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The 9 Best Ketchikan Shore Excursions for Your Alaska Cruise

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Alaska’s first city, Ketchikan, is surprisingly colorful. The buildings and waterfront are a mosaic of color: greens, reds, purples, and yellows are punctuated with totem poles (including the one in the U.S. passport!) and fishing industry memorabilia. Like most ports in the Last Frontier, Ketchikan has character – as do the Ketchikan shore excursions you can book during your Alaska cruise.

I had the chance to visit Ketchikan as part of an Alaska cruise in 2017 – my unforgettable UnCruise experience. The cruise started out from Ketchikan, so I had the chance to explore town and get to know a bit more about what this small Alaskan city has to offer.

Based on my experience, I’ve scoured the list of cruise excursions offered by the big cruise companies, and put together my own list of the best Alaska cruise excursions in Ketchikan. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions. For each excursion, I list which cruise companies offer that one – so you can see whether your cruise is on the list. 

These Ketchikan shore excursions sample the menu: history, culture, wildlife, scenery, food, and adventure. There’s something for everyone in Ketchikan, and this list will have at least one cruise excursion you’re keen to book in Ketchikan.

While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.

This post was originally published in April 2020, and was updated in May 2021.

Planning an Alaska Cruise in 2021

With the passage of The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Alaska cruise lines are planning to resume cruises as early as mid-July 2021. Here are the cruise lines and their planned first sailings:

Each of these companies requires proof of vaccination, and most make stops at Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and some also stop at Icy Point Strait and visit Glacier Bay National Park. You will see these companies listed below on each excursion they offer (as well as others who will resume cruises in 2022).

The Best Excursions in Ketchikan for Your Alaska Cruise

Ketchikan Cruise Excursions

On my visit to Ketchikan, it poured buckets pretty much the whole day. After all Ketchikan receives precipitation 234 days per year on average! I didn’t let that dampen my spirits though, and neither should you. Even if it’s raining, these are the best cruise excursions in Ketchikan.

1. Saxman Native Village & Lumberjack Show Combo

Ketchikan Saxman Native Village

Who Offers This Ketchikan Shore Excursion? Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

Like Skagway further up Alaska’s Inside Passage, Ketchikan is one of the major destinations for learning about state history. And the best Alaska cruise excursion in town lets you experience two of the major chapters in Ketchikan’s history: Alaska Native heritage and the industrial history that built the modern town.

There are several tours that include a visit to Saxman Native Village or the Lumberjack Show along with another activity – but this combo tour that has both is the one I recommend because it packs that one-two punch in a single tour.

2. Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer

Who Offers This Shore Excursion in Ketchikan? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

If learning about Alaska history isn’t your top priority on your cruise, I’m guessing scenery and wildlife are close to the top of the list. In that case, you should definitely consider booking this excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument.

Large cruise ships can’t enter Misty Fjords National Monument, so you’ll spend this 4.5-5 hour excursion aboard a smaller boat, exploring the deep fjord waterways looking for wildlife like bears and eagles. Having cruised in Misty Fjords on my first Alaska cruise, I highly recommend this one! (Note: this excursion doesn’t include kayaking like in my photo above, but I wanted to use that to show you the scenery!)

3. Lighthouse, Totems & Eagles Excursion

UnCruise - Ketchikan Totem Poles

Who Offers This Ketchikan Cruise Excursion? Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

If the history-focused excursion I put as #1 and the scenery/wildlife one I put as #2 both sound good, consider this: this 3+ hour excursion allows you to board a shore cruise to Totem Bight State Park past Guard Island Lighthouse – Alaska Native history mixed with modern development. Along the way, you can keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagles that nest in the shoreline trees.

4. Rainforest Exploration & Raptor Experience

Who Offers This Ketchikan Shore Excursion? Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

Level up your eagle experience in Ketchikan with this excursion – it includes a guided walk through the Tongass National Rainforest (yes, Alaska has a rainforest!) and a visit to a predatory bird sanctuary. There you’ll meet some of Alaska’s most badass birds: eagles, hawks, and owls too.

5. Wildlife Safari & Beach Bonfire

Ketchikan Beach Bonfire

Who Offers This Shore Excursion in Ketchikan? Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

When I review cruise excursions in each of the Alaska ports, I always look for a great one for families. While most Alaska cruisers are more mature travelers ticking it off their bucket list, there is an increasing percentage of families helping young travelers gain an appreciation for the beauty of our world.

That’s why this cruise excursion makes my list. This 3.5- to 4-hour tour includes a short cruise where you can try to spot harbor seals, bears, eagles, and other wildlife. You’ll then enjoy a wildfire with snacks ashore on Annette Island, including reindeer sausage and s’mores. Like I said: perfect for all ages!

6. Coastal Cruise, Oyster Farm & Tasting

Who Offers This Ketchikan Cruise Excursion? Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess.

Foodie travelers – I haven’t forgotten you! This is the first of three Ketchikan shore excursions I think are great if you love local food; this one takes the top place because it’s exclusive and indulgent. I mean, oysters are somehow always magically indulgent despite being a simple shellfish.

On this 3-hour excursion, you’ll travel to Hump Island Oyster & Kelp Farm. There, you’ll learn about oyster farming – and kelp farming, which is apparently a thing! You’ll get a hands-on experience with Alaskan sealife, then go farm-to-table (or is it ‘hand-to-table’) with an oyster and kelp tasting. It literally doesn’t get fresher or more local than that!

7. Mountain Point Snorkeling Adventure

Ketchikan Cruise Excursions - Snorkeling - Curtis & Renee via Flickr
Photo credit: Curtis & Renee via Flickr

Who Offers This Ketchikan Shore Excursion? Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

Adventure travelers might wonder what Ketchikan has to offer – but this excursion makes up for all that. (This is the one I would book if I were planning my Alaska cruise today!)

In this Ketchikan cruise excursion, you’ll put on a 7mm dry suit, hat, boot, and gloves, and slip into the frigid Alaskan water. Underwater, you’ll get to see and hold some of the sea life that live in the waterways around Ketchikan. Afterward, you’ll warm up with hot beverages before returning to the ship.

8. Ketchikan Pub Crawl

Who Offers This Shore Excursion in Ketchikan? Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess.

If your definition of ‘foodie’ really translates as ‘craft beer,’ then you’ll want to sidle up to the bar for this excursion. During a 90-minute tour of downtown Ketchikan, you’ll participate in a pub crawl through local watering holes, learning about the town’s colorful history long Creek Street.

9. Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tou

Ketchikan Cruise Excursions - Crabbing - Eric Heath via Flickr
Photo credit: Eric Heath via Flickr

Who Offers This Ketchikan Cruise Excursion? Carnival, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

If you love Deadliest Catch, this final excursion on my list is a much calmer version of that. During this 3.5-hour excursion, you’ll board the Aleutian Ballad – one of the ships from the TV show! – and cruise out to learn about crabbing and long-line fishing. It will give you an idea of one of the toughest jobs in Alaska.

There you have it – my take on the best Alaska shore excursions in Ketchikan. Have other questions about visiting Ketchikan, taking an Alaska cruise, or choosing Alaska cruise excursions? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!

Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

2 Comments

  • Caroline

    My husband and I are planning a cruise in Alaska 2022. I don’t mind booking excursions through the NCL ship but in some cases I’d prefer to book through a local group. I really want to do the flightseeing over Glacier Bay NP out of Icy Straight but its very costly at $729. Can you recommend a local tour group that can offer a safe and fun experience? And also in Juneau, we’d like to do the Heli/dogsled/glacier tour and again on the cruise ship its $590… can you recommend a local outfitter where it may be a little bit less costly? Thanks!

    • Valerie

      Thanks for reading, Caroline! All of the excursions are offered by local operators – so if you google the name of the excursion and the town name, you can probably find the 1-2 operators who offer that tour directly.

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