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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’ve visited Ketchikan twice in recent years: once as part of an Alaska cruise in 2017 – my unforgettable UnCruise experience – and again as a port stop on my Windstar cruise in 2022. The UnCruise also began in Ketchikan, so I had the chance to explore town on my own 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.
On my first 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. Read on to discover each one and pick your Ketchikan cruise excursion!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Tlingit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in April 2020, and was updated most recently in December 2023.
The Best Ketchikan Cruise Excursions
Given how many cruise companies offer a number of interesting and unique shore excursions in Ketchikan, it was hard to choose which ones to recommend. But, I’ve weighed the options and consider these to be the bestKetchikan cruise excursions. Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Ketchikan shore excursions (128) on every company (8) that has any cruise(s) that stop there in 2024
- I looked at the number of cruise companies offering that excursion this year.
- I force-ranked the excursions by “uniqueness” with no ties.
- I calculated what the cruise should cost with my “Money-to-Time” calculation and then gave a bonus (or penalty) based on the actual excursion price.
- Finally, I added up the metrics to come up with a final score.
- To break ties, I used the “uniqueness” score, since I want to encourage you to try new things in Alaska!
For 2024, here’s my list of the best Ketchikan excursions:
|# of Cruises
|Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer
|Saxman Native Village & Lumberjack Show
|Lighthouse, Totems & Eagles Excursion
|Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
|Totem Bight State Park & Lumberjack Show
|Ketchikan Pub Crawl
|Rainforest Canoe & Nature Trail
|Wildlife Safari & Beach Bonfire
|Eagle Islands Sea Kayak
|Local Brews & Waterfront Cruise
As you can see, the top options for cruise excursions in Ketchikan have changed a lot recently; almost all of the shore excursions I recommend are new on the list this year – but there are a few great ones that have held on to the list in 2024.
For the rest of this post, I’ll highlight five of the excursions on this table and which type of Alaska traveler I think each is best for. Let’s go!
🥾 Best for Adventure Travelers: Eagle Islands Sea Kayak
As I was reviewing all of the Ketchikan cruise excursions available for 2024, I noticed a new one that I haven’t in years past: one that takes you out for a kayaking adventure at Eagle Islands north of Ketchikan. Along the way, you’ll keep an eye out for marine life, sea and land birds, and more. This is a great option for adventurers who want to be active during their cruise.
After taking a motorcoach to the put-in cove and a quick safety demo, you’ll hop into a tandem kayak (solo travelers or odd-numbered groups may be paired up) and – with your guide – paddle out the Eagle Islands in Clover Pass in Tongass National Forest; along the way, you can look for eagles, sea otters, and other coastal critters.
🗿 Best for Culture Vultures: Saxman Native Village & Lumberjack Show
While I think we can agree that the artificial showmanship of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is definitely a stretch from “authentic,” I think this tour combining a cultural experience at the Saxman Native Village does a nice job of giving you a great historic overview with a decent commitment to accuracy and authenticity.
(A good alternative shore excursion for native culture is the “Totem Bight State Park & Lumberjack Show” but it too has the Lumberjack Show, obviously.)
In any case, this combo tour is popular – and for good reason; it’s long been the #1 tour and only got displaced because Misty Fjords is just so great. If you’re keen to learn about Ketchikan and Southeast Alaskan history and culture, this is the one for you!
👨👩👧👦 Best for Families: Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
Now, I might not think the Lumberjack Show is the most authentic experience, but it is great for kids – keeping the whole family happy on your Alaska family cruise is hard, but this one does the trick!
I did the Lumberjack Show during one of my recent visits and it really is fun if you’re a fan of these kinds of experiences; the performers do a great job of getting the crowd engaged, playing up the risk, and having a good time.
Best of all, this tour is pretty short – just over an hour – meaning you’ll still have time to walk around, taking in sights like colorful Creek Street and souvenir shopping on your way back to the ship.
🦪 Best for Foodies: Ketchikan Pub Crawl
If your definition of “foodie” also includes “drinkie,” 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 along Creek Street.
Having recently sampled some of the craft beer and spirits being made in Ketchikan, I can say with confidence that this tour is delicious – though I wasn’t able to do this specific tour due to it only being offered certain days of the week when larger ships are in port.
🐋 Best for Wildlife Seekers: 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 – if you’re really lucky, you might spot whales on the way there or back. Having cruised in Misty Fjords on my first Alaska cruise, I highly recommend this one!
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 below.
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