Ketchikan, Alaska Cruise Port Guide

On a Ketchikan cruise, you’ll visit one of the prettiest towns along the Inside Passage. Surrounded by the dense Tongass Forest and overlooked by the sometimes snow-capped Deer Mountain, Ketchikan is famed for its abundant salmon, impressive collection of Northwest totem poles, and the colorful houses along Creek Street, a stilted boardwalk that’s now a historical landmark.

Cruises to Ketchikan provide the opportunity for dozens of activities, from sea kayaking and mountain hikes to float plane rides over the island-specked Misty Fjords. There’s delicious salmon to be sampled in the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and during the salmon runs in summer, abundant bear spotting, too. On your Alaska cruise, discover Ketchikan’s ancient history told through the art and wood carving of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people who have lived here for millennia.

Cruises to Ketchikan, Alaska

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Top Sights & Attractions for Cruises to Ketchikan

Creek Street

This sweep of colorful wooden houses, perched on stilts over the fast-flowing Ketchikan Creek, is an icon of the town. Ketchikan developed in the late 19th century as a saltery and cannery. By the 1920s, Creek Street was a den of bars and brothels. Get a glimpse into this murky past at Dolly’s House Museum. Take time to admire the independent galleries and craft shops, too. All summer long, the creek beneath teems with salmon forcing their way upstream. 

Totem Poles

Ketchikan’s collection of totem poles is unrivaled. You’ll see them at the Saxman Totem Park, the Totem Bight State Park, and Potlatch Park. At the Totem Heritage Center, you’ll see the oldest exhibits rescued from abandoned Native villages and dating back to the 19th century. Others are contemporary pieces, and you can meet the artists and learn about their craft. Each totem pole tells a story and represents anything from a significant event to a person, an animal, or a spirit.


You can’t help but observe salmon in Ketchikan, whether they’re flipping up the creek, flashing silver in the sunshine, leaping up the salmon ladder with astonishing strength, or sizzling on a barbecue in a forest clearing. Taste local salmon in any restaurant in town, or buy it vacuum-packed to take home. Because of the abundance of fish, Ketchikan is a great place to spot bears who come to the creek to feast, literally plucking their prey out of the water.

Learn More About Ketchikan Shore Excursions

Top Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska

Spot Bears at Neets Bay

Board a small boat with an observation deck and sail along the coast to Neets Bay, a prime bear-watching spot thanks to the salmon hatcheries here. Look out for black bears foraging on stony beaches or fishing at the water’s edge. Harbor seals and majestic bald eagles are also a common sight, while you could spot humpback whales and dolphins as you sail the coastline. A naturalist on board will help identify wildlife.

Kayak the Tatoosh Islands

Paddle a stable double kayak through the still waters of the Tatoosh Islands, completely immersed in the sights, scents, and sounds of the Tongass National Forest. There’s a good chance of spotting wildlife, from bald eagles perched in the spruce and hemlock trees to minks, deer, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and, if you’re lucky, whales. Look down at kelp forests waving gently in the current and orange sea stars dotting the ocean floor.

Ketchikan Pub Crawl

Join a local guide to learn about Ketchikan through the history of its many pubs on an adults-only tour. You’ll hear scandalous stories of days gone by, when the town was packed with fishermen, loggers, and miners. Admire vintage photographs and gain insight into Ketchikan during the Prohibition era and the raucous scene along Creek Street. There’s a drink at every stop of the 90-minute tour to get participants into the spirit.

Top Food & Drink in Ketchikan

Ketchikan has a thriving culinary scene, with more than 30 restaurants, and is one of the best places in Alaska for fresh seafood. You’ll find restaurants all along Front Street, an easy walk from where most ships dock, and Main Street, one block inland. 

Look out for alder-grilled salmon, king crab legs drenched in garlic butter, battered halibut and chips, and creamy smoked salmon chowder. Chowder of all kinds is popular here, and warming on a rainy day. You’ll also find Mexican, pizza, burgers, and Asian cuisine if you reach a point of seafood saturation. 

Culture & History of Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan was established thousands of years ago by Tlingit natives who would fish the creek during summer, drying their catch to keep them sustained through the bitter winter. Today, some 19 percent of the community is of Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian descent, and the town is famed for its impressive collection of totem poles, many of them more than 150 years old.

A salmon cannery was established by an entrepreneur from Oregon at the creek in 1887, although it burned down after just two years. The cannery was replaced by a saltery. When the Yukon Gold Rush took Alaska by storm at the end of the 19th century, Ketchikan thrived due to its southerly position as the first point of entry for ships arriving from the south. But fishing quickly took over from mining, with 13 canneries in town by the 1930s. When fish stocks declined, a massive pulp mill was built, employing locals until its demise in the 1990s.

Today, tourism is Ketchikan’s most important industry, replacing many jobs that were lost with the collapse of the pulp mill. The town prides itself on its impressive collection of historic structures, with 12 listings in the National Register of Historic Places, and is a magnet for artists and craftspeople. 

Ketchikan Cruise Port Facilities & Location

On a cruise to Ketchikan, your cruise ship will dock in the downtown area, parallel to Front Street. It’s an easy walk to shops, restaurants, and Creek Street. There’s a useful visitor information center on the quayside, with restrooms and several large souvenir shops.

Transportation in Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan has an efficient transportation network. During the summer months (May to September), free shuttles run between the port terminals and various key locations in downtown Ketchikan. The local bus service through town runs year-round, stopping at popular destinations including Saxman Park, Totem Bight, and Ward Cove. Taxis are also available, as are rideshare services.

Shopping Near the Ketchikan Cruise Port

Ketchikan has a creative, artistic atmosphere and offers some excellent shopping. Creek Street has several galleries where you can pick up an original piece, whether it’s a small, hand-carved totem pole, a beautiful painting or photograph, or a hand-woven cedar bark basket. There are multiple jewelry shops, many of them selling pretty silver earrings and necklaces made with blue mother-of-pearl or items made from locally sourced jade.

For a luxury gift or souvenir, look out for items made from qiviut, the ultra-soft fleece of the musk ox. If you want to take some salmon home, it’s available smoked, canned, as a spread, or as jerky. Finally, curved ulu knives, traditionally made by the Inuit, are a popular buy. Just remember that a purchase like this would have to travel home in your checked luggage.

To make sure you buy authentic Alaskan goods, be sure to look for the easily-recognizable official “Made in Alaska” symbol. You’ll also find the well-known “Silver Hand” emblem on many items, signifying that they were handcrafted by an Alaskan Native.

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The official currency in Ketchikan is the United States dollar. ATMs can be found in various places in the port and around town. All major credit cards are widely accepted, even for small transactions. Tipping is in line with what you’d expect elsewhere in the U.S.; up to 20% in restaurants, 10% in taxis, and 10% of the tour cost for a good guide.


To explore further into Alaska you can extend your cruise with a Cruisetour. This allows you to travel inland via motorcoach and railway exploring Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, Talkeetna, Girdwood (Alyeska) and Denali National Park, taking in the views of the highest mountain peak in North America. Cruisetours include the finest hotel accommodations, a local dedicated Alaskan Tour Director, luxury transportation, and some activities.

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