There are lots of things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska and this guide will help plan your visit. Ketchikan is usually the first Alaskan port of call on the popular Inside Passage cruise route.
The city sits in the vast wilderness of the largest national forest of the USA. The Tongass National Forest is massive and covers nearly 17 million acres and includes the largest temperate rainforest in the world.
These lands provide a home for an abundance of wildlife such as whales, bears, bald eagles, salmon, and wolves.
Ketchikan is a very walkable town to explore and it is home to the world’s largest totem pole collection.
Poles from the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indigenous people are scattered around the town; in the totem parks and Totem Heritage Centre in Saxman Village.
The Tongass Historical Museum, the SE Alaska Discovery Center and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show are all worth a visit.
The famous historic red light district of Creek Street should not be missed.
Thinking of heading up to Alaska on a cruise? Check out our handy Alaska Cruise Guide to explore the best ports of call.
Welcome to Alaska’s 1st City. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Ketchikan Alaska Excursions
Sightseeing tours in Ketchikan are available to suit all ages and activity levels. We have done shore excursions with Holland America Cruise Lines, used local guides and did our own walking tour to explore the town.
Booking a shore excursion directly aboard your cruise ship, like Holland America, Celebrity, Princess and others offers the quickest and easiest way to tour this area.
Discover the scenic Ketchikan Alaska wilderness. Explore 12 things to do while in port in Ketchikan Alaska. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Can you take a ferry to Ketchikan, Alaska?
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system runs out of Bellingham, Washington and Ketchikan, Alaska is a regional hub.
The ferry covers 3,500 miles along the west coast, serving 30 communities all the way to the Aleutian Chain of Islands.
Can you walk around Ketchikan Alaska?
Yes, absolutely! From the cruise ship terminal there is easy access to walk around the downtown area of Ketchikan, reaching some interesting points of interest including the famous Red Light District of Creek Street.
No need to purchase tours with this option.
Cruise to Alaska – A crab boat in Ketchikan Harbor near the cruise terminal. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Ketchikan is a very walkable town to explore on your own. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Ketchikan is a very walkable town to explore on your own. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Take a tour around Ketchikan. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Things to do in Ketchikan Alaska
1. Saxman Village
Step inside the authentic Beaver Clan House at Saxman Village to learn about Indigenous culture and history. We were lucky enough to experience a performance of traditional Tlingits dancing.
Visit the carving centre to watch world famous master carvers create beautiful works of art.
The Saxman Totem Park displays the largest collection of totem poles in the world.
Performances are accessed through booking a cruise ship excursion or a local tour.
Find out more about the Tlingits on a guided bus and walking tour of the Saxman Village, Ketchikan and try a Tlingit-style snack at the rustic Cape Fox Lodge. Book this tour here.
Saxman Village is two miles south of Ketchikan. Enjoy a walk along the waterfront to the village, take a shuttle bus or an organized tour.
2. Totem Heritage Center
The Totem Museum provides a greater cultural understanding of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.
The totem poles displayed were retrieved in the 1970s from abandoned villages on Tongass Island, Prince of Wales Island and Village Island.
People from these villages moved to Ketchikan for employment and educational opportunities.
The Totem Heritage Center carefully moved this important collection of North Coast poles. Most of the poles are highly weathered but the detail remains.
Totem poles tell a story of a clan’s history or significant event with each symbol having a meaning that has verbally been passed down through the generations.
Sadly many of these stories have been lost through the years.
3. Tongass Historical Museum
Find out about Ketchikan’s past, present and future through a series of exhibits looking at its heritage and history.
Discover why aviation plays a significant role in the area.
See a virtual exhibit.
Directional sign in downtown Ketchikan. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
4. Creek Street Red Light District
The famous red light district of Creek Street is within walking distance from the main cruise ship dock.
In 1903, all prostitution in Ketchikan was banned to this side of the creek. By 1927, 33 houses were reported to be offering services.
Prostitution was done openly here up until 1954. After this date, many of the working women went underground, retired or moved to another area to ply their trade.
Historic Creek Street in Ketchikan is not to be missed. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Cruise to Alaska – visit Creek Street in Ketchikan. Fun for all ages. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
A beaver swims in the water as viewed from Creek Street. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
5. Dolly’s House at Creek Street
Come to Dolly’s House for a tour to hear the story about the last legally operating madam of Ketchikan, Dolly Arthur.
Number 24 Creek Street was built in 1905 and became Dolly’s home, where she ran her business from 1919 to the 1940s.
Dolly continued to live here until 1973 when she moved into a care facility.
Inside Dolly’s House on Creek Street. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Visit Dolly’s House on Creek Street, one of the famous brothels to explore. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
6. Discover Woolly Mammoth Fossils
Arctic woolly mammoths roamed northern Alaska more than 13,000 years ago. Their fossilized remains are found in the permafrost.
The large curved tusks of the woolly mammoth are ivory and is Alaska’s state fossil.
Jewelry and other items made from the tusks, hair, bone and teeth are found in Creek Street shops.
Alaska State Fossil – Woolly Mammoth ivory for sale at a gift shop on Creek Street. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
7. Ketchikan Hidden Gem – Pictish symbols found in Saxman Totem Park
This is a hidden gem that nobody will tell you about. Watch the video to learn more. Did Vikings come to Alaska?
We did not have time to search for this interesting spot near the Saxman Village.
8. Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is always a high energy event.
Watch athletic lumberjacks competing against each other; climbing trees, log rolling, wielding axes and chainsaws.
This skills competition commemorates the great Alaskan spirit and the rich forestry and logging history of the area.
The one hour event is in a mostly covered heated facility within walking distance of the cruise ship terminal. There are several shows daily.
9. Totem Bright State Historical Park
Totem Bright State Historical Park has 14 poles and a Clan House representing the Haida and Tlingit culture.
The park covers 11 acres and is set in the temperate rainforest by the ocean. Download a park brochure and guide to the 14 poles.
It is a 12-minute drive from the cruise ship terminal. The park is served by an hourly bus service.
One of the many totem poles in the parks around Ketchikan Alaska. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
10. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
The Southwestern Alaska Discovery Center is one block from the cruise ship terminal in downtown Ketchikan.
There are displays of the history and diversity of the Tongass National Forest along with a recreated Indigenous fishing village.
A fish drying display in the museum in Ketchikan. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
11. Wildlife and Whale Watching
Wildlife and whale watching tours are available of the harbor and area. One-hour tours offer a chance to view bald eagles,humpback whales and harbor seals.
Sometimes whales come right into Ketchikan’s harbor and can be spotted from the walkway.
There are lots of great organized adventure tours to participate in. Get out into the rainforest, ride an ATV, zipline, watch for black bears, indulge in a crab feast and more.
Float planes wait in the Ketchikan harbor. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
12. Misty Fjord National Monument
Misty Fjord is located 22 miles from Ketchikan. The spectacular beauty of the area’s wilderness can be explored by air or sea, to experience wildlife, waterfalls and vertical cliffs rising 3,000 feet.
Quick Facts about Ketchikan Alaska
- The town of Ketichikan sits on Revillagigedo Island on the Inside Passage 90 miles north of Prince George, BC.
- Ketichikan has the world’s largest totem pole collection.
- The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest of the USA. Download a brochure.
- The world’s largest temperate rainforest is in the Tongass National Forest.
Find out more about cruising in Eastern Canada and New England.
Explore things to do in Skagway, Alaska.
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