Ketchikan, Alaska is the southern-most city in Southeastern Alaska.
Location / Coordinates: Ketchikan, Alaska is 235 miles south of Juneau and 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, BC. Located on the southwest coast of Revillagigedo (pronounced rug-vee-uh-guh-GAY-doh) Island opposite the Gravina Island along the Inside Passage in the Tongass National Forest. Ketchikan is part of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
Coordinates: Latitude N55.34 & Longitude W131.65
Population / Elevation: Ketchikan, Alaska sets at sea level and has 15,000 residents.
Description: An island community on the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeastern Alaska. Ketchikan sets on the shores of the Tongass Narrows at the site of a fish camp established by the Tlingit Indians. Very scenic, Ketchikan’s waterfront draws the most tourists. Colorful turn-of-the-century clapboard buildings line the boardwalks—all of it built upon wooded pilings. If those buildings could only talk, what stories they could tell!
What to do there: Ketchikan, Alaska has some of the world’s prettiest scenery. Enjoy it from a kayak, a bicycle, snorkeling, a boat, or on a hike. Fishermen can go it alone or hire a sportfishing charter. Rent a jeep, mountain buggy, or even a Harley hog for the day and don’t forget your camera!
For those who enjoy a slower pace and peace and quiet, pick up a Ketchikan city map from the Visitors Bureau and walk around town. Learn about the history and the culture of Ketchikan.
Historic Creek Street, formerly a red-light district, is a stroll down memory lane on pedestrian-only wooden boardwalks. In its heyday, Creek Street was called “the only place in the world where both fish and fishermen went up the creek to spawn.” Creek Street is actually not a street at all but a series of boardwalks built on pilings. Quaint turn-of-the-century buildings in this area now house art galleries, gift shops, and trendy restaurants.
The pale green house with red trim is Dolly’s House Museum. Number 24 Creek Street is quite popular with tourists. It was Ketchikan’s most infamous brothels in its day. Operated by Madam Dolly Arthur. “Big Dolly” plied her trade in Ketchikan for more than 30 years. The government closed down the bawdy houses in 1953. Dolly lived in Ketchikan until her death in 1975. Today, Dolly’s House looks much like it did, complete with fixtures, furnishings and an “Employment Application” posted in the window. It is open only during the summer season. Closed October through April, when, as the sign on the door says, “Dolly is at the Policeman’s Ball.”
Ketchikan is full of photo opportunities. Make sure you see the George Inlet Cannery site to take a look at the industry that put Ketchikan on the map in the early 1900s.
The native cultural attractions like the Totem Heritage Center and the Eagle Center are a great way to spend an afternoon. Walk among the famous collection of totem poles in Totem Bight State Park. Afterwards head over to the Saxman Native Village. This tour shows the World’s largest standing collection of totem poles. Legends of the totem poles and descriptions of how they were made are told, and Master Carvers are in residence and can be photographed carving these traditional pieces of art and culture.
The great outdoors experience can be had in Ketchikan. Fly, cruise, or hike Ketchikan’s natural surroundings. Misty Fjords National Monument after mid-July is a good time to view bears. Rotary Beach, Refuge Cove State Park, and Settler’s Cove State Park are good places for picnics, beach combing, and maybe even a little swimming. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, birds and marine life. Many places in and around Ketchikan rent kayaks, bikes, jeeps, and there are also tours to all of these areas as well.
If you are planning to spend a few days in Ketchikan, check out the three-day packages at the local lodges and resorts. Many of them include sportfishing, meals, and accommodations.
The wildlife in and around Ketchikan includes Bald Eagles, Hummingbirds, Brown Bears (also known as Grizzly Bears), Sitka Black-tailed Deer, Mountain Goats, Moose, Wolves and more. The beaches often have Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters on or near them, Orca and Humpback Whales can often been seen in the distance.
The Alaska Hummingbird Festival is held in April.
Saturday at the Plaza is held on the first Saturday of every month. You can find arts and crafts, food, entertainment and a flea market.
The Annual King Salmon Derby begins the end of May. This is a world-class fishing even for locals and tourists alike.
The Ketchikan Timber Carnival, an annual event for over 30 years, happens over the 4th of July. Chopping, sawing, and tree-climbing events top the list of things to experience.
August is the time for the annual Gigglefeet Dance Festival. It celebrates the joy and diversity of dance and dancers. After an afternoon of dancing, top it off with an evening of beer tasting at the Summer Beer Festival.
For those of you who like a more rigorous outing, the Pennock Island Swim Challenge is for you. It’s an 8-mile swim race around Pennock Island. It’s held in August.
The Winter Arts Fair happens in November, just in time for the holidays. This is the biggest shopping weekend of the year for Ketchikan.
History: Mining and fishing brought settlers to Ketchikan in the mid 1800s. Ketchikan derived its name from the Tlingit Indian word “Kitschk-Hin” meaning the creek of the “thundering wings of an eagle.”
The first salmon cannery was built in 1886. The Tongass Packing Company operated until it burned in 1889. Over the years a dozen other canneries were built in Ketchikan, earning it the title “Salmon Capital of the World.” By the 1940s over-fishing had depleted the salmon. Today Ketchikan produces more than half of the Pink Salmon harvested in Alaska.
Timber was Ketchikan’s next big industry. The first sawmill was built in 1898 at Dolomi on Prince of Wales Island for the Dolomi Mine. It was later dismantled and moved to Ketchikan. A pulp mill was built just northwest of Ketchikan in 1953 at Ward Cove.
Today, tourism is king in Ketchikan. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city and the first port of call on the Alaska Marine Highway’s northbound Inside Passage route out of Bellingham, Washington.
How to get there: Getting to Ketchikan is easy. Alaska Airlines flies to Ketchikan daily from Anchorag,Juneau, and Seattle and northern Alaskan communities. Float planes, and charter services are also available.
During the summer season, cruise liners stop in Ketchikan regularly. The Alaska Marine Highway also offers weekly departures from Bellingham to Kethcikan. If you have an RV or a vehicle, the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry system is a pleasant way to travel to Ketchikan and the rest of the Inside Passage.
Facilities: When you’re hungry for fresh seafood, Ketchikan is the place to be. Alaska is famous for fresh seafood—salmon, halibut, shrimp, crab, oysters and clams. You’ll find many, if not most, establishments serve these tasty catches in a variety of ways, smokes, sautéed, broiled, battered, and baked. Of course, you’ll also find pizza, burgers, and fries in Ketchikan.
Shopping in Ketchikan is a wonderful experience. To make sure you’re buying items made in Alaska, look for the Made in Alaska label, a white polarbear with a little black bear. This symbol indicates that a resident artist, craftsperson or manufacturer mad the item in Alaska. The Silver Hand label, a silver handprint with “Authentic Native Handicraft From Alaska,” guarantees that the item on which it appears was handcrafted by an Alaskan Native. Wherever possible, art or craft items bearing the emblem have been made with Alaskan materials.
Ketchikan shops offer authentic Alaskan Native art, totem carvings and masks, cedar-bark baskets, ivory and jade carvings. Gold jewelry, glassware, Russian arts and crafts can be found here as well. Looking for a souvenir for the kids back home? Everyone loves salmon, and smoked salmon comes in all sizes, ready to ship home.
Spend the night in Ketchikan at one of the many accommodations in town. There are motels, Bed & Breakfasts, and hostels. There are three public campgrounds in and around Ketchikan. Make your reservations early.
RV info: There are RV parks in Ketchikan with metered hookups, showers, and laundry facilities.