Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “first city” due to its location at the southern tip of the Inside Passage. It is the first city you reach as you cruise north, and for many visitors, their first introduction to the absolute beauty of Alaska.
Chances are good that if you spend enough time in Ketchikan you will happen across some rain. The average annual rainfall is over 160 inches. Rain in Ketchikan has been known top 200 inches. Rain or shine, the beauty of Ketchikan’s setting is immediately apparent. The highest recorded temperature was 89° F back in June 1958 and the lowest recorded temperature was −1° F in December 1964.
The city of Ketchikan was first an unincorporated village called Kichikan back in 1890 with a whopping 40 residents. It was incorporated in 1900.
The city is backed by forested slopes and distinctively shaped Deer Mountain and faces a wide channel called the Tongass Narrows. This bustling waterway hums with float planes, fishing boats, ferries and barges hauling passengers and all types of cargo to other Inside Passage ports.
Ketchikan is centered on Tongass Avenue and it stretches 31 miles long. When visiting you can clearly see that, on one side of the avenue, many businesses and homes are built on stilts out over the water. On the other side the businesses and stores cling to the steep slopes. They have winding wooden staircases leading to their doors. When the tide comes in the water can rise quickly and it is quite an amazing site to see.
Founded as a salmon cannery site in 1886, Ketchikan’s livelihood was initially fishing and for years the city was known as the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World.” It was founded near the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. Abundant fish and lumber resources helped to attract the cities first residents. Gold and copper were discovered in the city in the late 1890’s. When cruise ships started plying the waters of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan naturally became a popular port of call. Many cruise ships visit this majestic city during cruising season.
There are many things to do in Ketchikan. It is popular vacation destination in Alaska. People visit mostly during the Spring, Summer and Falls months.
Ketchikan has an International Airport. This airport has non-stop flights from other Alaskan cities and seasonal service from other destinations in the United States.
Ketchikan also has ferry service from other cities in Alaska.
Things to Do
The downtown area is the main commercial district. It contains several cruise ship docks and historic Creek Street, a boardwalk road built over Ketchikan Creek on pilings. The city center is best viewed from Ketchikan’s Waterfront Promenade. From here you will be able to sit on whale-tail benches and take in the beautiful views.
RVers often depart the Alaska Marine Highway and head north to a handful of campgrounds including Settlers Cove State Recreation Area at the end of the road, 18 miles north of Ketchikan. This location is a very scenic area and sits among a lush rainforest overlooking a coastal area. To the south, South Tongass Avenue leads to totems and hiking trails.
Ketchikan also serves as the departure point for side trips to Prince of Wales Island, Annette Island, numerous bear viewing sites and the area’s most impressive attraction – Misty Fiords National Monument. This 3,570-square-mile wilderness is a natural mosaic of sea cliffs, steep fjords and rock walls jutting 3,000 feet straight out of the ocean. We took a flight plane to land on the water at Misty Fjords. So peaceful.
Ketchikan was a magical destination. My kids (ok, they are pretty grown) went on a Zipline and Rope Course excursion. Only the two of them were on the course which allowed them full access. The scenery was spectacular. One day in Ketchikan was not enough. My son would tell you Alaska was his best trip ever and he has been with us all over the world.
Other Excursion Recommendations
We sailed on this trip with a group of 36 people. We rarely travel alone. Some other excursions the group did and loved are as follows:
Eagle Island Sea Kayaking – kayak trip around Tongass National Forest to see wildlife like whales, and eagles. Bring a camera.
Off-road Adventure Tour – this utility vehicle tour is a two seater that lets you drive through beautiful scenery to see the wildlife.
Eagle Sanctuary and Rainforest Wildlife Center – Walking tour of this wildlife sanctuary.
This trip was an amazing experience. We went in July and the weather was perfect. I highly recommend taking a cruise and going early to see more of Alaska. Ketchikan was my favorite city. The float plane is a must on this trip. To land on the water was an amazing experience. Float planes are something you need to experience at least once in your life. Let me know about your Alaskan experiences.