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:
- Royal Caribbean – July 19
- Celebrity Cruises – July 23
- Holland America – July 24
- Princess Cruises – July 25
- Carnival Cruises – July 27
- Norwegian Cruise Line – August 7
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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