Ketchikan Alaska is known for being Alaska’s “first city” and the salmon capital of the world. Located on the southernmost tip of Alaska, it is commonly the first stop for many cruise ships and the start to the famous “Inside Passage“. Ketchikan is a beautiful island town that is only accessible by plane or boat, just a quick 2 hour flight from Seattle. Read on for the best Ketchikan tours and the top 11 things to do.
The rugged and rural town comes to life during summers with incredible boat tours, salmon fishing, hiking, and more! Since Ketchikan is an island, many wildlife can be seen on land and in the surrounding ocean/ inlet.
From whales, seals and salmon, to black bears and bald eagles. You can purchase tours and experiences or enjoy the free things to do around the island.
I didn’t know much about Ketchikan until my sister moved there for a summer job working at the George Inlet Lodge. Alaska was always on the top of my bucket list for travel, so I planned a trip to visit her in June.
Before you make travel plans, be sure to check flights about 3-4 months in advance. Prices from Phoenix can be as low as $330 (fantastic prices for AZ to AK).
Ketchikan proved to be a great summer vacation spot and with the advice from locals, my sister, and lots of research, we put together our top 11 things to do in Ketchikan Alaska.
For a complete list of things to do in Ketchikan, check out the link here.
Best Ketchikan Tours & Top 11 Things to Do
(topics with an *= free options and $, $$= cost)
- Explore Creek Street*
- Salmon Fishing $$
- Kayak on the Inlet $
- Bear Watch at Herring Cove*
- Eat at the Alaska Fish House $
- Sunset Hike Above the Coast*
- Totem Poles*/$
- Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show $
- Crab Feast & Cruise at George Inlet Lodge $$
- Backcountry Jeep Safari $$
- Misty Fjords National Monument $$
1. Explore Creek Street
A great first stop in Ketchikan, Creek Street is a boardwalk of bright colored buildings over the famous Ketchikan Creek.
Ketchikan Creek is an ideal location for spawning salmon that migrate from the ocean late July through September. The Tlingit people settled the area and named the town “Ketchikan” or “thundering wings of an eagle”. Learn more about the town’s rich history and purchase unique gifts as you walk down the wooden path.
2. Salmon Fishing
Known for being the “Salmon Capital of the World”, there are many top notch Ketchikan tours & companies for fishing.
Clover Pass Resort and Silverking Lodge are great options for both guided fishing and solo fishing. They are located about 20 miles from downtown, and you can fish for King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Pink Salmon, Halibut, and Rockfish. While fishing, take a moment to look up in the trees, because you’re more than likely to spot a handful of Bald Eagles waiting for their own catch!
If charters aren’t your cup of tea, you can rent your own gear and fish from various beaches. Then you can watch experienced fishermen around you locate the schools of fish is truly amazing. But be sure to get your fishing license in town before going out on your own.
To learn more click here
3. Kayak on the Inlet
Kayaking across the inlet was by far one of my favorite things to do on the trip, and certainly a less expensive option to get out on the water. Because my sister worked at the lodge, we were able to use their kayaks. But there are many options for renting kayaks.
After you’ve rented a kayak, you can choose between going along the shore or braving the deeper ocean to cross the inlet. We ended up doing both and found ourselves kayaking for 2-3 hours. As a result, we saw lots of different creatures and got to see the entire width of the inlet.
Another great part about kayaking was finding huge colorful starfish ranging in pinks, oranges and purples along the rocks. As well as tons of little transparent jellifish! The day before we saw a humpback whale making its way through the inlet, and if you’re lucky you might also see sperm whales, orcas, or even a blue whale.
However, please be careful and aware of your surroundings, I don’t recommend swimming in these frigid waters. Take in the raw feeling of Alaska and the surrounding ocean and respect the power of nature.
4. Bear Watch at Herring Cove
Since Ketchikan is a secluded, more remote island town, there are actually no grizzly bears (or moose) in Ketchikan, only black bears. And a great spot to view the bears, Herring Cove brings many bears to the river in search of salmon.
After you reach Herrington Cove, you can park your car on the other side of the river to bear watch for free. When we arrived, there weren’t any bears in the area, but we only had to wait a few minutes before one emerged from the tree line, making its way towards the river.
If you would like to be out on the boardwalk, you will need to purchase a tour with Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary. Guides will walk you safely through the forest and teach you about the surrounding animals and their habitat.
5. Eat at Alaska Fish House
My first recommendation for fantastic seafood is located in Downtown Ketchikan at the Alaska Fish House.
After a short walk from the cruise ship docks, you can enjoy delicious Dungeness crab, seafood plates, fish tacos, smoked salmon chowder, and amazing fish and chips. This is a great cheaper option for trying fresh seafood, especially if you aren’t planning on booking the crab feast.
Similarly to having great food, the Alaska Fish House provides excels at providing a cozy rustic atmosphere, live music, and historic views of the cannery/marina.
6. Sunset Hike on Rainbird Trail
Located near the cruise ship docks, the Rainbird Trail is a beautiful climb that showcases out of this world views of the inlet below.
In addition to being easily accessible, the trail is a short 2.1 mile out and back trail. Since it begins near the road and steadily climbs up, you are able to see the docks and cruise ships shrink in sight. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but be sure to keep them on a leash.
Also, it is wise to take bear spray with you when you go outdoors in Alaska, and know how to use it too.
It is always better to be safe than sorry in the Alaskan Wilderness. I also recommend timing the hike for sunset, but keep in mind that Ketchikan summers have longer days and shorter nights, so it may be closer to 9pm for sunset.
Check out other great trails: Best Trails in Ketchikan
7. Totem Poles
With over 80 Native American totem poles, Ketchikan Alaska features the world’s largest totem pole collection. Besides the sheer number of poles, most of the totem poles are downtown which allows you to see them with a free walking tour.
Likewise, you can also visit the many different museums located around Ketchikan.
You can see the ancient poles at the Totem Heritage Center and the Clans totem circle at Cape Fox. Furthermore, the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is a great option to learn about the land and native founders.
To learn more about the totem poles, click here.
8. Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
After touring downtown, you can check out the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show for a fun and entertaining way to experience Ketchikan’s logging heritage.
The show has thrilling displays of strength and agility from local lumberjacks as they compete in numerous logging competitions.
“The Jacks” or elite Lumberjack competitors as they are also known, put on a skillful and comedy filled show that entertains all ages.
Purchase tickets here: Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
9. Crab Feast & Cruise
Ketchikan tours can be found many places on the island. A great starting point is at the docks where the cruise ships arrive. Most companies have representatives at the docks waiting to tell you all about their unique excursions!
A company I personally reccomend is Experience Alaska. They offer premier Alaska dining and crabbing experiences and work closely with the historic George Inlet Lodge.
As was mentioned above, my sister worked with George Inlet Lodge for the summer, so staying with her allowed me to experience the lodge in an intimate way. The lodge was incredibly charming and held the essence of historic Alaska from within. The staff work hard to provide top of the line service and entertainment.
Seafood has been part of Ketchikan’s story from the very beginning and is simply something you should experience while visiting.
I highly recommend tasting the delicious Alaskan crab by booking a Crab Feast or a Cruise & Crabbing Adventure. The Crab Feast includes fresh Dungeness crab and a fantastic cheesecake/blueberry dessert.
The hosts teach you how to properly crack and eat the crab legs, while entertaining you with local tales and the beloved music of a local, Hobo Jim. After about 2.5 hours the feast concludes and the lodge provides transportation to and from the downtown docks.
Cruise & Crabbing Adventure
The Cruise and Crabbing Adventure takes you out on a boat to experience the raw nature of Alaska.
A highlight of the trip was capturing some incredible photos of bald eagles diving for fish, and seeing more of the surrounding area. On the tour you will get to see people pulling up the crab pots of huge Dungeness Crab, slow down and breathe in the fresh sea air, and learn about the historic inside passage.
This option also includes the Crab Feast at the end, therefore, you can still enjoy the taste of Dungeness Crab! Then, the tour will conclude after about 4 hours.
Visit Experience Alaska to book a tour!
10. Backcountry Jeep Tours
Since you may have a short amount of time (if you are from the cruise ships), the jeep tour is a great way to cover a lot of land, and see what Ketchikan has to offer!
The Backcountry Jeep Tours put you in the driver’s seat for an adventure through the Tongass National Forest. However, you won’t be alone, in other jeeps will be your guides to lead you through the forest of Sitka spruce for an awesome off-road adventure.
Then, it gets even better! After some time on the trail, help paddle the 37ft canoe when you reach Lake Harriet Hunt, and see the scenic Alaskan rainforest from the cool waters.
Following the canoe ride, you will get to cook and eat a snack of smoked salmon, clam chowder and assorted rolls with wilderness jams.
The tour ends with a nature walk before returning to the cruise docks.
11. Misty Fjords National Monument
The Misty Fjords National Monument is part of the Tongass National Forest and was established in the late 1970’s.
Located just 22 miles from Ketchikan, the emboding sea cliffs and steep fjords create a picturesque landscape that is a wonder to see. Believed to have formed over 17,000 years ago, the fjords were once covered in ice and as the ice melted and broke apart, it cut cliff walls that stand thousands of feet. Because of near constant precipitation, the fjords get their name from a mist that travels through the rugged cliffside.
To experience the fjords, you can take a boat or purchase a tour on a seaplane.
The seaplane can provide you a unique experience flying through the “Grand Canyon of the North” with an hour and a half tour. Book a flight with Misty Fjords Air to have this one of a kind experience.
Furthermore, a boat charter can take you through the fjords, and you can experience the vastness of them from down below. Check the out Visit Ketchikan Alaska website for more touring options.
Thank you for reading and we hope you’ve enjoyed the Ketchikan Tours and 11 Top Things to Do! Have time to do more? Check out more than the top 11 things to do and in Ketchikan, Alaska by clicking here. Ready for a new adventure? Discover other unforgettable destinations here.