If you’re heading on an Alaskan cruise from Seattle then Ketchikan could very well be your first chance to get off the ship and stretch your legs.
So, of course, you’ll want to make the most of it! But what should you do? For being such a small town Ketchikan is packed full of things to do. If it’s your first stop (and possibly your first cruise) it can be a bit overwhelming to know that you only have half a day to see and do everything that there is.
But I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t possibly come close to doing everything. If you’ve only got a single day in Ketchikan you’ll have to carefully plan your itinerary and stick to activities close to the port.
But what are the best options? Well, it depends on your cruise and what you like (also on Ketchikan’s weather which can be touch and go…).
However, these are what I consider to be the best choices for a one-day itinerary in Ketchikan (whether you’re on a cruise ship or not).
Excursions vs. Exploring The Town
Very few cruises spend an appreciable amount of time in Ketchikan. On our last cruise, the ship cleared at about 7:15 and the all-aboard was at 12:45. A bit over 5 hours ashore means that you’ll have to be pretty brutal in trimming down your itinerary.
The first major choice will be whether you want to spend your time doing an excursion or exploring the town. You likely won’t have time to do both.
If you choose a short excursion you might have time to grab a quick lunch in town but you won’t be able to see any museums, shows, or anything that differentiates Ketchikan from other Alaskan towns.
While you should do whatever you think you’ll enjoy the most, we really enjoyed spending some time in town.
If you do decide that you’d rather do an excursion, you’ll often save money (and have more options) by booking it personally instead of through that cruise line.
Even if you don’t book through your cruise the excursion operators cater mostly to cruisers and will have you back to port in time (guaranteed).
I should mention that there is also the possibility of doing neither. Some people wake up late, stroll ashore for a good brunch, and then head back aboard to enjoy a less crowded ship. If you’re on a cruise to relax and don’t want to stray far from port then this is a great option!
Getting Around In Ketchikan
Ketchikan is very easy to get around in. As you can imagine, a town with a population of 8,000 that relies on a million tourists per year has the infrastructure to deal with it. Kind of.
The transportation around Ketchikan, however, is quite simple. There is a single main road that runs for about 30 miles of coast with only a few smaller roads off of it.
If you are going to stick to the downtown area you probably won’t need anything besides your feet to get around. However, there is a free shuttle bus that runs the downtown loop every year from May through September. If you’re averse to walking there are also electric bike or cart rentals for visitors in the downtown area.
If you’re taking an excursion the transportation will be planned for you and all you need to do is walk off the ship.
If you’re striking out on your own, however, you have a few different options for getting around:
If you’re adventurous (bordering on crazy) and want to leave the island during your stop then air taxis, ferry services, and charter flights are available. All of those are really great options if you’re looking to miss your boarding time.
Many people who want to avoid crowds jump onto a free shuttle that takes them to Walmart and then regroup and strike out from there.
- Uber/Lyft. This is the easiest and fastest way to get around if there’s something, in particular, you want to get to. The drivers are (obviously) locals and can get your around quickly. Couple that with the small size of Ketchikan and a ride really can’t get very expensive.
- Rent a car. While this would be my last choice, it is a possibility. If it’s convenience that you’re looking for, stick with Uber.
- Taxis. There are traditional taxis available to meet you at the port or just about anywhere else in the city. There are a bit slower and cheaper than an Uber.
- Municipal Buses. Ketchikan’s bus system runs seven days per week and will get you just about anywhere on major streets and larger residential areas. You can get a day pass for the buses for around $5 at city hall (check current fares here)
Things To Do In Ketchikan On A One-Day Cruise Stop
There are literally a million things to do in Ketchikan if you’re game for an outdoor excursion.
The last piece of advice I’ll give is to choose an experience that is unique to the area. Many similar experiences can be had in other parts of the Pacific Northwest that are cheaper and easier to access. So choose something special.
These are things that you can either do self-guides or through a tour guide/group that you book yourself.
1. Totem Bight State Historical Park
Southeast Alaska has a rich cultural heritage and Ketchikan is a great place to experience it through totem poles.
There are many places where you can view them and get a history lesson but I always recommend that people check out Totem Bight State Historial Park.
If for some reason, Totem Bight doesn’t work out you can also check out:
- Saxman Native Village
- Totem Heritage center
- Potlatch Totem Park
Whether it’s in Ketchikan or not you should make it a point to experience some of the histories that belong to native Alaskans while you’re on your cruise.
2. The Deadliest Catch Tour
If you like watching The Deadliest Catch you’ll love Ketchikan. Not only was an episode of the show filed here but you can go on the actual boat that it was filmed on.
The boat’s crew will spend a couple of hours with your group showing you around, explaining how they do what they do, etc.
This tour is run by an outfit that also provides other tours out of Ketchikan and you can check out their website (and buy tickets) here.
3. Tidepool Snorkeling
If you’re getting bored with all the spa treatment, warm pools, and saunas on board the ship why not go for a dip in the frigid Pacific Ocean?
Tidepool Snorkeling is one of the most unique opportunities in Ketchikan and gives you the chance to experience some ocean wildlife up close and personal.
But don’t worry, you’ll get a full wetsuit before getting near the 55-degree water.
In addition to the host of typical tide-pool life, it’s not uncommon to see whales and other large sea creatures during these expeditions.
Check out Snorkel Alaska’s website for more info!
4. Kayaking Excursion
Kayaking in the PNW is a unique experience that we take advantage of every time we get a chance. If you’re looking to see some wildlife while getting a workout this is a fun option.
For most people, the best kayaking options in Ketchikan are the Eagle Island Excursion or a paddle around Orcas Cove. Both will take most of the time you have available but you should still be able to grab a bit to eat afterward.
5. Float Plane Tour
If you have the budget for it, a float plane tour might just be the most fun you can have in an hour or two.
The trips typically aren’t long but you’ll be able to see P.O.W. Island, Tongass National Forest, and Misty Fjords National Monument before heading back to the ground. Be sure to bring a camera as you’ll want to preserve the sights.
If, however, you can only afford one air tour you’ll probably want to save your dollars for a helicopter glacier tour in another port.
6. Lumberjack Show
If you like Thor, you’ll love this show. Rippling muscles…long hair flying…it’s got all the good stuff. Just leave your wife on the ship.
The show featured real (and extremely athletic) lumberjacks that compete in 12 different events from sawing to tree climbing to log rolling.
If you’ve never experienced anything of this nature it’s a fun (albeit spendy) way to spend your time on shore.
As an added bonus, this show is located less than a block from the dock so you’ll have time to see a bit of the town as well. It’s appropriate for all ages so bring the family!
7. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
If you are new to Alaska and want to learn more about it, this downtown museum/visitors center is a great way to get your bearings and learn a bit more about what to expect.
8. Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest might be the most picturesque location around Ketchikan and there are tons of ways to experience it.
Because of the vastness of the landscape, you’ll want to charter some sort of transportation to show you around. You can have your pick from buggies, planes, jeeps, and more.
9. Ketchikan Duck Tour
The Ketchikan Duck Tour is a good chance to see the town and get out on the local water if you’re not up to walking.
You’ll spend your time on an amphibious tour truck with a guide that will show you the sites in town before heading down into the water.
10. Bear Tour
I’ll be honest, at least 70% of my reasons for going to Alaska were to see a bear. Hopefully tons of bears. So if you can’t wait any longer on your cruise, Ketchikan is a great place to see bears!
Seeing bears is pretty seasonal so you’ll want to check ahead of time what times of year the tours actually have tickets available.
Where To Eat In Ketchikan
If you’re trying to see and do as much as possible in Ketchikan, don’t waste your time eating both meals in town. Either eat an early breakfast on the ship or a late lunch when you board.
Not having time to enjoy more of the food here is a real downer because there are some great spots. However, in order to keep you from drooling too much, I’ll only recommend one breakfast place and one lunch place.
Alaska Crepe Co. – This is a must-have for anyone stopping in Ketchikan. A huge assortment of savory and dessert crepes will provide almost anyone with something they love (not to mention that this is one of the only eateries in town open on Sundays).
Alaska Fish House – Enjoy anything from world-class fish & chips to salmon chowder or Dungeness crab. It’s excellent fresh seafood without all the trapping that comes with a fine dining restaurant!
If you’re a foodie and want your stop in Ketchikan to revolve more around some dining options you’ll want to consider the George Inlet Lodge Crab Feast which is a 2.5 hours experience including a tour and a private dining experience.
There are also pub crawls the experience local cuisine and other tasting tours readily available.
Whatever you decide to do in Ketchikan you’ll likely love every second you spend here and wish for more time.
There are tons of activities within walking distance of the port so the real problem of planning out a single day in Ketchikan is knowing what to skip.
As my parting advice I’ll tell you two things:
Firstly, have your trip planned out before you step on shore. You’ll want to have your tickets in hand and your every step planned out to avoid wasting your precious time.
Secondly, don’t be an obnoxious tourist. Ketchikan is a city of 8,000 people that receives over 500 cruise ships and 1,000,000 visitors per year…don’t be the person they remember.
So go, have fun, and make some Alaskan memories that will last a lifetime!
p.s. if you’re on an Alaskan cruise, be sure to check out our one-day itinerary for Juneau which might be your next stop!