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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Ketchikan

This frontier outpost on the southern tip of Alaska’s Inside Passage panhandle is known as the salmon capital of the world. It’s not a surprise considering fishing was the only game in town for much Ketchikan’s history. Today, it’s the first port of call for excursions into the Tongass National Forest, the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, Misty Fjords National Monument, and Ward Cove. It makes a terrific base to explore the state’s unspoiled wilderness with a jeep or ATV tour of the rainforest or float down its waterways on a fishing boat, Zodiac, kayak, or canoe. For a view from above, take a zipline tour or go flightseeing with the eagles by floatplane or helicopter (an ideal way to see bears). The arrival of commercial fishing led to a boom in Ketchikan’s population in the first half of the 20th century, and the town’s Creek Street red-light district and Dolly’s House—a preserved brothel—offer a unique peek into its history. Going back even further, the native Tlingit people were fishing these waters. Ketchikan has the largest collection of standing Tlingit totem poles in the world, which can be found at Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park, the Totem Heritage Center, and Potlatch Park. Learn more about the history and culture of these people at the Tongass Historical Museum, and end your visit with a Bering Sea crab feast.
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Tongass National Forest
26 Tours and Activities

Encompassing 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States. Originally the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, a project of Theodore Roosevelt started in 1902, the park was developed and renamed in 1908 to pay homage to the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians. Visitors to Tongass National Forest have an enormous array of activities and experiences to choose from: bird-watching, trekking, fishing (there are five species of salmon here, among other fish), camping, visiting glaciers, lake canoeing, off-roading and just relishing pure fresh air and pristine natural beauty. In fact, there are 17,000 miles (27,359 kilometers) of lakes, creeks and rivers to enjoy within the forest. Wildlife is also prevalent, with chances to view otters, brown and black bears, wolves, eagles and Sitka black-tailed deer.

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Creek Street
11 Tours and Activities

In pioneering days every red-blooded gold-rush town had a red-light district, and during Ketchikan’s frontier past it was Creek Street.

This historic bordello hub was built over Ketchikan Creek, hence the neighborhood’s name. In Ketchikan’s gold-mining heyday, more than two dozen houses of ill repute lined the boardwalk. Prostitution wasn’t outlawed here until 1954, and was legal as long as business wasn’t transacted on dry land. This explains why Creek Street isn’t a street at all, but an elevated boardwalk built on wooden pilings. Things are a lot more tame these days, and the red-trimmed Dolly’s House museum is Creek Street’s most colorful remnant. The boardwalk stretches over the creek, and gaily painted wooden buildings line the waterfront here.

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Misty Fjords National Monument
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The Misty Fjords National Monument encompasses 3,594 square miles (5,783 square kilometers) of wilderness and lies between two impressive fjords - Behm Canal (117 mi/188 km long) and Portland Canal (72 mi/115 km long). The two natural canals give the preserve its extraordinarily deep and long fjords with sheer granite walls that rise thousands of feet/meters out of the water. Misty Fjords is well named; annual rainfall is 14 feet (4 meters).

Misty Fjords National Monument draws many kayakers, who head for the smaller but equally impressive fjords of Walker Cove and Punchbowl Cove in Rudyerd Bay, off Behm Canal. Dense spruce-hemlock rainforest is the most common vegetation throughout the monument, and sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose and bald eagles can all be seen there.

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Guard Island Lighthouse
3 Tours and Activities

Known as Alaska’s most accessible lighthouse, the historic Guard Island Lighthouse lit up for the first time on Sept. 15, 1924. The original 34-foot wooden structure deteriorated over the years due to severe weather conditions, but the lighthouse was rebuilt in the 1920s using white concrete to stand up to the elements, and the original fog bell was replaced with a diaphone fog signal.

Before the U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse in 1969, two families lived on Guard Island and operated the structure. There are also chilling tales of two murdered bodies that may have been found in a vessel drifting nearby during Prohibition.

The Guard Island Lighthouse was particularly important during the Klondike Gold Rush, as it aided in shipping along the Southeast Alaska Inside Passage. In 2004, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it is now known for its historical significance, peaceful beauty and abundance of seals.

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Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
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Welcome to what is most likely heaven on Earth for Nordic fauna fanatics! The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary is a 40-acre rainforest consisting of immense spruce, hemlock and cedar trees with a forest floor covered with several different kinds of moss, wild flowers and berries. A living postcard of the Alaskan wildlife, the sanctuary is located just a few miles outside the picturesque and tranquil fishing community of Herring Cove.

The sanctuary is not just about breathtaking sights but also memorable and varied experiences led by naturalists, that truly reflect what life is like in this harsh but fascinating and pristine climate. Here, visitors can interact with a herd of Alaskan Reindeer, marvel at Eagle Creek (Alaska’s richest salmon spawning stream), step back in time while visiting a historic Alaska sawmill, learn more about the local fauna at the Alaska Wildlife Foundation Center and even watch a Native master totem-pole carver at work.

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More Things to Do in Ketchikan

Port of Ketchikan

Port of Ketchikan

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59 Tours and Activities

If you’re sailing north by cruise ship, Ketchikan Cruise Port will be your first port of call on the Alaska Marine Highway. The former salmon fishery town offers visitors a real taste of Alaska’s frontier personality.

Cruise boats dock right on the waterfront, so the attractions, bars and restaurants are just a short stroll away.

Get a feel for old-time Ketchikan by taking a walk along the Creek Street boardwalk, and shop for Alaskan souvenirs like toy moose and eagles at the port’s many shops.

Ride the cable car to a nearby hill for stellar views, visit Deer Mountain to learn about salmon hatching and eagle feeding habits, or take a scenic flight over the stunning granite cliffs of Misty Fjords National Monument.

Of course, if you’re into fly-fishing you’ll be in heaven in Ketchikan when the salmon are running. Other visitors take the opportunity to paddle a canoe, or see totem poles at the Saxman Native Village.

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Inside Passage

Inside Passage

6 Tours and Activities

Extending from Washington’s Puget Sound, along the shores of British Columbia and into the Gulf of Alaska, the Inside Passage is a must-have experience when visiting Alaska. The waterway exists thanks to the many islands that reside between the North Pacific Ocean and Alaska’s coast. This allows for calmer waters, which is why many ferries and cruise ships choose to use it to transport travelers.

Featuring bays, beaches, peninsulas, fjords, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, rivers, coastal towns and over 1,000 islands, the passage is a photographer’s heaven, as well as a supremely scenic playground for adventure travelers, culture cravers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are a variety of experiences to be had along the way: visiting Native Alaskan heritage attractions; exploring Gold Rush history; glacier trekking; dog-sledding; spotting wildlife such as bald eagles, whales and bears; rainforest cycling and more. Kayaking through Glacier Bay National Park.

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Things to do near Ketchikan