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Ketchikan, Alaska Travel Guide
Last Updated: Jul-10-2011, Hits: 5,460, Rating: 4, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Ketchikan, Alaska Travel Guide Restaurants (15)
Hotels and Lodging (39)
Bars and Nightlife (12)
Attractions (38)
Services (14)
Maps (0)
Links (2)
Alaska Travel Forum (2)
Location: North America
Geography: Mountains, Forest
Vacation Type: Family, Adventure
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Historical Sites, Scenery, Boating, Camping, Cultural Attractions, Ecotourism, Fishing, Hiking, Shopping

Facts and Stats:
Population: 7,368
Land Area: 4.1 sq mi
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Country Dialing Code: +1
Area Code: 907
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: United States Dollar
Time Zone: UTC-9 / UTC-8 (summer)
Current Time:

Ketchikan is located in southeast Alaska on the Inside Passage. and is a popular cruise ship and state ferry destination. Known as "The Salmon Capital of the World" and "Alaska's First City", Ketchikan is located in the nation's largest national forest, the Tongass, which totals 17 million acres.

Ketchikan is located in southeast Alaska on Revillagigedo Island in the Alexander Archipelago, 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia and 235 miles south of Juneau, Alaska. Ketchikan is the seat of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough (like a county).

Although only 2.1 miles in length from its headwaters at Lower Ketchikan Lake, Ketchikan Creek is an important salmon run and flows through town along Creek Street.

A 1/2-mile-wide channel called the Tongass Narrows separates Ketchikan from Gravina Island, where the Ketchikan International Airport is located. The ill-fated "Bridge to Nowhere" was to span this gap.

Brief History:
The earliest inhabitants of southeast Alaska were the Tlingit tribes. Tlingit culture is thought to have originated around 800 years ago near the mouths of the Skeena and Nass Rivers. Their first contact with Europeans came in 1741 with Russian explorers, who were followed by Spanish explorers in 1775. Tlingits maintained their independence but suffered from smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans.

Some say that the name Ketchikan was derived from the Tlingit name "kitschk-hin" for a fish camp established here. Kitschk-hin means creek of the "thundering wings of an eagle."

In the late 1800's non-natives became interested in the Ketchikan area because of the abundant fish, game, and timber resources available. In 1879, a missionary named Sheldon Jackson reported a white homesteader living on the Tongass Narrows. In 1883, it was reported that a man named Snow started a salmon saltery in the narrows. That same year, a cannery was built 25 miles north in Loring.

In 1885, Mike Martin from Portland, Oregon arrived to investigate possibilities for building a salmon cannery on the banks of Ketchikan Creek.

In 1888, A.W. Berry from Astoria, Oregon established a cannery near the current site of the Tongass Trading Company. In 1889, the cannery burned down.

During the 1890's, Berry's foreman, George Clark, teamed up with Martin and they opened a saltery and a general store. Despite initial prosperity, the operation went bankrupt in 1898. That same year, the Seattle Hardware Company sent Willis Bryant to take over Clark and Martin's store, which is the Tongrass Trading Company today.

In 1900, Ketchikan was incorporated with a population of 800. Mike Martin was the first mayor.

The legendary Creek Street was founded in 1903. It was a red light district with brothels that catered to fisherman, miners, and during prohibition, smugglers.

At this same time, spruce mills were built in Ketchikan and the timber industry began to grow. Due to the high demand for spruce during World War II, Ketchikan became a supply center for area logging.

In 1954, a $55 million pulp mill was constructed at Ward Cove near Ketchikan. The mill's 50-year contract with the U.S. Forest service for timber was canceled, and the pulp mill closed in March 1997.

Ketckikan's tourism industry began in the 1970's as cruise ships from Seattle and Vancouver began servicing the town. With the closure of the pulp mill and a decline in commercial fishing due to competition elsewhere, Ketchikan has been forced to rely more and more on tourism as the mainstay of their economy.

People & Culture:
Ketchikan is a casual, laid-back place most of the time. When the cruise ships dump thousands of people into the town, Ketchikan transforms in to somewhat of a carnival for a few hours, then back to being a sleepy town.

The closure of the pulp mill in 1997 cost Ketchikan about 3,000 jobs and the population declined for nearly a decade. The decline of the fishing industry also contributed to the losses. During the last decade, many locals have adapted to the growing tourism industry landing government jobs, retail and service jobs, or using their past fishing experience to establish fishing charter services. Others have struggled to accept the new state of affairs and would prefer to go back to their previous occupations.

Another group of locals, the Native American population, continue to share their culture with visitors and provide several of the main attractions including Saxman Native Village, Totem Bight State Park and the Totem Heritage Center. Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of totem poles.

The influx of tourists has also transformed Ketchikan into an arts community with locally made carvings, paintings, jewelry and other items available at the many art galleries and gift shops.

Because of its surrounding natural beauty, quaint town, fishing getaways, and Native American culture, tourism will likely continue to be Ketchikan's main driver with even more cruise ships slated to visit the town in 2011 (although total number of passengers is expected to decline due to the recession). Disney will be visiting for the first time this year.

Food & Nightlife:
Hope you like fish! Ketchikan is known as "The Salmon Capital of the World" and that notion is reflected in the restaurants. Salmon isn't the only type of fish served; halibut, Alaskan cod, and various shellfish are also available. If fish isn't your thing, several of the seafood restaurants also offer steak or other meat dishes. Ketchikan dining does not offer much in the way of diversity, although there are a couple of Mexican and Asian restaurants to choose from.

As you might expect in Alaska, there is no shortage of bars to choose from. These are not the upscale variety and can best be described as "dive bars", many of which are frequented by locals. Most of these bars are open late and several offer live music and other entertainment.

Money & Costs:
Alaska is known for being expensive, however, the truth is that the general costs aren't much more than other Pacific Northwest cities and less than places like New York or San Francisco. Furthermore, Ketchikan isn't at all cosmopolitan and lacks they types of expensive establishments found elsewhere. Items that have to be transported tend to be more expensive in Ketchikan because of its remote location.

There are 2 places that your wallet will take a big hit when visiting here. First, is just getting here. You will be spending quite a bit on either a cruise ship, ferry, or rather expensive airplane ticket. The second issue is the tours which typically involve a boat or seaplane, and that gets expensive quickly. Sure, you can stay in town and only check out what is offered there, but you will be missing out on the best parts of Alaska.

While Alaska has no statewide sales tax, Ketchikan does have a 6% sales tax and 7% hotel tax.

Tipping is the same as elsewhere in the U.S. at 15-20% in restaurants and bars.

Getting There & Around:
The way most tourists reach Ketchikan is via cruise ship. The major cruise lines that will be visiting in 2011 include Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and P&O Cruises. Most cruises originate in Seattle or Vancouver, B.C.

Obviously, if you are arriving by cruise ship, you will only have a handful of hours to spend here. For those who wish to enjoy a longer stay, there are a couple of ways to get here.

The fastest way is to catch an Alaskan Airlines flight from Seattle (90 minutes) or numerous Alaska cities they service. Flights arrive at the Ketchikan International Airport (KTN) on Gravina Island just across the Tongass Narrows. Water taxis are available to take you across into town.

The next option is to take a ferry. Ketchikan is one of the many ports of call part of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The AMHS services numerous ports throughout Alaska, but also offers ferry service from Bellingham, Washington. This service takes about 1.5 days, allows vehicles, and offers sleeper cabins (extra charge). Although you can bring your car, it is not necessary to have one in Ketchikan.

For the adventurous, you can tackle the 930 mile drive from Vancouver, B.C. to Prince Rupert, BC. This leg takes about 20 hours. From there you can catch a 5 hour Alaska Marine Highway System ferry to Ketchikan.

Once in Ketchikan, the town is very walkable, although taxis are available. If you are cruising and are planning to do a tour, the tour operators will meet you at the cruise ship dock and provide whatever transportation is required.

For more information on transportation, see the services section of this guide.

Ketchikan's weather can basically be summed up with the word "rain". In fact, they average over 13 feet of it per year and is one of the wettest places in North America. Winter temperatures are much milder compared to other locations at the same latitude. Snow is not uncommon during this time. Summer temperatures are mild with little variance between day and night temps. Southeast Alaska gets over 17 hours of daylight during the summer and about 7 during the winter. Below are the current conditions and forecast for Ketchikan.

Below are the monthly temperature and precipitation averages for Ketchikan:

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 38 29 11.94"
February 41 31 11.33"
March 44 33 11.15"
April 49 37 9.85"
May 55 42 8.70"
June 60 47 6.95"
July 64 51 6.43"
August 64 52 9.14"
September 59 47 12.18"
October 51 41 20.29"
November 44 34 15.73"
December 40 31 13.71"

Tips & Additional Information:
  • If you are going to fish, you will likely need a license from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
  • There are services available to have fish you catch sent home.
  • If you are cruising, don't forget to bring binoculars.
  • If taking a ferry from Bellingham with a vehicle, make a reservation in advance.
  • Do not eat wild berries if hiking here unless you know what you are doing. Some of them are poisonous.

  • User Reviews (1)

    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Apr-11-2011

    We stopped in Ketchikan on a cruise several years ago and it was by far my favorite port of call. We checked out the town, the totem pole museum, watched the salmon jump up a waterfall for about and hour, and walked through Creek Street. If you aren't into fishing, there probably isn't much to keep a person occupied for a longer stay, but its a nice little town worth visiting. 

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