It’s time for another Southeast Alaska post! Previously we’ve talked about Glacier Bay National Park and the town of Skagway, another popular cruise port where I lived for three years. Today, we’ll focus on a day in Ketchikan, which is very busy with cruise ships in the summer! Although this post is oriented towards a visitor in port for the day on a cruise ship, Ketchikan is a very approachable independent traveler getaway from the Pacific Northwest, being only a 90 minute flight from Seattle! You can also take the ferry there from Bellingham. Ketchikan is a fabulous town to explore, so read on!
What to Expect for a day in Ketchikan
Ketchikan is a busy cruise ship port that can have several large ships in port every day from May through September. Most businesses downtown are oriented towards cruise ship visitors, so if you are not on a cruise ship, keep in mind that many restaurants (not all!) will close around 6pm. Another thing that’s important to know about Ketchikan is that it’s very rainy. Southeast Alaska has been experiencing a drought the past couple of years, but there is still a LOT of rain, even in the summer. Temperatures are generally in the upper 50s and low 60s (though it can get much warmer so be prepared for anything!). Make sure to be prepared with appropriate clothing for rain and be ready to embrace it and you’ll love your day in Ketchikan no matter what happens with the weather.
Best Hikes in Ketchikan close to downtown
I have two hikes to recommend in Ketchikan that are relatively close to the cruise ships. Both have good views of town, one is easier and one is HARD. Be ready with raingear and waterproof hiking shoes or boots since the trail is very likely to be muddy. There are lots of other trail options, but these are most convenient for a person spending a day in Ketchikan, close to the cruise ship docks.
Rainbird Trail (moderate: 1.5 to 3 miles, up to 400 feet of elevation gain)
There are a few different ways to do the Rainbird Trail, depending on how far you want to walk. To walk the entire way from the cruise ships, it’s about three miles with a few hundred feet of elevation gain. The other option is to take the bus or a taxi to the University of Alaska Southeast campus and do the hike on the way back. I would recommend starting on the campus side, but you could do it in either direction. If you took the bus to the starting point, it would be about 1.5 miles to do the hike and then head down to the cruise ship dock.
The trail itself goes through the beautiful Alaskan rainforest, featuring some giant trees and wonderful views of town and all the activity happening in the channel between ships, small boats and seaplanes! In addition, you have a good chance of seeing Sitka black tailed deer along this trail.
If you start at the University (either use google maps to walk there or take the bus-if you take the bus you can ask the driver where to get off), start at the back left of the parking lot, where you’ll see a sign for the trailhead. Head uphill and then you’ll walk along the side of the hill above Ketchikan, seeing some amazing views! You’ll pass one set of stairs, and at the second set of stairs, head down to the road. It’s a lot of stairs down! You can then follow the street down to the cruise ship docks.
Deer Mountain (SUPER HARD: 7 miles, 3000 feet of elevation gain)
This hike is HARD. It’s also AWESOME. I’d suggest not bothering with this hike unless the weather is good enough to see the view, but if it’s a clear day, or at least not a super rainy day, it’s great!
I recommend taking a taxi to the trailhead (though you could walk if you really wanted to, it’s about a mile and a half, uphill the whole way). You can always walk down on the way back (which is what I’ve done). However you get there, you’ll start off hiking on a very briefly flat and then steep forest hike. The trail is in good condition and the forest is beautiful, which is good because you go up and up for quite awhile.
Approximately every mile there’s a view point where you can start to see some awesome views to keep you encouraged! When you reach the top, you’ll have an incredible view to Ketchikan far below as well as the surrounding hills and waterways! Once you’ve taken in the view, head back down the way you came and then get a taxi or walk back to the cruise ship docks.
Native Alaskan History in Ketchikan
Ketchikan is full of Alaska Native culture and history, and is world famous for it’s Totem Poles. Here are just a couple of ways to experience a taste of it
- Totem Heritage Center: Showcases art and culture of the Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshian of Southeast Alaska. You can walk there in about 15 minutes from the cruise ship docks, or you can ride the free shuttle that goes around downtown.
- Saxman Totem Park: This collection of 25 totem poles is stunningly beautiful and you have an opportunity to take a tour to learn even more about the stories they tell. It’s about three miles away from downtown Ketchikan, you can take the bus to get there, or a taxi, or you can walk. It’s a flat, mostly protected, beautiful walk.
Eating and Drinking in Ketchikan
Ketchikan has some great food options! As I mentioned above, if you’re not on a cruise ship, be aware that many restaurants close around 6pm, when the ships leave. Here are a few fabulous places that I have tried and loved. All of these are close to the cruise ship docks
- Alaska Crepe Company: delicious crepes both savory and sweet…mmmm!
- Sweet Mermaids: No website but mouth watering bakery-Alaska does bakeries really well so don’t miss out! They also had a delicious breakfast sandwich option.
- Fat Stan’s: No website but good pizza!
- Annabelle’s: Delicious seafood!
- New York Cafe: Several delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seafood as well as burgers and falafel
- Diaz Cafe: Unfortunately I didn’t get to eat here because it was closed when I tried but I’ve heard from multiple folks about this delicious Filipino food!
Shopping in Ketchikan
I never write about shopping. Mostly because I don’t enjoy shopping and don’t know anything about it. But I do know about shopping in Alaska! In my opinion, Ketchikan has the best gift shops in Alaska, with lots of genuine Native Alaskan art and lots of other locally made items. Creek Street is an interesting historical area, with a history as the red light district and now historic wooden buildings built on stilts above the creek (see photo at the top of the post) where you can watch seals and salmon when they’re running! There are lots of shops on Creek Street, but a few of my favorites are Fish Creek Company, The Captain’s Lady and Soho Coho.
Other Activities in Ketchikan
I have heard excellent things about these two activities, and though I have not personally done either of these, they come highly recommended!
- Totem Bight Historical Park: Another fabulous place with lots of totem poles and opportunities to learn about Alaska Native art and culture. It’s about 10 miles from the docks, you can get there by bus, taxi or tour.
- Sportfishing: Salmon and halibut fishing are excellent near Ketchikan! Check in with the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau for a recommendation for a sportfishing company to take you out and get the chance to fish in Alaska.