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Ketchikan Cruise Port: How To Plan The Perfect Visit

Welcome to Ketchikan, the first city of Alaska, renowned for being the Salmon Capital of the World. The Ketchikan cruise port is a popular stop for guests cruising to the Last Frontier. 

Located in southeast Alaska, this city is close to Canada, so it’s often the first port of call for Alaskan itineraries.

During my many cruises, we’ve explored museums, learned about crab fishing, watched the salmon run in Ketchikan Creek, and enjoyed various shore excursions.

Downtown Ketchikan

Of the Alaskan ports, Ketchikan is quite developed and tourism focused. However, it’s retained its original charm. 

One of the highlights of any Ketchikan visit is indulging in the freshest salmon, delicious chowder, and mouthwatering crab legs. These culinary delights are best enjoyed at one of the local seafood joints.

Arriving At Ketchikan Cruise Port

When arriving in Ketchikan, vessels dock in either downtown or Ward Cove, 7 miles north of downtown. Norwegian Cruise Lines own Ward Cove, so their ships and smaller lines like Regent and Oceania use this exclusive terminal.

Ward Cove has two berths, and its cruise line provides complimentary shuttles to downtown, which takes 15 to 20 minutes. Some cruise guests prefer other cruise lines when factoring in travel time and lineups to get a shuttle since it cuts into a port day schedule.

Those not on a Norwegian cruise will dock at the downtown terminal, which can accommodate four vessels simultaneously. Berths 1 to 4 are numbered from east to west, with Berth 2 closest to the Ketchikan Visitor Bureau.

Ships docked in Ketchikan cruise port
Ships docked in Ketchikan cruise port

A complimentary shuttle circles the downtown area and provides pickup and drop off for cruise guests docked at Berth 4.

The Visitor Bureau has maps and a laughable liquid sunshine gauge outside. As one of the wettest cities in the United States, remember to pack a raincoat and compact umbrella before disembarking your ship. Nearby, a colorful welcome sign hangs over Mission Street.

Both cruise ports are on Revillagigedo Island and are separated from mainland Alaska by the Behm Canal.

Getting Around Ketchikan

Ketchikan is a small city that we’ve explored many times on foot. However, public transportation, such as buses and taxis, are available at the port.

Additionally, rental car services are available for those wanting to explore the surrounding areas independently. Or the Ketchikan Trolley provides a tour of downtown.

Ketchikan cruise port map
Ketchikan cruise port map

We stopped at the waterfront visitor bureau to get a Ketchikan map, which gave us a self-guided walk from the cruise area.

Exploring Ketchikan

We’ve been to Ketchikan many times, and each visit has allowed us to explore different aspects of the city. For those traveling on a budget, this is a great port destination to enjoy on foot and forego an expensive shore excursion. 

There are many things to see and do, from dining on seafood and shopping for Alaskan souvenirs to hiking and exploring the local museums. Here are some of our favorite activities:

Shopping And Dining

When shopping for Alaska souvenirs, we found the best deals and selections in Ketchikan over the other ports. Head to the Tongass Trading Company at 301 Front Street for t-shirts, hats, and Alaska-inspired gifts.

Across the street, Julie’s Fine Jewelry & Gifts (224 Front Street) offers a beautiful selection of jewelry, Ulu knives, sculptures, and artwork created by local artists. I particularly liked their mammoth ivory jewelry pieces and humpback whale sculptures.

Ketchikan welcome sign
Ketchikan welcome sign

Food is a big part of Ketchikan, and we found many great places to indulge.  Annabelle’s Famous Keg and Chowder House has a selection of chowders. Go for the smoked salmon chowder, packed with delicious flavor.

Our choice for halibut and chips is the Alaska Fish House. While we had to wait for a seat, the food was worth the wait.

For crab legs, head to Ketchikan Crab & Go for their Red King Crab. While their menu is small, their focus is crab. Try the crab-loaded fries for something different.

Creek Street

Creek Street is a must-visit in Ketchikan. This wooden boardwalk, suspended over Ketchikan Creek, has colorful buildings. These historic structures, once a red-light district, now house quaint boutiques, coffee shops, and a museum.

Don’t miss Dolly’s House Museum, which is hard to miss with its lime green exterior paint. It documents the life of Dolly Arthur, the area’s most famous madame.

Creek Street, Ketchikan
Creek Street

The salmon ladder is a must-see further up the creek. During a salmon run, fish jump to the ladder to reach their spawning point, and complete the circle of life.

Ketchikan Museums

The Tongass Historical Museum and Totem Heritage Center are two museums that we highly recommend visiting. We purchased the Ketchikan Museum Pass, which gave us admission to both museums for a discounted price. 

The Tongass Historical Museum offers insight into Ketchikan’s history, from mining to totem poles and its people. Alternatively, the Totem Heritage Center showcased the art and culture of the local Native American tribes.

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, another great option, is operated by the NPS. So, those with an annual park will have complimentary access. The small museum has quality exhibits about Alaska and everything you’d expect of a park museum.

Totem Poles

Ketchikan is home to the largest collection of standing totem poles globally, which are an essential part of the local culture. These totem poles are beautifully crafted, and their symbols represent stories, family crests, and animal guides. 

We enjoyed seeing the carved poles at the Saxman Native Village and the Totem Bight State Historical Park.

Chief Johnson Totem Pole
Chief Johnson Totem Pole

Even if you don’t visit these parks, totem pole examples are scattered throughout downtown. At the corner of Stedman and Mill Streets, we found Chief Johnson Pole. Israel Shotridge carved the pole, a replica of the original. 

Other examples include the Sun Raven Pole further south on Stedman Street, the Easter Pole on Main Street, and the Council of Clans Circle outside Cape Fox Lodge.

Hiking In Ketchikan

Ketchikan offers plenty of hiking opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. We hiked the Rainbird Trail, which offered lovely views of downtown. It’s by far the most popular route for cruise guests, with only a one-hour commitment.

Deer Mountain Trail provides a more challenging route with lots of inclines. Expect the out-and-back trail to take four hours or tackle a portion of the hike.

For easy routes, consider the Whitman, Lunch Falls, Ward Creek, or Coast Guard Beach Trails instead.

Excursions And Tours

When it comes to exploring Ketchikan, various tours and excursions cater to different interests and budgets. As regular visitors to Alaska, we have compiled a list of some of the best options worth considering.

Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour

Brian with a snow crab
Brian with a snow crab on the Bering Sea Tour

If you’re a fan of the popular Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch,” then this tour is a must-do. You’ll experience the life of a crab fisherman firsthand as you board the Aleutian Ballad, an authentic crabbing vessel. 

While we have never watched the TV series, after taking this tour, we rated it as our favorite among many Alaskan excursions we’ve taken.

During the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s tour, we learned about the dangers of fishing in the Bering Sea. The staff and the stories they told gave this excursion a 10++ rating. We enjoyed learning about the different species of crabs and even got to hold them.

The highlight of the tour was watching the eagle feeding. While we have bald eagles where we live, seeing dozens swoop down to retrieve herring from the water was sensational.

An eagle picking up herring from the surface of the water
An eagle picking up herring

Fishing In Ketchikan

As the salmon capital of the world, Ketchikan provides the perfect destination to fish. Anglers can fish from land or take a tour depending on the season and budget.

Various fishing charters are available that cater to different skill levels and interests. Halibut fishing is top-notch, with many operators offering to clean, package, and send your catch home. May through September are the best months for halibut.

If salmon is more to your liking, King or Chinook Salmon season runs from May to July. Silver Salmon, along with Pinks, arrives after that, but Silver, also called Coho, is caught through September.

Salmon can be caught in the river below Creek Street when visiting Ketchikan in July and August. Buy a license, rent gear, and try your luck at catching the big one.

Lumberjack Show

For a unique and exciting experience, check out the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show on the waterfront. It provides excellent entertainment for families, and it is wheelchair accessible.

Guests witness professional loggers compete in various events, such as log rolling, chopping, and sawing. 

Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan
Lumberjack Show (photo by Lauren Costelloe)

The venue has tiered seating with heaters, making it ideal for a rainy day in Ketchikan. The one-hour show is entertaining but also educational, showcasing the history and importance of Alaska’s logging industry.

Wilderness Exploration & Crab Feast

For crab lovers, consider taking the wilderness exploration and crab feast tour. Like the Bering Sea tour, we learned about crab fishing and explored the waters by boat.

The excursion concludes with a stop at the George Inlet Lodge for a premier Alaskan dining experience. Enjoy all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab and blueberry cheesecake.

Misty Fjords

Explore the breathtaking beauty of the Misty Fjords National Monument, 22 miles east of Ketchikan. There are two options to reach it: on a scenic flightseeing tour or a boat excursion operated by Allen Marine. The latter provides the more affordable option, but it’s much longer.

On a scenic flightseeing tour, guests see stunning views of glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife from above. Boatgoers enjoy the coastal landscape and get a chance to see bears, goats, and whales.

We took the boat tour and found it lengthy at 5-1/4 hours. However, the waterfalls and views were stunning once we reached the fjords.

Misty Fjords National Monument
Misty Fjords National Monument

While we didn’t spot any whales on our early May excursions, we saw a black bear foraging for food and a lone mountain goat on the cliffs.

Snorkeling In Alaska

Is snorkeling in Alaska a thing? Yes, the cold waters of Alaska provide a unique snorkeling experience that contrasts significantly with a tour in the Caribbean. At Mountain Point, snorkelers see a variety of marine life, such as starfish, sea urchins, and anemones.

Snorkeling in Alaska might sound chilly, but it’s fun and memorable. During the three-hour tour, Snorkel Alaska ensures your comfort and safety by providing 7 mm wetsuits to keep you warm and gloves to minimize disturbance to marine life.

Conclusion

Ketchikan is a charming and picturesque cruise port in Alaska worth visiting. Getting around Ketchikan is easy, with the downtown area being easily walkable. The local seafood is also a must-try, with fresh salmon being a specialty.

We experienced the rich culture and history of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Native American tribes on our port days. The highlight of our many visits was the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Tour, but we enjoyed each day we spent there.

Since Ketchikan receives over 13 feet of rain annually, prepare for a port day by packing a waterproof coat and umbrella.

Whether fishing, browsing Creek Street, or immersed in its rich culture, Ketchikan is a city that always delights. 

Ketchikan cruise port, welcome sign and a totem pole

Les Williams

Sunday 9th of June 2024

Born in Ketchikan 1950. Don't even recognize the town due to tourism. Good and bad. I'm sure tourism is now the #1 money raiser, but the spruce mill,fishing boats,pulp mill were certainly wonderful in their time.

Karen Hosier

Monday 10th of June 2024

I understand that tourism is both good and bad. Many people in Alaska make their money from tourism, but if they were to ban cruise ships, how would locals survive?