tours since 2003 to satisfied customers.
16. Guard Island Lighthouse
A lonely beacon. A stunning view. The Guard Island Lighthouse is a must visit while you’re in Ketchikan. The structure was built in 1903 and was illuminated for the first time in 1904. The lighthouse was occupied by keepers until 1960, when it’s finally decided that the terrain is much to difficult to maintain life on. Today, visitors can still see the lighthouse, learn about its brief history, and dream about what it would be like to live as a keeper here.
15. Scanlon Gallery Arctic Spirit
Some people leave their travels with mugs and magnets as souvenirs; others leave with artwork and local goods. The Scanlon Gallery Arctic Spirit will give you a good sense of what Alaskan art and culture is all about. You can find fantastic artful pieces here made by local artists. These are all unique works and many of them you can’t find outside of Alaska—even outside of Ketchikan. This is one of the best ways to commemorate your visit to Ketchikan. Take a piece of Ketchikan art home with you.
14. Rotary Beach
Also known as buggies beach, Rotary Beach is quiet, serene, and easily accessible. It’s an incredible spot for an afternoon picnic or even a campfire. Although it may not look like what a typical beach comes to mind, Rotary Beach offers a beautiful rocky coastline. It’s the closest beach to Downtown Ketchikan. Though it’s not completely sandy, there are some sandy areas, a swimming area, and designated picnic areas to enjoy. Try to visit Rotary Beach during low tide so you can see all the life teeming in tide pools.
13. Dolly’s House Museum
This may not be the attraction to take the kids to, but it’s something that adults should definitely see. You can call Dolly’s House Museum as the remainder of Ketchikan’s red light district from long ago. Dolly’s House served as a “den of iniquity”, where young men enjoyed hard liquor after a day’s work and female companionship as a night cap. The museum now serves as a history lesson on Ketchikan’s lively past—one that was still going strong up until 1954 when Dolly’s House was shut down for good.
12. Potlatch Totem Park
Learn all about the Tlingit history and culture at the Potlatch Totem Park. This privately owned park highlights this ancient native craft and was built atop and old Tlingit fishing ground. You can find a large clan house here along with smaller clan houses, and each one has a depiction on what life was like for the local tribes back in the days. You’ll also see a totem carving shed, one of the highlights of the park. Potlatch Totem Park sits right next to Totem Bight State Historical Park, but it offers vastly different exhibits and adventures.
11. Salmon Market
Salmon is an important part of Alaskan diet, and here at the Salmon Market you’ll find the most authentic Alaskan food products. Over half a million visit this market annually, which means they’re doing something right. The Salmon Market has a little bit of everything for everyone, but make sure you bring some canned goods home to take to friends and family. They also have a separate souvenir shop, a wildlife eagle show, and live entertainment on their patio.
10. Ketchikan Rainbird Trail
The moderately trafficked Ketchikan Rainbird Trail is about 2.6 miles of forest trails that you can hike on a good day. Hiking is one of the best activities you can do in Ketchikan, and the Rainbird Trail is a favorite among locals and tourists. The moderate trail is out and back, which means you’ll get to see the same trail with two different perspectives. You’ll get about 541 feet of elevation gains. You can hike the trail with a dog, but you’ll need to make sure it’s on a leash.
9. Totem Heritage Center
You might notice how important totems are in Ketchikan heritage because of the many destinations and activities dedicated to seeing them. The Totem Heritage Center is dedicated to Ketchikan’s ancestors, the Tlingit. The Tongass Historical Museum is also part of the museum programs as curated by the Ketchikan Museums.
8. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
On the corner of Mill and Maine, you can learn even more about the history of Ketchikan. All the history lessons everywhere prove to everyone how proud Ketchikan is of its heritage and history. The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center features various exhibits that highlight different topics from the rainforests of Alaska, native traditions in the area, industries that include mining, fishing, timber, tourism, and others. Kids can even participate in a scavenger hunt. There’s a 150-seat movie theater, a bookstore on site, and many other activities.
7. Saxman Native Village
At the Saxman Native Village, you’ll find more things Native Alaskan and Tlingit. Here you’ll get a glimpse of majestic totem poles and just how big they actually are. Totem poles are artworks. They’re carved by hand diligently and each one depicts an animal. Every single totem is a unique piece of art, and every one you see on your trip to Ketchikan should be immortalized in a photo.
6. Tongass National Forest
Being the largest US National Forest, the Tongass National Forest is not something you can visit in one go. At 16.7 million acres, this national forest will need to be revisited again in order to see so much more. It’s a rainforest so remote that you can find many rare species of plants and animals here. Even if you were to just hike a small portion of the forest, you’ll feel a different kind of energy surge into you and refresh you like no other. Maybe it’s all the trees in the forest giving you fresh oxygen to breathe. It’s relaxing and calming. The Tongass National Forest is a must-see.
5. Creek Street
Creek Street is arguably Ketchikan’s most popular attraction. Ketchikan does get visitors from time to time that would rather not participate in any adventurous fares but rather walk the town and absorb all its charming energy. The best place to do this is in Creek Street. It’s a wooden boardwalk built over Ketchikan Creek. This is the place where you’ll find Dolly’s House and the rest of the now closed red light district. Many cruise passengers flock this area when docked, so beware of tourists just like you.
4. Deer Mountain Trail
The more seasoned hikers visiting Ketchikan will get a reward from nature. That reward is in the form of the Deer Mountain Trail, a 6.7 mile heavily trafficked trail. This trail has a high difficulty rating, so make sure you have plenty of hiking experience to get you out and back on this trail safely. The trail is broken up into various sections and is a nice walk during the dry season. The best conditions for the Deer Mountain Trail in Ketchikan is between June and September.
3. Totem Bight State Historical Park
Here’s the other Ketchikan Museum site adjacent to the Potlatch Historical Park. The Totem Bight State Historical Park is in privately-owned land. You’ll see some of the same here—the clan house, the totem poles, and more. But Totem Bight also offers some of its unique sights, exhibits, and attractions. The history is presented here through the importance of the land it sits on. It’s a great tribute to the natives of Ketchikan and an overall great site to visit.
2. Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
Over 40 acres of rainforest land is dedicated here to educate the family in a fun and engaging way. The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary offers a walking tour that will take you through to see all the amazing plants and animals in the area—native or not. On this tour, you’ll also come across wetlands and creeks that are filled with salmon. You might spot eagles, seals, and bears along the way too. If a walking tour is not your fancy, try ziplining, axe throwing, or even try to cross the suspension bridge. There’s something fun for everyone here at the sanctuary, and it’s definitely an all-day affair.
1. Misty Fjords National Monument
Misty Fjords National Monument will give you a glimpse of how Alaska must look like in your head. Snow-capped mountains, breathtaking lake vistas, steep and daunting fjords. There are just some of the sights you’ll see and experience at the Misty Fjords National Monument. This area is the largest wilderness in Alaska’s national forests and the second largest in all of the US. This is a national monument because of the 2.3 million acres of granite monument that’s spread across the area. Some of the most visited areas here include Walker Cove, Rudyerd Bay, and Punchbowl Cove. Prepare a pack to take with you so you can spend as much time as possible exploring the Misty Fjords National Monument.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn