What to do in Ketchikan on a Budget

So, you are looking for things to do in Ketchikan, because you are going on an Alaskan Cruise, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Last year, my husband and I went on a cruise to Alaska and because of a little problem with out ship, we were in Ketchikan for 5 days in late August. We learned a lot about what to see in Ketchikan.

For more information about Ketchikan excursions, visit the TripTrist Alaska Excursion Guide and watch our Things to do in Ketchikan video.  See our blog post for information on When to plan a Trip to Alaska.

Hiking in Ketchikan

The Sky Bird Trail right above the town. It is a short, but challenging trail overlooking Ketchikan, the waterways, and the mountains beyond. It travels through a picture perfect rain forest. You “feel” like you are in Alaska, because you are! However, there are steep stairs at the beginning and end of the trail,

It you are a photographer, take your tripod as it is fairly dark and don’t forget your rain gear. I used a basic zip freezer bag and slipped it on and off as needed. I also carried an umbrella so that I could still take photos while it was raining. It was much more challenging to take pictures when the sun came out because the contrast was too great between the light and dark areas of the forest. My iPhone did a good job when set on HD.

Stop in at the Ketchikan visitor’s bureau, right next to the ship dock, and talk to the helpful people at the city desk. Ask for the city map and directions on where to stand to wait for the bus. Take the bus to the library and walk from there to the trailhead. At the other end, take the easy walk down hill to catch the bus back to the dock. The Ketchikan bus is very easy to use and only costs $1.

Bears in Ketchikan

There are many things to see in Ketchikan, including the black bears. You may see them along side of the road or while walking on a trail. Both Black and Brown (Grizzly) bears live in the area. Both types of bears will try to stay away from you, but you still need to be careful. Our river rafting guide doesn’t carry pepper spray or a gun; he carries a big, black trash bag. If he encounters a bear, he holds it up high in the air, shakes it, and yells at the bear to “go away.”  Click for more information about traveling in bear country.

Ketchikan’s Ward Lake Trail

There is a nice, very easy trail around Ward Lake, a short bus ride out of town. You can walk around the lake, picnic in the shelter, and fish while admiring several types of forest terrains, including some old growth redwood trees.

Ketchikan Salmon

Ketchikan is a fishing town; people make their living from fish and tourists, and there are plenty of both in the summer. The five different types of salmon that return to the stream to spawn and Chum, Sockeye, King, Silver, and Pink Salmon. To learn more click here.

It is hard to explain, but the salmon are so interesting to watch. They swim up stream, wiggle over big rocks, jump into the air to make it to the next level, and then rest before they start over again to get to the next level. Visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for a complete description of when the salmon are running, what kind of salmon are running, and where to find them across Alaska.

Ketchikan Alaska Fishing

If you want to catch some salmon to take home, you can rent a fishing pole right on the creek. They will give you directions on how to get your fish to the packing house to get it cleaned, cut into steaks, frozen, and shipped home. Ask a local which ones you should throw back.

It you don’t want to take home frozen salmon, there are many canned and smoked salmon options. We brought home some cute little lunch size cans at a great price.

Famous Fish Creek

The most photographed part of Ketchikan is the Fish Creek shopping area. These iconic stores were built on dock-like structures along the creek and are easy to photograph. We were able to watch a river otter fish in the creek without leaving town.

After shopping, continue to walk up the hill on the creek path. That is where the real show is. From July to October, you can watch the salmon jump up the river. They are amazing. Keep on walking to where the stream flattens out to see thousands of salmon spawning.

Window Shopping

Ketchikan has a mix of locally owned stores the sell art, food. and jewelry made in Alaska and right in Ketchikan; and internationally known, upscale merchandise. If you want to be sure to buy from a local, ask one of the folks in the visitor’s center. We enjoyed shopping for prints and locally made souvenirs at Crazy Wolf Studio. They specialize in authentic Northwest Coast design Native Art. We watched them do some carvings while we were there.

If you are more interested in North Face and Coleman than Rolex and Gucci, then you will want to visit the Tongass Trading Company. This large outfitters store on the dock has everything you might need for a trip into the wilderness of Alaska, from tents and fishing gear to high quality outerwear. Don’t let the cheap sweatshirts downstairs fool you; the good stuff is upstairs.

If you happen to have a quilter in the family, stop by the Silver Thimble quilt shop near the dock. They have a large selection of wildlife and native fabric as well as locally designed patterns and kits. If you are interested in a quilting cruise, let us know and we can find you one.

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center provides a very nice overview of the history, culture, and wildlife of Southern Alaska. The exhibits are every well done and informative. The kids will like the life-like forest room and the gift shop. They have some nice children’s books with Alaskan themes. It is a nice dry place to visit while a rainstorm passes. Admission isn’t free, but it isn’t expensive either.

Ketchikan Alaska Attractions

Here are some of the Ketchikan Excursions that are offered by the cruise ships. For more information about them, visit the visit the TripTrist Alaska Excursion Guide.

Fly to see the Bears at Neet’s Bay – Alaska Bear Adventures

Misty Fjords National Monument in a Floatplane

Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

Snorkel Alaska

Totem State Park

Ketchikan Duck Tour

Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary