I have spent countless summers up in Ketchikan with my family. My Dad grew up and lived half of his life there and my Grandma and Grandfather still live there today, so it’s always been a place close to my heart. Most people think of Ketchikan as being a short stop along the way during their cruise ship journey. After all, it is the first port for cruise ships heading northbound– which makes it both exciting and a whirlwind. However, there is so much more to this little seaside town than immediately meets the eye. 

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Spending some good time with family at Ketchikan.

In this list of the top 13 best things to do in Ketchikan, I will ensure to walk you through not only what the most popular sites are, but also the little hidden gems along the way (that require some inside knowledge). There will be a little something for everyone in this compilation so be sure to remember some of your favorite points to add to your itinerary, whether you are just stopping over on your way to other cities or if you have chosen to make this your main destination.

Best Things To Do In Ketchikan

Bear Watching In Traitor’s Cove/ Neets Bay

what is there to do in ketchikan
Watching Bears is a must do activity in Ketchikan.

Bear watching in Ketchikan is an absolute must! There are not many places in the world where you will be able to see a bear in the wild (from a safe distance). Take a 20 minute float plane ride from Ketchikan into Traitor’s Cove and hop into a van to drive a mile through the dense forest. Then, hike a short way down to a viewing platform that overlooks Margarete Creek where its abundance of salmon frequently attracts bears to feed. When I went, I was able to see a mama black bear help her two cubs search for their breakfast.

Neet’s Bay is also a popular spot to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. This tour group will pick you up from the Ketchikan cruise port where you will board another boat that will take you through the Tongass Rainforest Islands. Along the way, the guide will help you spot marine life like whales and sea lions. Once you dock, a quarter mile hike through the rainforest will bring you to Neet’s Creek where black bears are often seen trying to catch salmon.  

Flightseeing Over New Eddystone Rock 

This spectacular rock formation sits inside the Tongass National Forest and Misty Fjords National Monument. This starkly unique sight to behold formed as a result of an erupting volcano about 15,000 years ago. Now, it looms over its onlookers and appears to float in the ocean. Admirers of the rock are able to do so by boat or float plane. 

Creek Street 

ketchikan in alaska is a top tourist place.
From multi-colored homes, restaurants and shops, the ketchikan creek has it all.

If you want to do a Ketchikan tour, this is the place to start. This popular street consists of multi-colored homes, restaurants and shops that rest on stilts over Ketchikan Creek, and visiting here is one of my favorite things to do while in town. Back in the 1920s, Creek Street was Ketchikan’s old red light district and during the prohibition era, bootleggers would smuggle in alcohol from Canada to bring into the various homes. Still today, many buildings on this street have trap doors for this reason. 

From the railings that overlook the creek it’s not uncommon to see shoals of salmon swimming upstream, and many tourists flock to the famous salmon ladder that the fish use to jump up a rushing waterfall on their journey. Be sure to also check out the Soho Coho art gallery that showcases works from local artists. 


Ketchikan offers an array of options for all different types of hikers. Ward Lake is perfect for the inexperienced hiker, and it’s easily accessible from Ward Cove where the cruise ships dock. The hike itself is more of a leisurely walk along a flat pathway with the pristine lake on one side and looming spruce trees all around. This is a fantastic activity for people of all ages to stretch their legs and become acclimated to Alaska’s natural environment without doing anything too outside the comfort zone. 

For those that want more of a challenge, I would recommend either Dude Mountain or Deer Mountain. Both are more rigorous than a stroll around the lake but come with amazing views along the way. Be sure to protect yourself against mosquitoes and deer flies though.

Finally, for the experienced hiker, there is Lunch Creek Trail in Tongass National Forest and the traverse between Carlanna Lake and Perseverance Lake. Do your research on these options before attempting them – be sure to wear the proper shoes and bring lots of water!


fishing experience is a must on your ketchikan tour
My Grandfather out in the sea to catch some Salmons, Halibuts, Crabs and Shrimps.

My Grandfather used to be a charter fisherman and would take out tour groups to catch Salmon, Halibut, Crab and Shrimp during the summer months. It was always such an exhilarating experience getting to be out on the water and learn how to catch and reel in your own fish and then get to prepare it to eat later on in the day. With so many different charter options available to choose from, you are sure to find the right fit for you and your party. 

With companies like Ketchikan Fishing Expeditions you can select an adventure catered specifically to Salmon, Halibut, or Multiple Species. If you want to make a day of it, you can opt in for the 8 hour charter package which will ensure you get the most out of your Alaskan fishing experience. 

Cape Fox Lodge

If you’re looking for a luxury experience during your stay, then Cape Fox Lodge is unmatched. Constructed by Tlingit Natives in 1990 and renovated in 2019, this high end hotel ensures a comfortable stay for its guests coupled with stunning views and an immersion into Tlingit art. The Lodge also contains an upscale dining room, lounge, cafe and restaurant that will appease and excite the appetites of even the most experienced guests. While you’re there, take advantage of the vast knowledge of the hotel employees while choosing from their long list of available excursions and cultural shows. This gem of a hotel is perfect if you are wanting more upscale things to do in Ketchikan. 

Totem Bight State Historical Park And Saxman Totem Park

Ketchikan really is the totem capital of the world, so going to either Totem Bight State Historical Park or Saxman Totem Park (or better yet, both!) to experience these meaningful historic wonders is an opportunity you should not miss. Between the mid 1700s to the end of the 1800s, totem pole carving became massively popular among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes as their successful fur trades provided them with more time to dedicate to the documentation of their ancestry. 

My family and I always make it a point to visit these sites, either by ourselves or with a guide to educate ourselves on the deep history of Alaska’s first settlers. This should be on your must- see list of things to do in Ketchikan.

Tongass Museum 

Situated at the Northern Creek Street Entrance, this museum is a must see during your visit. Everything you need to know about the history of this town is going to be found here. Learn about its transition as a summer fish camp for the Tlingit tribe to the site of a thriving logging industry and now as a hot destination for tourists from all over the world. 

The Museum currently has an exhibit called “Cruisin the Fossil Coastline” until January of 2024 that takes its visitors through the ages of the creatures that roamed the oceans and land millions of years ago, with a special focus on Alaskan territories. 

Crazy Wolf Studio 

This Alaskan Native owned shop is the best, and truly only, place to buy authentic native art in the area. The shop owner and artist, Ken Decker, is a part of the Tsimshian Wolf clan. His grandfather traveled in the first canoe from old Metlakatla in British Columbia to present day Metlakatla off the coast of Ketchikan. 

His art forms include drums, ceremonial hats, masks, prints and more. Art is his way of keeping his culture alive and informing visitors of the rich history of his people. Located in downtown Ketchikan this shop is easy to walk to, so stop by and check it out during your stay. 

Stay In A Forest Service Cabin

Forest Service Cabin stay on a Vacation in Ketchikan.

Okay, while a Forest Service Cabin may not have as much appeal to some as say, a 5 star hotel, this experience is often once- in – a – lifetime and one of the most underrated Ketchikan attractions. It is also a fantastic way to brave the great outdoors while still having the comfort of four walls surrounding you. The two cabins I have stayed at are located in Helm Bay and Winstanley Island in the Tongass National Forest. Both locations are only accessible by boat or float plane but are guaranteed to provide you and your group with a night you will never forget. 

Misty Fjords National Monument 

Within Tongass National Forest lies the Misty Fjords, a National Monument of rock walls, mountain faces, and dense rainforest with an indescribable air of tranquility. From Ketchikan you are able to take a float plane that will bring you above and into this breathtaking landscape, sometimes with the option of a short hike amongst its trees. When I did this with my family I was told that you should not wander from the path as you never know where a bear’s going to be. If you prefer to stay closer to the ground, you may also look into the boat cruise options which will bring you a more intimate look at the waterfalls and, if you’re lucky, wildlife. 

Ocean Wilderness Expedition

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Sea expedition at Ketchikan

Humpback Whales, Sea Lions, Deer, Wolves and Bears!? What more could you ask for from a sea expedition? In this tour, expert guides will take you on a Zodiac and keenly maneuver jagged coasts, remote islands and narrow passages to put you and your party in the best possible locations to spot Alaska’s incredible biodiversity. The speed and flexibility of the boat paired with the intimate group sizes allows for a more personal encounter with the wildlife roaming around. Your naturalist group leaders will also be able to answer any questions you have about the creatures spotted during the trip. 

Ketchikan Public Library 

While this may be an unusual recommendation for things to do in Ketchikan, this gorgeous yet humble gem is a must see. Situated at the top of Copper Ridge, just 20 minutes from Downtown, the Ketchikan Public Library was founded in 1901 and is the oldest continually operated public library in the state. Here, you will be able to relax in a plush armchair in front of the large glass windows that overlook Deer Mountain, admire the artwork of local artists, or peruse the large selection of books either to check out or to purchase.

Why Ketchikan Is The Best Place In Alaska

top ketchikan tourist attractions
wildlife and nature aspects of Ketchikan are an obvious highlight of this beautiful place.

If you’ve read this far, it’s clear that you’re as captivated by Ketchikan as I’d hoped you’d be. You may be thinking, what is there to do in Ketchikan that is outside of the regular Ketchikan tourist attractions? Of course there is so much more to this wondrous town than I am able to cover in this post, so I thought I would share a little more about the quieter moments in Ketchikan. Even though they don’t make the headlines, they are guaranteed to be added to your list of best things to do in Ketchikan and make you fall in love before you even arrive. 

While the wildlife and nature aspects of Ketchikan are an obvious highlight, it’s the warm and inviting attitude of the locals that make me so excited to return year after year. With any small town, people quickly start to feel like family and Ketchikan is no exception. The people that live there truly enjoy and are proud of their city and it becomes so evident in their energy and the way they are excited to share it with others. 

One of my favorite parts about arriving in Ketchikan is the ferry ride that you take in from the airport (Oh yeah – the airport is located on Gravina Island, across the Inside Passage). From this ride you will get a fantastic view of the Ketchikan coastline which creates the ultimate first impression for any new comers. 

going fishing is top ketchikan attractions
A lucky day at sea.

Finally, Ketchikan’s beaches, due to their rocky composition, are the perfect place for beach combing. For a calmer activity on a day off or to experience a more local side to the town, visit Rotary Beach Park Buggy Beach or Refuge Cove State Recreation Site. From here you are able to roam the beaches looking for rocks, collecting shells (as long as they are uninhabited by any wildlife) and observing the sea creature interactions in the busy tidepools. 


What is the best month to visit Ketchikan Alaska?

The summer season is between May and August, which means any time within this window is going to be ideal to visit due to the drier weather in ketchikan and ample sunshine. However, Mid June to Mid July is the ultimate time to visit as June 21st marks the beginning of summer so the days are going to be the longest, the flowers will be in bloom and temperatures typically stay between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Do you need a car to get around Ketchikan?

One of the best aspects of Ketchikan is that it is a walkable city. The town itself only has one main road that spans 30 miles along the coast, so you are easily able to do a ketchikan city tour without needing wheels. Additionally, there is a free shuttle bus service that runs throughout the downtown area from May until September. If you plan to go in the fall or winter however, a car might be preferred.

Can you see the Northern Lights from Ketchikan?

Yes! While the Lights don’t appear as large and vibrant as the view you receive from towns further north, it is still possible to catch sight of them. I got a view of the Lights while out on a boat in Helm Bay, and let me say – just because they were smaller did not make them any less magical.


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