Ketchikan sprawls along the coast of Revillagigedo Island for several miles, and is the perfect place to start or end your Alaska vacation. The city is not only picturesque, but completely fascinating. Ketchikan is centered on one road, Tongass Avenue, which runs along the shores of Tongass Narrows and sometimes over it, supported by pillars. Many businesses and homes are suspended above the water or cling to the hillside and have winding staircases or wooden streets leading to their front doors. Ketchikan is a bustling community backed by forested hills and surrounded by a waterway that hums with floatplanes, fishing boats, ferries and large cruise ships. To the south is the distinctively shaped Deer Mountain.
The best way to explore Ketchikan is on foot with a walk around the city center. Start at the busy City Dock with a stop at the Visitor Bureau to pick up a Ketchikan Walking Tour Map. The new Southeast Alaska Visitor Center, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, is an impressive facility. Three huge totems greet you in the lobby while a school of several dozen silver salmon suspended from the ceiling lead to the exhibit hall and a slice of rainforest.
Creek Street is not so much a street as a boardwalk built on pilings and was the famed red-light district for half a century, until 1954 when the profession became illegal. During its heyday, Creek Street supported up to 30 brothels. The first house, with its bright red doors and windows, is Dolly's House, the parlor of the city's most famous madam, Dolly Arthur. The former business is now a museum dedicated to this infamous era. There are another 20 buildings on Creek Street including small shops and a restaurant. If the salmon are spawning, you can watch them swim up Ketchikan Creek beneath the pilings.
It is impossible to stay in Ketchikan and not spend any time at the waterfront. The lifeblood of this narrow city is found in its collection of boat harbors, floatplanes and fishing fleets that stretch along the lapping waters of the Tongass Narrows. Time spent at the docks will acquaint you with Ketchikan's fishing fleet and the three kinds of fishing boats - gillnetters, power trollers and seiners.
The Totem Heritage Center serves as the place where totem poles salvaged from deserted Tlingit communities are gathered and restored to their original condition. The collection totals more than 30, the largest in Alaska. Five of the poles are on display in the central gallery along with indigenous art and a Southeast Alaskan fish camp from the 1920s.
The Deer Mountain Hatchery is a fascinating place where biologists annually raise 150,000 king salmon and an equal number of Coho. Observation platforms, outdoor displays and friendly workers provide an interesting lesson in the salmon's life cycle. Take in the daily performance of Alaska Native dancers and sample smoked salmon while you are there.
Enjoy a climb up Upland Way stairs to a viewing platform overlooking the city center, Thomas Basin boat harbor and Creek Street. Continue on to a fish ladder at Ketchikan Creek's falls. It is a magnificent sight when these fish leap against the current during the late summer spawn. Next to the bridge is one end of Married Man's Trail, a delightful boardwalk that leads back to Creek Street.
There are a variety of hiking adventures in the Ketchikan area. The majority are either out of town or the trailhead must be reached by boat. Deer Mountain Trail, however, begins near the city center and is a 3.1-mile climb. The trail is extremely well maintained and is a great way to experience nature. The U.S. Forest Service located in Ketchikan has information on hiking trails, cabin reservations and other outdoor opportunities.
Many short and extended kayak trips begin in Ketchikan and range from an easy paddle in well-protected waters to a weeklong trip to Misty Fjords National Monument and back. Kayak rentals are readily available in town as well as guided tours, ranging from a few hours to full days to overnight.
Ketchikan offers many other activities including day cruises into Misty Fjords National Monument, world class fishing on your own or with a charter, flightseeing tours, rainforest adventures, jeep tours and much, much more.
If you happen to be in town, Ketchikan's July 4th celebration is full of fun and includes a parade, contests and softball games, an impressive display of fireworks over the channel and a logging show. In mid August, catch the Blueberry Festival with music, arts and crafts and blueberries served in every possible way.
Population: 7,685 (Ketchikan Borough - 13,125)
Location: Ketchikan is located on the southwestern coast of Revillagigedo Island, opposite Gravina Island, near the southern boundary of Alaska. It is 679 miles north of Seattle and 235 miles south of Juneau. The 2.2 million acre Misty Fiords National Monument lies 22 air miles east of Ketchikan. It is the first Alaska port of call for northbound cruise ships and Alaska State ferries.
Access: Daily scheduled jet service from Seattle, Anchorage, Juneau and many Inside Passage communities. Charter air from most other Inside Passage communities. Alaska State Ferry from Bellingham, WA, Prince Rupert, B.C., and all mainline Inside Passage communities. All classes of cruise vessels. Daily Inter-island ferry between Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. No road access.
Accommodations: Eight hotels/motels (380 rooms), 20 bed and breakfasts, one hostel, 23 dining establishments. Extensive shopping in downtown. All conveniences, groceries and supplies.
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