If you’re visiting Ketchikan, Alaska on one of the Princess Cruise, Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean Cruise, Disney Cruise, or Norwegian Cruise Line ships that come into port, it’s only a matter of time before you bump into me. I run a little yellow booth in downtown Ketchikan called, “Watercolors!” where I paint, sell my art, and meet people on their first trip to what we locals consider the last wild frontier.
And I mean to tell you: I get people from all over the world that walk in, look at my original art and prints, and ask me the same questions over and over, week in and week out:
“What should I do if I only have three hours in port?”
“I have four children with me. What should we do while we’re here?”
“What are the top three things to see while in Ketchikan?”
And my favorite: “You’re a local; which things would you do if you were visiting Ketchikan for the first time?”
I love Ketchikan. I was born here so you’d think I’d get tired of it, but no. There’s nowhere in the world like K-town, and I’ve made it my career to make my art the best representation of it possible. I want my customers to be able to look at my amazing watercolors and remember the time they had. It’s not uncommon for people to tell me that Ketchikan was much more beautiful than they expected, the wildlife much more exciting, and the people more friendly than they could even imagine.
And this is what I want for you. I want your time here to be the best it can be, and I want you to find the perfect print at my booth so that you can remember it. But if you don’t get moved by your visit to Alaska, well–we’ve all done something wrong. And part of that is making sure that the time you spend here isn’t wasted on frills and unnecessary retail purchases.
So here are the things I’d do if I were on an Alaskan Cruise and it brought me through the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Alaska, in order of importance. There’s a lot to do–-more than you have time for–so consider these and trust some local wisdom:
Creek Street is the “old area of town” that the call girls–we always called them Ladies of the Line– lived and did their–ahem–business. It is the one thing the alaska cruise ships focus on when they present Ketchikan. And what’s more, when you are back home, someone will eventually ask, “WOW! Did you see Creek Street?” And if you say, “no,” they are going to think you stayed on the ship during your whole time in port, like a dolt.
While there, go through Dolly’s House. It’s a museum now; but it used to be the home of Dolly Arthur, a long time resident of Creek Street. She’s only famous because of her long successful history as an early feminine entrepreneur whose house was purchased by a more traditionally employed person who then turned it into a museum. It’s not very “gritty,” but it’s affordable and it’s part of the pivotal history of Creek Street.
Come tell me what you think, and take the time to check out my Creek Street prints. They’re the best anywhere.
There are two totem parks in town: Saxman and Totem Bight. It’s probably necessary to mention that Ketchikan, Alaska has the most authentic native american totem poles in any one place in the entire world. So if you can’t see both in the time you have in Ketchikan–is a hard choice.
Saxman is actually a small village three miles south of town. It differs from Totem Bight in that it has a completely different selection of authentic totems than are available for visitors to see at other locations on the island. It has a gift shop and is just beautiful. Trust me: if you haven’t seen a collection of native totems, it’s hard to describe. The culture, the scope, the history, and the raw artistic talent that has been passed down from generation to generation boggles the mind.
Totem Bight is 10 miles north of town and is an Alaska state park. It has beautiful totems, but if time is the issue, it has added value. Besides the scenic walk, the proximity to the ocean, and the various cultural events that can be seen at Totem Bight Cultural Center, it is also directly next door to Potlatch Park. Potlatch is an authentic reproduction of a native village and is filled with totems, buildings, and historical paraphernalia that will thrill you. Oh, and the gift shop isn’t bad either.
Almost all of the local totem art is done by native, master artists. But I have some wonderful prints for you to look at too! My favorites are “Raven and the Tide Woman,” and, “Eagle Boy.”
Very recently the Ketchikan Museum was upgraded to include exhibits about the logging, mining, missionaries, fishing, and everything from soup to nuts. It is really interesting and not very expensive. I think it’s about $6.00 per person.
It used to be that you walked in and off to the side there was a random collection of totems, an odd hat, some logging gear. Now it’s much more organized and comprehensive than ever before. There are complex dioramas for each of the parts of history that are central to the development of Ketchikan as the Gateway to Alaska and the King Salmon Capital of the World. It takes a lot for me to say something like this or that is, “really interesting,” but even for me–-let’s just say that I have been here for some very credible number of years and have seen basically everything ten times already–-this is one of the best things you can do with your time.
One really important thing: The Ketchikan Museum has clean bathrooms that are open to the public. Trust me; this is a big deal if you’re visiting here. There aren’t a lot of those around.
The salmon that come up Ketchikan creek have a lot of difficulty getting up the water falls. So, many years ago Ketchikan built a salmon ladder to give them a hand. It looks like a lot of cement stairs with a lip that keeps some water in but it is the best way to ensure that the salmon make it to their spawning ground. You can get to the salmon ladder two ways:
Just a note: there have to be fish in the creek before there are fish jumping up the ladder. Start looking in late June until the middle of September.
Various Physical Abilities–Wheel Chair Accessible
There are many walks and hikes around the area.
Just to be clear, you can hike yourself to death if you want to. Ketchikan, Alaska is in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, which is a temperate rainforest. We have thousands of trails to hike on, most of which are not labeled–or recommended for–“a fun day hike.”
Here are some easy-access hikes you can take if you or somebody in your party would like a fun, beautiful, low-impact hike:
Park Avenue Loop–3 miles
Depending on how much time you have, you can take the loop from Whale Park at Bawden Street up to Park Avenue. From there you can go down the creek–all concrete and sidewalks–to Woodland Avenue, back down Deermount Street, past the grocery store where you will turn right on Stedman Street, and head back to Whale Park by my booth.
Or you can take the Rainbird Trail!
Rainbird Trail–2 miles
NOT Easy Access
Rainbird is beautiful and well worth your hiking time, HOWEVER–it is uphill. Almost entirely. It is UP–HILL. Look up, there will be a hill. I warned you.
Go up from Whale Park to Bawden Street again. This time, however, you take a left at the Y. Go two blocks and turn left on Pine Street. Go up to Forest Avenue and hang a left; continue going uuuuuuuuup Forest Avenue until you hit the median to the Third Avenue Bypass. Turn Left on Third Avenue about 1000 feet beyond the bypass and you will arrive at the Rainbird Trail.
It’s well marked.
NOTE: Remember how it was uphill? The city was not satisfied with the difficulty level restricting it to people with nine lungs and bionic legs, so they added at least seven flights of stairs. You’re welcome.
There are other trails, too. You’ll find them on the walking tour map. So honorable mention goes to the Saxman Trail–a three mile trail–and the Rotary Beach Trail–a four mile trail. They are both flat and if you get tired the bus comes by every so often.
The free downtown shuttle picks people up all along the route and takes you in a loop around town. Get off when you want and then get back on the next one. It’s all free. On the way you can stop at grocery stores, both north and south, and any interesting sights that catch your eye. The people are friendly here, so ask questions.
And if I was able to successfully dissuade you from even considering Rainbird Trail, we can laugh about all the pink-cheeked hikers as they come back and you can look at some of my Ketchikan landscapes!