Author: Mary W
Date of Trip: June 2011
I have taken three cruises to Alaska’s Inside Passage. All three times I’ve spent one or two days in Ketchikan, either at the start or end of the trip. I love this city and highly recommend that you make time to visit it if you are cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage.
If you come by air the first treat is taking a taxi or rental car onto the ferry from the airport to the city. If you live near water you probably won’t think this is much of a big deal – there are no ferries where I live and I love them. You get a great first view of the city on the trip over.
Where to stay: I always stay at the Cape Fox Lodge. It’s at the top of the hill overlooking the city and is reachable two ways – a road that goes up behind the hotel, or the more fun way, a funicular (sort of a combination of tram and cable car) from the bottom of the hill. It’s not free unless you are guest of the hotel and sometimes it gets crowded but if you don’t have a vehicle or want to pay a taxi it’s the only way to get up the hill. And the view is spectacular on the way up or down. The Cape Fox is owned by Native Americans and they have lots of art in the hotel, as well as very interesting totems outside the entrance. The rooms are pretty basic but they have nice views whether you are on the ocean or mountain side. The restaurant has a great view of the harbor and the food is pretty good. There is also a little coffee shop.
I collect Zuni fetishes (animals carved out of rock and bone) and while in Alaska the first time I discovered that the Alaskan natives also carve animals. Unlike the Zunis the Alaskans only carve the animals they see – mainly whales, walrus, otters, native birds, seals, salmon, etc. I found a wonderful gallery in Ketchikan, Arctic Spirit Gallery. The owners deal directly with the artists and they are very knowledgeable. The last time I was there they generously gave me a book and shared a lot of information about the art and the carvers.
Although the large cruise ships come to Ketchikan, it doesn’t seem that crowded even when the ships are in port. You can book local tours at the dock, which is within walking distance of just about everything. You can also book things ahead of time. I scheduled a snorkeling excursion (very cold) and a float plane trip into Misty Fjords to see bears. The bear trip was amazing – we landed on a quiet lake, the pilot shut off the engine, and a bear came out to the grass and meandered down, eating all the way. There are a couple of totem parks near the city and a salmon hatchery that is interesting to tour.
Ketchikan does have it’s share of “touristy” shops, particularly right on the dock. You can avoid that easily by walking a few blocks inland, if that is not to your taste.
I found the locals to be very friendly and helpful with recommendations on restaurants and sightseeing. I was here by myself but never felt unsafe or without options for things to do. Even when it rained it wasn’t that cold or difficult to deal with – that’s just southern Alaska in the summer.