For many Alaska visitors each year, Ketchikan is their first experience of Alaska: it’s the first port of call for all northbound Alaska cruises. Ketchikan is also a uniquely Alaskan destination with a strong Alaska Native peoples’ heritage and plenty of modern quirks. There are so many interesting Ketchikan facts about this community in The Last Frontier.
If you’re curious about Ketchikan before visiting – or just want to learn more about Alaska – this post will teach you a series of Ketchikan facts. You’ll learn about Ketchikan’s history, geography, and what life is like in Alaska’s southernmost town.
Featured photo courtesy of Harold Litwiler via Flickr
History Facts about Ketchikan
Ketchikan has a fascinating history due to its proximity to British Columbia and the Alaska Native cultures that lived there for centuries before Western prospectors and settlers arrived. If you’re curious to learn a little bit about Ketchikan’s history, these facts will give you the basics.
- Ketchikan is named after the creek that runs through town. The name “Ketchikan” comes from the Tlingit name for the creek, Kitschk-hin.
- Ketchikan Creek is a productive habitat for salmon. Cape Fox Tlingit Alaska Native peoples came to the area that would become Ketchikan for centuries to fish the waterway.
- The abundant fish (and timber resources) also attracted non-Native settlers to the area. In 1885, Mike Martin bought 160 acres from Chief Kyan. This later became the Township of Ketchikan.
- Ketchikan was incorporated on August 25, 1900. The initial population was just 800 residents.
- The elevated boardwalk street that runs along Ketchikan Creek – now called Creek Street – was Ketchikan’s red-light district. Between 1903 and 1953, there were 30 brothels along Ketchikan’s now colorful and Instagram-worthy Creek Street.
- The fishing industry has always been important for Ketchikan. By 1936, there were seven canneries operating in Ketchikan. These produced 1.5 million cases of salmon. Today, there are only a few remaining.
Ketchikan Geography Facts
Ketchikan has an interesting geography, like many communities in this part of Alaska. Boats and planes are an important part of getting around, and make it easier to explore the incredible natural wonders near Ketchikan too.
- Ketchikan is located 679 miles north of Seattle, Washington. That makes Ketchikan closer to Seattle than Anchorage!
- Ketchikan is Alaska’s most southeastern city. It is usually the first port call on northbound Alaska cruises (and the last one on southbound cruises).
- Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island, called Revilla Island by locals. Revilla Island is the 12th largest in the United States and was named by Captain George Vancouver in 1793.
- Revilla Island (and Ketchikan) is located in Alaska’s “Inside Passage.” This is the primary coastal waterway route for cruise ships and ferries through Southeast Alaska.
- You have to take a ferry to reach the Ketchikan Airport: the Tongass Narrows separate Revilla Island from Gravina Island (where the airport is located).
- Ketchikan is surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the largest National Forest in the U.S., at 17 million acres in size.
- Misty Fjords National Monument is another natural wonder near Ketchikan. Glaciers carved this 2.2 million-acre area of fjords over the millennia.
Facts about Life in Ketchikan
Like so many Alaskan communities, life is interesting in Ketchikan. Here are some facts about life in Ketchikan that honor Native Alaskan heritage and the astonishing amount of precipitation here too.
- 19% of Ketchikan residents are of Tlingit, Haida, and/or Tsimshian descent. (Learn more about these Alaska Native people in the Alaska travel glossary.)
- Ketchikan has a temperate rainforest climate, due to its proximity to the Tongass National Forest.
- The hottest temperature ever recorded in Ketchikan was 96°F in 1913, and the coldest ever was -8°F in 1916. It hasn’t been hotter than the 90 since 1915!
- Ketchikan averages 153 inches of rain per year – and it rains on an average of 234 days per year. That’s almost thirteen feet of rainfall!
- When the last cruise ship departs Ketchikan each September, most of the buildings downtown close for the winter.
- Several of Ketchikan’s streets are actually car-free wooden walkways. The most famous is Creek Street (which you’ll remember was once Ketchikan’s red-light district).
- Ketchikan used to hold the Guinness World Record for the “Largest Rain Boot Race.” 1,976 people (mostly in Xtratufs) participated. (The record is now held by Killarney, Ireland.)
Other Curious Ketchikan Facts
When these researching Ketchikan facts, I found a few that didn’t quite fit in the other categories I’ve shared so far. But I thought they were so interesting that I had to include them anyway!
- Ketchikan is home to the highest zip code in the U.S.: 99950.
- Ketchikan is home to the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles. Most are located in Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park, Potlatch Park, and the Totem Heritage Center, and you can see some throughout the town.
- Speaking of totem poles in town, the totem pole in the American Passport is located in Ketchikan.
- The Alaska Ferry – also called the Alaska Marine Highway – has its headquarters in Ketchikan.
- Ketchikan High School students practice football on a gravel field. That makes them pretty darn tough!
- The speed limit in Ketchikan is 20 miles per hour; even police, ambulance, and fire trucks must obey this!
- Ketchikan receives almost 1 million visitors each year. Most arrive by cruise ship, but you can also catch daily flights from Seattle in the Lower 48 on Alaska Airlines (and Delta during the summer months).
Do you know any other facts about Ketchikan? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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