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Ketchikan, affectionately known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” is a literally vibrant port city that beckons travelers with its rich history, access to pristine natural beauty, and abundance of thrilling activities – even if you’re short on time. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the lush Tongass National Forest, there is a treasure trove of things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska.
I’ve been to Ketchikan several times in the past few years, mostly as part of cruising through the region. My first trip was back in 2017, when my first Uncruise set out from this Southeast community; I returned in 2022 as part of my Windstar Cruise. Both times, I tried to pack as much into my time in Ketchikan as possible – and want to help you do the same.
The alluring blend of cultural discovery, outdoor adventure, and breathtaking scenery makes Ketchikan an unmissable stop on any Alaskan journey, whether you’re in town for a day in port or have a bit longer to stay. Here are the best things to do in Ketchikan, for travelers of all ages.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Tlingit people. 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.
See the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
If you’ve never seen lumberjacks in action, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a must-see attraction – if a bit cheesy. The show lasts about an hour and shows off various lumberjack competition skills, like the standing block chop, log rolling, and the two-man crosscut saw while having 2 teams compete against one another. You’ll also get a glimpse into the history of Alaska’s timber industry.
Needless to say, seeing the Lumberjack Show is one of the best things to do in Ketchikan if you have kids, as it plays up the competition and thrill of these activities.
Visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is one of the Ketchikan activities if you’re interested in the region’s history, culture, and natural environment. An interactive museum, the displays are highly detailed and organized, demonstrating the complex and colorful history of Alaska in an understandable form that everyone can appreciate.
Visit the Tongass Historical Museum
Located right in downtown Ketchikan, the Tongass Historical Museum is another lovely place to visit. This museum offers a comprehensive look at the history of Ketchikan and the region: how it began with the Tlingit people that first settled the area and evolved to the present day. The museum’s collection of antiquities and artwork is impressive and intriguing. There are exhibits with tons of artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays.
Stroll Along Creek Street
Creek Street is a historic boardwalk that was once the center of Ketchikan’s red-light district. Today, it’s a charming collection of little shops, galleries, and restaurants that offer a glimpse into the town’s colorful past. Dolly’s, the oldest brothel, is fun to see.
Strolling along the boardwalk and admiring the picturesque houses perched on stilts is one of the best Ketchikan things to do when you need a quiet activity, though there will likely be lots of others strolling the street too during busy summer days.
Visit Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
You’re really missing out if you don’t visit the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. This 40-acre wildlife reserve offers visitors a chance to experience the natural beauty of the Tongass National Forest.
Take a guided tour through the rainforest and spot eagles, black bears, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. If you catch the bears in action, it’s just fabulous. They swim into the water, put their snout in it, and boom! They have a salmon in their mouth. Then they take it over to a rock (aka table) and feast. And then repeat over and over.
You can also visit the Alaska Raptor Center, where injured birds of prey are rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
Explore Totem Bight State Historic Park
Totem Bight State Historic Park is one of the best things to do in Ketchikan if you’re looking for something that doesn’t take long. The beautiful park is home to a collection of totem poles and a recreated Native Alaskan village.
You can take a self-guided tour of the park and learn about the traditions and customs of the native tribes. The park also offers stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding islands.
Visit Totem Heritage Center
Small but full of history, the Totem Heritage Center is another great place to learn about Native Alaskan culture. The center is home to a collection of historic totem poles and other artifacts that were collected from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites near Ketchikan. It’ll give you a good insight into the totems, what they mean, why they are built, and all the struggles the native tribes passed through the years up to today.
Ride the Funicular to Cape Fox Lodge
For stunning views of the town and the ocean, take a ride on the Cape Fox Funicular to the Cape Fox Lodge. The ride up the hill is an adventure in itself as the diagonal elevator offers the best views of the Tongass Narrows and the cruise ships. Once at the top, don’t leave without visiting Cape Fox Lodge, a great place to relax and enjoy a meal or a drink.
Walk Married Man’s Trail
Married Man’s Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Ketchikan, welcoming thousands of visitors every year. This historic boardwalk was once the route between Creek Street and the red-light district. Getting where the name comes from, now? Locals named the trail after the men who used it to sneak away from their wives to visit the red-light district. Today, it doesn’t lead to any brothels. The trail goes through the woods and, along the way, you’ll pass by historic homes and gardens.
Visit Saxman Native Village & Totem Park
Happen to be a history buff with an interest in America’s native tribes? Then, the Saxman Native Village & Totem Park is one of the Ketchikan attractions you must visit.
This park, located just south of Ketchikan, offers a glimpse into the history and culture of the Tlingit people through recreated longhouses, totem poles, and artifacts. You can also witness traditional dance performances and participate in interactive exhibits that showcase the Tlingit culture. On specific dates, there’s a master carver demonstrating his craft.
Go Flightseeing at Misty Fjords National Monument
Last but not least, going flightseeing in Misty Fjords is one of the most amazing things to do in Ketchikan.
This wilderness area, located just outside of Ketchikan, is known for its steep fjords, lush rainforest, and pristine lakes. Needless to say, the best way to take it all in is from above. And that’s exactly what the flightseeing tours are all about: experiencing the beauty of Misty Fjords National Monument from a bird’s-eye view. Flightseeing tours are offered by various local operators and can range from 30 minutes to a full day. Some tours even include a landing on a remote island or glacier, allowing you to explore the wilderness on foot.
That’s quite enough to be getting on with, to help you plan your time in Ketchikan. Have any questions about the best things to do in Ketchikan or others I didn’t include on this list? Let me know in the comments below!