Ketchikan, known as Alaska’s “first city”, is aptly named due to its location at the southernmost entrance of the Inside Passage. This makes Ketchikan a popular stop on most Alaskan cruises.
Ketchikan has an average yearly rainfall of 10-13 feet, so odds are you will get a little wet during your visit. But, don’t let the weather get in the way of your Alaskan adventure. There are many great things to do at this popular port of call. If you are taking a cruise to Alaska this year, then be sure to check out our top things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a cruise.
Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a Cruise (2021)
Soar over the Misty Fjords
Given the weather and location, it is no surprise that you will find beautiful landscapes including the Misty Fjords National Park, sometimes called “The Grand Canyon of the North”. This 2.3 million acre National Forest is best viewed by seaplane. That is why a floatplane ride over the Misty Fjords ranks number one on our list of the top things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a cruise.
Soar high above this majestic area to capture a bird’s eye view of the snow-capped mountains, blue water lakes, glacial carvings, and flowing waterfalls. Everyone gets a window view in these intimate aircrafts. Complete narration of the history and geography is also provided during your aerial journey through the remote wilderness of Alaska. From the dramatic water take-off, to the amazing panoramic aerial vistas, and actually landing in the fjords, this will be an experience that you will never forget.
If the thrill of a floatplane ride does not appeal to you, there are several boat tours in the area as well.
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Marvel at the Totem Poles
If you are looking to keep your feet on solid ground, Ketchikan also offers a rich cultural history, including over 80 Native American totem poles. You can take a self-guided walking tour through the city to discover them all, including the replica of the Chief Johnson Memorial Totem pole. For history lovers, the Totem Heritage Center is also only a 15 minute walk from Downtown (or free shuttle), where you can view preserved totem poles that are over 150 years old.
If you don’t mind venturing a little beyond the city, you can see modern day totem pole craftsmen at a few different attractions. Saxman Native Village is located about 3 miles from Downtown. You can reach this village via an organized shore excursion or public transportation. Here, you will get to explore one of the largest gatherings of totem poles in the world. Explore these intricate masterpieces while learning the stories and legends behind these works of art. Many excursions also include a Native dance show.
Potlatch Totem Park and Totem Bight State Park are other popular totem attractions, located next door to each other and about 10 miles outside of Ketchikan. Most major cruise lines offer excursions to these popular sites. While visiting, you will see authentic totem poles, tribal houses, and a carving center with demonstration. Be sure to stop at the gift shop before exiting to pick up your very own made in Alaska carving.
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Go Bear Watching
Alaska has the highest concentration of black (and brown) bears, so it’s no wonder many cruise passengers seek out bear viewing tours. Luckily, there are several opportunities to see bears in Alaska’s southeastern cruise ports.
Most cruise lines offer several different bear watching tours. They are usually either walking tours, boat cruises, or floatplane adventures. Each of these tours have their pros and cons. Often times, these tours can also be combined with several other activities for longer excursions depending on your time in port.
The three most common areas for bear watching in Ketchikan are Neets Bay, Herring Cove, and Traitors Cove/Margaret Creek. We have taken a Neets Bay Bear Cruise and a Black Bear, Wildlife, and Nature Walk tour (to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary at Herring Cove) during two separate visits to Ketchikan. Of the two excursions, we would recommend the walking tour as it allows for the potential for more up-close encounters.
Explore Creek Street
If you are up for a little risqué fun, make your way to Creek Street, the former red light district and main industry during the gold rush times, where “both men and salmon came upstream to spawn”. This historic boardwalk is now a popular spot for locally owned stores and restaurants and to watch the salmon spawn upstream during the summer months.
Be sure to also check out Dolly’s House. 24 Creek Street was the former residence of Dolly Arthur, one of the more famous madams, who simply stated, “I realized I could make a lot more money from the attentions of men than I could waiting tables.” Dolly’s and the entire Creek Street “red light district” prospered from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, but is now a landmark and museum. Today, you can relive the era during the daytime hours with a historic video and tour of the house. You can view all the antiques and old photographs within the home.
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Take in a Lumberjack Show
If you are looking for something a bit more family friendly, there is the Great Alaskan Lumberjack show. Located within a short walking distance from the cruise ship pier, this highly entertaining show is definitely another one of the top things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a cruise.
This rowdy Alaskan adventure pits 2 teams of lumberjacks against each other as they compete in a variety of timber sport events. Watch these athletes partake in a one hour competition including chopping, sawing, tree climbing, axe throwing, and log rolling events. Root for your team with a big “YoHo”! This show not only includes rigor and skill but a bit of comedy too, so it is something the whole family will enjoy.
This event takes place in a covered and heated pavilion to shelter you from the elements of this rainy city. You can choose to take in the event on your own or couple it with another exciting adventure. The best part of The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is that you can even meet the lumberjacks and take photos with them after the show. Who wouldn’t want to share this experience on social media? See our review here.
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Take a Fishing Adventure
If you are looking for something unique during your visit to Ketchikan, then an Alaska Crab Fisherman’s Tour should be on your list. You will get to experience what it’s like to be an Alaskan fisherman as you become part of the crew onboard the Aleutian Ballad. That’s right, you will be on one of the fishing vessels featured in the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch television show. Of course, your boat will remain in calm waters, so no need to worry about the rough waves or seasickness.
The Aleutian Ballad docks right near the cruise ships and is offered as a featured excursion from most major cruise lines. During your journey to the fishing grounds, you will learn a bit of the vessel’s history including her time spent crab fishing on the notorious Bering Sea. Also, be on the lookout for wildlife.
Once the ship reaches the fishing area, the crew will haul a catch onto the ship, so you can see, takes pictures, and even interact with the crabs, octopuses, and other sea creatures. This is truly one Alaskan adventure that you don’t want to miss.
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Do you agree with our list of the Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska on a cruise? What are your favorite activities when visiting this popular port of call? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences while visiting Alaska!