Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Ketchikan Alaska Cruise Port Tips

Ketchikan is often the first stop of Alaska cruises. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license
Ketchikan is often the first stop of Alaska cruises. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license

The Ketchikan cruise port is known as Alaska’s “first city” because it is the first city that cruise ships reach when they travel north from Seattle or Vancouver.

It is the fifth most populated city in Alaska despite having a population of only about 8,000 people. It actually looks smaller from the cruise docks than the population size indicates.

Ketchikan is remote and much easier to reach by cruise than by car. Anyone who drives from Seattle will travel more than 1,100 miles and take 27 hours of time meandering through the Canadian wilderness. So by all means, go there by cruise ship.

Cruise visitors dock at one of four berths. Some ships might anchor on busy days and tender passengers (transfer by motor boat) to the docks.

The best starting point for anyone visiting Ketchikan on their first Alaska cruise is the Ketchikan visitor center about midway among the cruise port docks. It’s hard to miss, right in front of the most popular shops, and a good starting point for several reasons:

1. The center has plenty of useful information for anyone who wants to spend time walking around and near the town.

2. It has a room with more than a dozen excursion tour operators. They are convenient for comparing options and also as a way to save money over more expensive options being sold on ship.

3. A statue out front is a popular photo opportunity. On a nice day, quite a few people plop onto benches by the statue to relax after walking around the town.

4. It has restrooms. Finding public restrooms at other cruise ports is harder than the convenience at Ketchikan.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Flightseeing is common at Ketchikan.
Flightseeing is common at Ketchikan. © 2022 Scott S. Bateman

Ketchikan is a good option for flightseeing, kayaking and visiting totem pole parks. Shopping is more limited than other ports such as Juneau and Skagway.

The port was busy with flightseeing on the day we arrived. On days with clear skies, seaplane tours were constantly taking off and landing in the waters in front of the city.

Port Attractions

The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is just a few hundred feet east of the cruise docks. It has totems representing the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian cultures, interactive displays about the area and a 150-person movie theater with stories about the city and its history. Admission is $5 for adults; kids are free.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show next to the center is just as the name suggests. Lumberjacks show off their axe chopping and log rolling skills in a one-hour show three times a day. Show tickets are $37 for adults and $18.50 for children.

Creek Street is a colorful and mildly interesting attraction within a few blocks of the cruise docks for anyone with extra time on their hands. Attractions include Dolly’s House Museum, Tongass Historical Museum and various boutique gift shops. They are about three fourths of a mile from some of the cruise berths.

Creek Street was infamous as a brothel district during the first half of the 20th century. Dolly’s House was one of the most famous brothels. It is now a museum. Likewise, the nearby Tongass Historical Museum has even more history of the town.

A walk to the other end of the wooden street will take visitors to the Tongass museum and a pair of tall totem poles.

Energetic walkers at the cruise port can go to the Totem Heritage Center about one and a half miles from the cruise terminal. This city-operated museum says it has “One of the world’s largest collections of original 19th century totem poles”. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and free for children. 

Shore Excursions

Ketchikan Cruise Port Map

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of totem poles. Two of the largest totem pole attractions are Potlatch Totem Park and Totem Bight State Historical Park. Both are right next to each other nine miles north of the city. One of the least expensive totem tours costs $60 per person. Other tours that combine totems with extra activities such as hiking or a visit to the Raptor Center will pay anywhere from $75 to $125 per person.

Anyone thinking about “flightseeing” should either wait until the last minute and book it if the weather looks good or book early and cancel in time in case the forecast looks bad. Fog and low clouds can ruin the views. Flightseeing is available by plane and helicopter. Quick helicopter trips start at about $130 to $150 per person. Longer flights by copter and plane usually start at $250 each.

Flightseers, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts go to Misty Fiords National Monument 22 miles east of Ketchikan. It covers 2.3 million acres over the Tongass National Monument. It is the largest wilderness in Alaska’s national forests and the second largest in the nation.

Some excursion operators offer tours that include a totem park, eagle viewing and Guard Island Light. The lighthouse sits in a scenic location on a small island near the entrance of the Tongass Narrows.

Ketchikan offers an excursion that is easy on the legs and easy on the budget as well. The duck boat tour is a comfortable 90-minute tour of Ketchikan from roads and water. Flightseeing planes took off and landed near our duck boat and gave us many photo opportunities.

The tour is a nice option for anyone who wants an early introduction to the port. The excursion lasts 90 minutes and costs $59 per person. Discounts sometimes are available.

Getting Around

Ketchikan is easy to tour on foot for anyone who is moderately fit. Most of the shops, restaurants and in-town attractions are within walking distance of the cruise ship berths.

Otherwise, the city has a free downtown shuttle bus from May through September. It has a daily 20-minute loop serving downtown, cruise berths and attractions including the Totem Heritage Center. Look for the bus that says “Downtown Shuttle”.

Several taxi companies serve downtown. Car renters should note that parking is hard to find. The town has several public parking lots in the downtown area. A daily parking permit is available for $5 at the City of Ketchikan Office Services Division, 334 Front Street

Weather / When to Go

July and August are the warmest months to visit Ketchikan for cruise visitors. The average high temperature reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, according to historical data from the U.S. Weather Service. The June average is 61 Fahrenheit.

Not surprisingly, the city has a lot of precipitation in the form of snow most of the year and rain during the summer.

The driest months are June and July with an average rainfall of more than six inches a month. Precipitation jumps to nearly 10 inches historically in August.

June through August are the prime Alaska cruise months. Anyone trying to decide when to go may want to choose July for the best combination of warm temperatures and lower risk of rain.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
April 28, 2022