The main attraction that draws thousands of tourists each year is a chance to see a glacier up close. Glacier ice calving is an unbelievable sight – both fascinating to watch and to hear. Calving is when large chunks of ice break away from the glacier and tumble into the ocean. If you’re venturing into Alaska and only have a little amount of time, cruise lines are a great and economical way to travel. Most people travel with them along the Inside Passage, where the ship stops at several ports: Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. In the port towns, like Ketchikan, you can either arrange tours through the cruise lines or catch a tour guide on the dock at arrival. If you plan your own tour, make sure you’re back on time to leave though!
There are three different native groups with strong ancestral roots to this land as they have been here for generations upon generations. The three groups are Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. It wasn’t until the 1800s that the first Europeans came to settle in the area. In fact, the name Ketchikan originates from the Tlingit nation: Kitschk-hin, meaning “thundering wings of an eagle.” Anyone who is inspired by the native traditions and way of life will love Ketchikan. This town has the most totem poles standing compared to other port cities, some hundreds of years old, while others are only replicas (new), but still impressive.
The town of Ketchikan is concentrated into a few streets of shops, artists workshops, restaurants, and pubs. If you can, take the time to search out the local goods that are handmade. Many of the native elders are trying to pass along their crafts to the younger generations to preserve the traditions, and nothing is better than meeting the local artist of the piece you’ve just bought.
Places to Visit in Ketchikan
- Totem Bight State Historical Park
- Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
- Misty Fjords National Monument
- Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
- Tongass Historical Museum
- Saxman Native Village
Unique Things to See and Do in Ketchikan
- Hike around Ward Lake
- Walk the Rainbird Trail above the city
- Shop along Fish Creek
- Watch local artist carve or blow glass
- Buy some local salmon
- Watch the bears at Herring Cove
- Find “the house of ill repute”
Major Attractions in Ketchikan
Ketchikan is notoriously known as being the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World.” Ketchikan is only a small little town, but during the first world war the cannery had a significant role in supplying the world protein (which at the time was in high demand). The George Inlet Cannery opened in 1913 and stayed fully operational until 1958. Now it is a retired cannery that offers tours and a glimpse into what the mighty rivers of Alaska once produced.
Humpback Whales – Bubble Net Fishing
Another major attraction in Ketchikan is whale watching, but not just any whale watching – bubble net fishing! This is when a pod of humpback whales create a net of bubbles around a school of fish (usually herring) by circling them all together. Once the net has captured them, one whale makes the call and they all surface with mouths wide open and capture the fish! This is one of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see. The best time to see humpback whales in Ketchikan is during the months of April and May.
The best time for bear watching is during the salmon spawning season when the rivers are abundant with fish and the bears feast on them for hours. Tour companies can take you by float plane up to Neets Bay, where you can get a close look at the bears fishing and eating. Or you can go by boat up the river, but the difference between the two types of tours is the flight also offers an observation deck view at the hatchery where you can stand on the shore and watch the bears dine. Another area is the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory which offers an observation deck in the rainforest.
Getting Around Ketchikan
After arriving at the port area of Ketchikan, you can tour the town on foot. The town has one main road, 48km long (30 miles), and most of the tourist areas are along this section. The downtown area is walkable and the they have free shuttle buses. If you need to take a public bus into the residential areas, the bus only runs once an hour. If you’re travelling off the beaten path, taking a taxi might be your best and quickest option. If you’re travelling to other areas off the coast, visit the tourist centre for information on air taxis, which is a popular mode of transportation. The other option is taking Alaska’s Inter-Island Ferry which travels up along the coast to Hollis.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Ketchikan
The most popular time of year is during summer when all the cruise lines travel up the Inside Passage. Depending on weather conditions, the cruise lines typically operate from May to October, which means there are plenty of tour companies operating at full capacity during these months. During the height of summer, the daylight hours increase to 19 hours per day! The temperature can range anywhere from 15˚C to 32˚C. It does rain most of the year so be sure to bring a raincoat and some warm clothing for windy days. Most people plan their vacations by the best times for wildlife viewing. This can include bubble net feeding for the Humpback Whale, eagles feasting, and bears fishing and foraging.
Ready to plan your visit to Ketchikan? Check out these popular guides and trips.