Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city

Our first sight of Alaska

As the jet noses through the clouds we are afforded our first sight of Alaska.  The scene is one of pine trees hugging a rugged coastline and calm steel grey water. If I crane my neck I can see through the opposite window the first houses of Ketchikan. Wooden houses, some log cabins, some grand and colourful all positioned along the waters edge.

Ketchikan airport is a humble affair, but to my surprise they have an air bridge, so no chilly walk across the tarmac for us. Well not just yet. That comes after baggage collection when we have to venture outside, walk down to the dock and catch a ferry over to downtown Ketchikan.

A chilly ferry crossing to get to Ketchikan

Ketchikan is Alaska’s most south eastern city, they call themselves “Alaska’s first city” for that reason. With a population of around 14,000, the main industries are salmon and tourism after the pulp mill closed in the 1990’s. They are the first port of call for the cruises ships, and the day we arrive there are three massive ships docked. In high summer another three can be moored out at sea! The locals welcome their visitors with a genuine smile and a singing cash register. An army of lolly-pop locals stop the traffic so cruise visitors can cross the roads safely. Talk about a well oiled machine, this little town has made tourism an art form!

Downtown Ketchikan is a pretty place and one of the most photogenic streets is the once notorious Creek Street. Infamous in the old days for its bordellos, it is now more well known for its excellent shopping and scenic boardwalk.

The scenic Creek Street Ketchikan

If totem poles take your fancy, Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles. About 4kms out of town is the Saxman Totem Park, the 25 totem poles here are authentic replicas of original poles.

Saxman Totem Park

We enjoy a good walk and close to town is the pretty Rainbird Trail. It is an easy 45 minute hike through rainforest which affords striking views over the town and beyond.

View from the Rainbird Trail

During our stay we are lucky enough to befriend a local who took us on a tour of his favourite places. Now I am not a fan of camping but the natural beauty of Settler’s Cove even had me longing for night under canvas (it had James feeling my forehead for a temperature!). A drive along the Tongas Narrow to Rotary Beach was another highlight for us.

Rotary Beach, Ketchikan
Settlers Cove, a place that would even entice me to camp!


For the best place to stay in Ketchikan, you can’t go past the Inn at Creek Street,also called the New York Hotel. It overlooks the water and is just around the corner from Creek Street, so right in the heart of town.

New York Hotel aka Inn at Creek Street

The cruise ships might be annoying, but make sure you go shopping when they are in for great bargains and all the shops are open! Likewise many restaurants tend to shut early in the evening when the ships go.

If you can afford the huge price tags go on some of the fabulous tours, but at US$200+ each you need deep pockets! if you can’t, take the city bus for $2 for all day; do the Walking Tour around town which is in the brochure; hike one of the trails. Or be charming like us and get chatting to a local …..