A small town with many monikers, it is hard to place Ketchikan in a nutshell. As a small town located along the Tongass Narrows at the foot of Deer Mountain in Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan’s thriving industry centers on salmon and now, tourism. Commercial fishing accounts for 30% of the local economy, while the cruise-ship travels accounts for most of the cash flows into the town since the mid- 1990s when the city transformed itself into a cruise-ship capital. For this, Ketchikan transformed from the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World” to the “First City” in a suave manner. You can join in the bandwagon and be one of the 650,000 tourists who alights the shores of Ketchikan from May to October, and experience occasional drizzles every now and then. Ketchikan is one of the rainiest cities in North America with its location in the vast coastal rainforest, receiving 162 inches of average annual rainfall. So you can either bring out your umbrellas to keep yourself dry, or just go with the flow like most residents do: walk in the rain and go about their everyday life as if it’s not raining. In Ketchikan, you can bring out the inner child in you, and tour the city under the rain. Really, it is one of the exhilarating ways to enjoy the trip.
Geographically speaking, it is also called as the “Thin City” just stretching about 90 miles long but not more than 10 blocks wide, with the town stretching along the waterfront to the north and south of downtown. Meanwhile, its historic downtown is relatively small and easily accessible by foot from most tourist points, including the massive downtown dock where the ships alights passengers. You can easily go to the tourist spots, or simply retreat to the calm, quiet sides of the town in an instant.
Here, you can visit the Tongass Historical Museum, which shares a building with a private library. It houses a collection of local and historical artifacts that deals with Ketchikan’s fishing industry. You should also go to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, which greets you with three large totems in the lobby center, together with suspended silver salmons from the ceiling that will lead you to a beautifully re-created rainforest. Meanwhile, its exhibit hall upstairs features Southeast Alaska’s ecosystems and its native traditions. In addition, you can also have a sneak peek of the wildlife, with a spotting scope to see mountain goats on Deer Mountain and underwater cameras in Ketchikan Creek that allows you to watch thousands of salmon seemingly struggling to swim upstream. Another museum that should not be missed is the Totem Heritage Center, which is a 15-minute walk east from the cruise-ship docks. Here, 17 totems on display show the reverence of the Alaskan Natives. You can visit the area alongside with the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery & Eagle Center, for a combined fee, which is linked via bridge from the center. In the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery & Eagle Center, you will witness about 350,000 salmons of all kinds being released into the nearby stream, most especially in July. The center is also home for injured eagles, which nursed them back to health before they were released in the wild.
You can also do a number of outdoor activities, like exploring the surrounding area of the hillsides, most especially the Scenic Creek Street in the downtown, which is popular among visitors. The street is also filled with small souvenir shops. If you are planning for an extended stay, do explore the steep rainy forests, deep-water channels, secluded bays, as well as hundreds of small islands in the surrounding area.
How to get around within Ketchikan
Most of the spots in downtown are accessible by foot. You can also make use of the town’s bus service which operates three bus lines, notably red, green, and blue. The blue line provides access to Totem Bight State Park, approximately 10 miles north of town. It is then connected to the red line, which provides access to the Fawn Mountain School, approximately 4.5 miles south of town. You can also hail a taxi and direct the driver to go anywhere in the town, even if it’s an outlying area.
How to get there
Being relatively a “Thin City,” the airport is situated in another nearby island. Ketchikan is served daily by jet service from Seattle and Juneau and visitors arriving through this service may either choose to take a short ferry ride or water taxi. Visitors can also take a shuttle service that will take them to the nearby Gravina Island, which will transport them to a terminal 1.5 miles north of the downtown. Visitors who will opt for the latter can make use of the payphones available on the airport to call for pick-up.
However, the most convenient way to reach Ketchikan is through the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry, as well as the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which serves Ketchikan, Metlakatla, and other communities on Prince of Wales Island.
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