Exploring Ketchikan Beyond the Cruise Ship Dock

Last Updated on June 16, 2024

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

Are you spending a day in Ketchikan on a cruise ship and want to explore the town on your own? Or are you looking for the quickest way to get to Alaska and start exploring? Did you know that Ketchikan is just a 90 minute flight from Seattle? Ketchikan is a wonderful Alaskan town to visit and there’s so much to do! I’m excited to share the best thing to do in Ketchikan as well as how to get around to make the most of your time. Day trip or week long adventure, I’ve got you covered.

Ketchikan is a fantastic place to visit in Alaska without a car, so if you don’t want to drive or deal with the high cost of car rental, this is a good destination for you.

I’ve worked in the Alaska cruise industry since 1998 and I love to help people explore beyond the obvious (or unique takes on the obvious) and really experience a place like Ketchikan, even if it’s a short cruise ship call.

What to Expect 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. 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 time in Ketchikan no matter what happens with the weather.

Listen to my interview with Patti, a 30+ year resident of Ketchikan:

Getting to Ketchikan

There are three ways to get to Ketchikan:

  1. Direct flight from Seattle
  2. On the Alaska Marine Highway from Juneau or Bellingham, WA
  3. On a cruise ship

If you’re traveling on a cruise, most cruises stop in Ketchikan and you usually have the whole day there. If you want to spend more time or are looking for a quick getaway from the West Coast, Ketchikan is a 90 minute non stop flight from Seattle.

If you have time and want to spent it making your way by ferry from Washington state, then the ferry might be for you! The ferry is the first stop after Bellingham going north on the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) and it takes about 36 hours.

Getting around Ketchikan

Ketchikan is an easy place to navigate without a car and I wouldn’t recommend having one for a visitor. You can walk everywhere downtown and there is a surprisingly good bus system for such a small town!

Anywhere you can’t walk to or take the bus to, you can get to in a short taxi ride. You can also do it how I like to and walk all over the place and then once I get tired just take a taxi back to wherever you’re staying or to a ship. Note: no rideshares (Uber/Lyft) in Ketchikan – old school taxis!

If you’re going on a tour, your guide will pick you up at your ship or hotel. If you’re doing a fishing or other boat tour, you’ll probably just meet them at the harbor (unless you’re on a cruise ship, then they’ll pick you up at the dock).

Best Hikes in Ketchikan

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 recommend two hikes in Ketchikan that are relatively close to the cruise ships and are also easy to get to if you’re staying downtown (which I recommend if you’re traveling on your own).

Both of these hikes 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.

Hiking is one of the best ways to get away from busy cruise ship areas and my go to strategy for this.

Looking for more ideas? Check out the National Forest Service Ketchikan hiking guide.

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. New in 2023, the Ketchikan Salmon walk includes the heritage center as well as Ketchikan Creek for salmon runs in a 1.5 mile loop walk.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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

Misty Fjords National Monument

Flighseeing Misty Fjords National Monument
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska

Misty Fjords National Monument is the kind of unending temperate rainforest of towering evergreen trees hugging the jagged rocky shores of fjord after fjord that you come to this part of Alaska to see!

You can visit Misty Fjords by tour boat or on a flightseeing tour. Both are wonderful, though I recommend going for a boat tour since it’s less subject to weather cancellations due to fog and low visibility. Boat tours are also less expensive.

If you enjoy flying or getting the bird’s eye view, it’s definitely worth it to go for a flightseeing tour and catch this incredible landscape from above.

Sportfishing in Ketchikan

Fishing in Ketchikan is absolutely world class, for salmon as well as halibut and other white fish such as Pacific cod. If you’re looking for the best port to do a fishing charter, make it Ketchikan!

If you’re traveling on your own, check out the Ketchikan Visitor’s Bureau recommendations of fishing charters. This is a great way to catch some fish and have a great day on the water without having to worry about figuring out where to go. Most charter companies will clean, freeze and ship your fish home for you for an additional charge which I highly recommend. Totally worth it!

Shopping in Ketchikan

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.

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 have a delicious breakfast sandwich option.
  • Fat Stan’s: Excellent 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: Delicious Filipino food loved by locals!

Related: Best places to eat 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
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!