Ketchikan, Alaska is known as Alaska’s “First City” and “The Salmon Capital of the World.” To me, it’s just been home for the past three summers. It’s on an island (the 12th biggest in the US), so the only way to get here is by boat, plane, or birth.
Whether you’re visiting Alaska via cruise, ferry, or plane, Ketchikan is well worth a stop. Though the cruise ships bring the majority of the business, I’d recommend booking a ferry through the Alaska Marine Highway System or looking online for flights directly to Ketchikan.
After its pulp mill was the last to close in Alaska (in 1997), Ketchikan worked hard to boost tourism to pick up the slack. Commercial fishing still reigns as the number one industry, but tourism pulls in at second and helps keep the town thriving.
It’s easy to understand why. Yes, it’s located in a temperate rainforest where it rains more than 300 days per year (really!), but the rain is what keeps it insanely beautiful. It also makes it a wonderful home for an abundance of flora and fauna, like bears, whales, seals, salmon, bald eagles and some of the oldest-growth forest in the world.
Thinking about visiting Ketchikan? Wondering what to do or where to go while you’re here?
Though Ketchikan is small (just over 8,000 residents), it’s the fourth biggest city in Alaska — and it’s chock full of fun and outdoorsy things to do.
Here are my top picks for things to do, eat, and drink in Ketchikan.
Free things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska
Dude Mountain: My favorite hike in Ketchikan. The views are RIDICULOUS. You definitely need a car to get up here, but it’s so worth it.
Deer Mountain: This is the big mountain that stands in the middle of town. A great and popular hike.
Perseverance Lake: I love doing this hike after work or when I’m tight on time. It’d also be perfect for a trail run.
Lunch Creek: Out at Settlers Cove. Pretty, but don’t be intent about getting to the top; there’s a good chance you’ll never make it!
Rainbird Trail: Super easy, short, and right in town.
Ward Lake: Nice level trail around a lake. Perfect for geezers or running.
Deer Mountain to Silvis Lake Traverse: Intense but gorgeous hike from town to the south end of the island. One of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. 13 miles, so you can do it in two hard days or one really hard day.
Settlers Cove: Though it’s at the very north end of the road system, this is one of the nicest beaches on the island. Great little campsite and incredible sunsets.
Refuge Cove: An easy place for a bonfire, with great views.
Bugge Beach: The closest beach to town, and the most popular one for post-work BBQs. (I think the official name is Rotary Beach.)
Herring Cove: This is THE place to go look for black bears. Drive out here in the evening after 7 pm. Park anywhere and enjoy the bear watching! Especially good in late July/August at a low-tide.
Creek Street: This “street,” consisting of colorful houses on pile-ons above Ketchikan Creek, is a must-see. It’s the historical red-light district of Ketchikan, where “both the salmon and the men went up the stream to spawn.” During July and August, you’ll be able to see tons of salmon running up the stream.
Totem Bight State Park: This is one of my favorite places in Ketchikan. Though it’s a little bit out of town, it’s a beautiful, ocean-side park where you can enjoy some of Ketchikan’s beautiful totem poles.
More things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska
Kayaking: Having worked at a sea kayaking company for three summers, I’m a bit biased in thinking this is the best activity to do. I also think that my company, Southeast Sea Kayaks, does it best. We’ve been running independent kayaking trips for almost 20 years, and they ROCK. (Check out our Trip Advisor reviews if you don’t believe me!) If you have time, why not take a water taxi or full-day trip into the Misty Fjords?
Flightseeing: If you can’t get to the Misty Fjords monument to go kayaking, flightseeing is the next best thing. The Misties are ridiculously beautiful — and you don’t want to miss them! I recommend Carlin Air, Family Air, and Alaska Seaplane Tours.
Fishing: You can’t come to Southeast Alaska and not go fishing. Check out The Bites On charters for great salmon and halibut fishing. Clay is also a lot of fun! Baranof Fishing Excursions also runs great daily trips.
Southeast Alaska Discovery Center: Cool museum with tons of info about the area’s culture and nature.
The Fish Pirates Daughter: A musical melodrama that’s been being performed in Ketchikan for more than 50 years. (I was in it in 2010, and it was a blast!) Tickets come with an all-you-can-eat crab feast.
Blueberry Festival: Always falling right around my birthday in early August, this arts and culture festival features a beard contest, blueberry treats, a banana slug race, and arts and crafts galore.
Best restaurants in Ketchikan, Alaska
“Best” restaurants in Ketchikan is somewhat of a misleading statement. There are no great restaurants in Ketchikan, and they are all expensive. My first summer up here, my friends and I wanted to pitch a Food Network show called “Worst Food City in America” and have Ketchikan compete for the top spot. The seafood up here is INCREDIBLE — but everyone catches and cooks it themselves.
If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck here without fish or a kitchen, here are your best bets.
Alaska Fish House: Good seafood without the cost of having to tip a server.
Burger Queen: Delicious milkshakes and greasy (but good) burgers. Best part? They deliver to the Arctic Bar.
O’Briens Pub: Owned by a fellow Michigan fan, this is a fun little pub with awesome fish and chips.
Annabelles Keg and Chowder House: An old-fashioned bar/restaurant with charming interior. Decent Americana fare with an emphasis on seafood.
Cape Fox: Standard food with a beautiful view, but prices are pretty steep. Exception: the crab and brie dip. It’ll blow your mind.
Bar Harbor: The best restaurant in town. Almost everything in the restaurant is tasty, but the prices are very high.
Best bars in Ketchikan, Alaska
Unlike the Ketchikan restaurant scene, the bar scene in Ketchikan is hopping. There’s a progression to the bars in Ketchikan; pretty much everyone starts at the bars farthest south and works their way north. Since I’m no one to mess with perfection, here’s the order of my favorite bars, going straight down the line. (JFYI: the majority of bars in Ketchikan only accept cash. So be sure to bring plenty, or at least your debit card!)
The Sourdough: This bar is covered in photos of shipwrecks (so Alaskan) and has SHUFFLEBOARD, pool, darts, Photo Hunt, and a jukebox. A solid choice.
The Totem: Though I always feel like I’m either going to get raped or stabbed when I’m in here, that’s part of the fun. An ultimate dive with a dedicated bar for pull-tabs (gambling, Alaskan style).
The Arctic Bar: The Arctic is home to “The Happy Bears” and also to an outdoor deck that’s hosted many moments people would rather forget. One of the most famous bars in town, for good reason.
The Asylum: Really good free food at 6 pm on Mondays and Fridays, plus an outdoor patio that gets sunshine (when it’s there to be gotten). There’s also a range of bar games, including foosball. Bonus: small dance floor on weekends.
First City: The dirtiest of the dirtiest and pure dance perfection. Most big nights “end up” here. Just don’t try the food or stay until closing — unless you want to get into/witness a brawl outside.
And two more classics, for good measure:
The Potlatch: The only thing better than this bar’s view of Thomas Basin Harbor is the collection of handwritten classifieds hanging on the wall, mostly relating to fishing jobs. A true fisherman’s haven.
Hole in the Wall: One of the most unique bars in Ketchikan, and well worth the long drive out south. Situated on the water and covered in dollar bills, you won’t find anything else like it. If you only come for one night, come for the Summer Solstice Party, when it stays light past 11 pm and the dock has so many people on it’s in serious danger of sinking.
What else would you like to know about Ketchikan?
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