Ketchikan was our first stop on our cruise to Alaska. After spending one day on the sea, I could hardly wait to set foot on land! I didn’t have big expectations about the small fishing village of Ketchikan. What could be so exciting in this small fishing town of Alaska? Ketchikan may be small, but is in no way dull, somber and boring, like I imagined it. And, to my surprise, there were quite a few things to do in Ketchikan, besides catching salmon.
- Ketchikan, a Great Cruise Ship Stop
- Ketchikan First Impression
- Things to Do in Ketchikan in a Day
Great Cruise Ship Stop
Our cruise trip started in Vancouver aboard Ms. Zaandam, one of Holland America’s ships, and ended in Fairbanks. Holland America is arguably the most historic and tradition-charged cruise line on the seas. Their sophisticated traditions, such as the afternoon tea, the chimes that announce dinner and the extensive art collections attract oder, well-seasoned travelers rather than teens seeking to party the whole night. The cabins and quite luxurious too, but I confess that I’ve put a lot of thought into choosing the cruise cabin.
Ketchikan First Impression
Our first contact with Alaska was in Ketchikan. As the sunlight was melting the fog of the calm, cold morning I was blown away by the beauty unfolding before my eyes. There was majesty, mystery, and serenity. Alaska was somewhat different than what I imagined, but it was so beautiful!
Ketchikan is a very colorful place that reminds me a lot of the Cannery Row in Monterey, California. But unlike sunny Monterey, Ketchikan is famous for “liquid sunshine” and rubber boots!
The weather was nice and clear when we arrived, but on average this area gets only 100 sunny days per year and when it rains it may rain for as long as 31 days in a row. How lucky!
The scenic fishing village of Ketchikan was once considered the salmon capital of the world. The town still has a pretty big fishing industry, although fishing is no longer the town’s main source of income.
Things to Do in Ketchikan in a Day
Ketchikan is small enough to be explored on foot, so the best way to go around is walking. The main attraction in Ketchikan is the historic Creek Street, the former “red light” district of the town. The antique boardwalk lined up with restaurants and souvenir shops was built in 1903 along the shores of Ketchikan Creek.
Walk Around the Waterfront
The waterfront is also the dock where the cruise ships arrive. As you get off the ship you are right in the middle of everything. Take time to walk around the beautiful statue in the middle of the square then continue to the adjacent downtown area.
In downtown is where you’ll find most shops and restaurants. I have to warn you though that shops in Ketchikan are very tempting. From fabulous fur coats, to beautiful art galleries and hand crafted jewelry, you can spend more money than you want here!
Visit a Bordello (Dolly’s House Museum)
One of the most fun things to do in Ketchikan is visit a bordello. Relax! I’m not talking about a real active brothel, but rather a bordello museum. In the mid 1920s there were over 20 bordellos on Creek Street.
During the prohibition, Creek Street was the place to go for a drink. Since Creek Street was built on the water, the bootleggers could smuggle whiskey into the houses of prostitution and the saloons through trapdoors in the floor.
Today, the only reminder of that bygone era is Dolly’s House Museum, the former residence of Dolly Arthur, the infamous madam who once made a career in prostitution here. The museum is crammed with memorabilia of her life. The rooms are the same as when she lived there.
Admire the Native American Totem Poles
Ketchikan is home to the world’s largest collection of Native American totem poles. There are over 80 of them located throughout the town. It seems you can’t go a few blocks without seeing one!
Some of these poles are more than 100 years old and have been salvaged or reconstructed in an effort to preserve them. This collection is one of the things not to be missed when you visit Ketchikan.
Take a Boat Trip Through the Misty Fjords
Sailing through the majestic Misty Fjords is by far the best thing to do in Ketchikan! If you are ever in town, don’t hesitate to explore this national monument.
The Misty Fjords National Monument lies about 22 miles east of Ketchikan and covers over 2 million acres within the Tongass National Forest. As the boat slides silently on the still water, you’ll be surrounded by thick rainforests that grow on nearly vertical slopes. The area is an incredible landscape of water: saltwater passageways, freshwater streams and waterfalls.
The landscape of the Misty Fjords was shaped by glaciers. The sheer granite cliffs are heavily marked by the grinding action of the glaciers that once flowed here. Wildlife in the fjords is very abundant. Chances to see Bald Eagles, mountain goats, or brown bears are big.
Have Lunch at the Fish Pirates Saloon
If you are in Ketchikan for a day, don’t miss eating some of the local specialties. We stumbled upon the Fish Pirates Saloon, one of the popular joints in town. The place was packed with locals during the noon hour, but a guy invited us to join him at his table (not uncommon in Alaska). We had a good lunch and a great conversation!
Go Salmon Fishing With the Locals
Ketchikan is a fisherman’s dream. Every year, huge runs of salmon migrate from the open ocean into the protected waters of the Inside Passage, near Ketchikan. If you have a passionate fisherman, going on a fishing trip is one of the most rewarding things to do in Ketchikan!
With five species of salmon, you’ll have a blast here. My husband caught 4 huge salmon here, and we had them smoked and delivered to California.
A Final Note
Ketchikan is not only a lovely place to visit, but also a photographer’s dream! No matter where you point your camera, you’ll capture an image suitable for framing. There were way many more things to do in Ketchikan and and in this beautiful area, but unfortunately we could only spend a day there.
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