Things to do in Ketchikan Alaska

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Several brightly colored historic wooden buildings are built on wooden piers above the water. The water is calm and the buildings are reflected in it. There are evergreen trees behind the buildings on the hill
Historic Creek Street is a unique must visit in Ketchikan

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

Several mountain islands covered in Evergreen trees are surrounded by blue water and framed in the foreground by evergreen trees on a hike in Ketchikan Alaska
Expansive views from Deer Mountain

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)

on a sunny day in Ketchikan Alaska, a trail goes along the side of the hill. A wooden fence is along the trail and it is green with shrubs and trees. Below is a busy waterway with boats and many forested islands.
View from the Rainbird Trail

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.

A large old growth tree fills the frame. It has a bulging section on the side. It is surrounded by a forest canopy
Huge trees to delight hikers along the Rainbird 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)

A sunny day in Ketchikan Alaska. The town is seen far below a local mountain, Deer mountain. In the foreground are evergreen trees framing the town with three cruise ships far below. Forested hillsides are in the background
View of the cruise ship berths downtown from Deer mountain

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.

Sunlight filters through a forest high on Deer mountain in Ketchikan Alaska.
Beautiful forest provides a distraction on the tough climb up Deer Mountain

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.

At the end of the day in Ketchikan Alaska, the harbor is quiet. There is a metal ramp going to a dock with colorful historic buildings in the background. There is an evergreen forest behind the houses and behind that the top of Deer Mountain rises above down
After you hike Deer Mountain, you can wow yourself at your accomplishment while having dinner or a stroll in town

Native Alaskan History in Ketchikan

An Alaska Native house screen is in the center with gravel around it and stairs leading to the door. it is surrounded by evergreen trees
A house screen at Saxman Totem Park

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

A close up of a totem pole whose top and bottom go beyond the frame. In the background is a tall tree
One of the many totem poles at Saxman Totem Park
  • 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.
A sunset behind forested hills along the water. In the foreground are three pilings in the water
Sunset walking along the road between Saxman and downtown Ketchikan. Much of the route has a path separated from the road

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.
Several brightly colored historic wooden buildings are built on wooden piers above the water. The water is calm and the buildings are reflected in it. There are evergreen trees behind the buildings on the hill
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.