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Misty Ketchikan, the rainiest town in southeast Alaska, is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World." The town offers the perfect blend of activities: spend the morning kayaking in Misty Fjords or hiking up Deer Mountain, then spend the afternoon poking in and out of fantastic galleries and shops.
You're bound to visit Creek Street, a row of wooden buildings perched over the water on pilings. Today's brightly painted boutiques once catered to gentlemen seeking the company of "sporting women." The museum at Dolly's House gives you a glimpse into the bawdy ways of frontier life, though Ketchikan's red-light district wasn't shut down until 1953.
Legends of a different sort are recorded on totem poles. Boasting the world's largest collection of Northwest totems, Ketchikan has plenty of places to see these fascinating works of art.
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A hand-carved mini-totem pole makes for an excellent gift.
English is spoken in Ketchikan.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The U.S. dollar is the currency used in port, but some shops will also accept Canadian dollars. Should you need cash, there are numerous banks with ATM's close to the cruise ship dock, including Wells Fargo (306 Main Street) and Alaska Pacific Bank (410 Mission Street).
Where You're Docked
Ships dock in the center of town. On crowded days, some ships may be required to anchor -- and tender passengers into Ketchikan. Small ships sometimes dock a mile south of town.
Shoppers and gallery hoppers will be able to easily navigate Creek Street and its environs on foot. This popular tourist area is only about a block from the cruise ship dock. Those looking to get a little further afield, say to Totem Bight State Park (10 miles away), will likely take a motorcoach. You may not have enough time in port to make renting a car worthwhile, but visitors who want their own wheels can head for Alaska Car Rental (2828 Tongass Ave), located about a mile and a half from the dock.
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show celebrates Ketchikan's logging heyday. Watching pros compete at log rolling, axe throwing and pole climbing makes even a rainy day entertaining. The bleachers, thankfully, are covered. The sometimes corny show lasts about an hour, leaving plenty of time for shopping -- the port's shore activity of choice.
Ketchikan museum hopping. The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center (50 Main Street) has an interactive rain-forest gallery and a terrific gift shop for informational buys, from maps to guidebooks. Also check out the Totem Heritage Center (601 Deermount Street) and the Tongass Historical Museum (629 Dock Street).
Outside of Ketchikan, three must-sees are Totem Bight State Park (10 miles north), Potlach Park (near Totem Bight) and Saxman Native Village (2 miles south). At Potlach and Saxman, you can watch Native carvers at work.
Shopping in downtown Ketchikan. The most interesting area -- both for historic value and good shopping -- is Creek Street. Not a street at all, this boardwalk winds along Ketchikan Creek and was once the locale for all the area's brothels. Now it's home to artsy galleries like Soho Coho (5 Creek Street), which sells a variety of higher-end crafts, from gorgeous velvet scarves to watercolors to soaps; adjacent is the Alaska Eagle Art Gallery where Pendleton blankets with Indian themes are a standout, as are silver pendants and bronze sculptures. Upstairs is Parnassus, an interesting book store with a great selection of Alaska-oriented tomes. Try Sam McGee's A Taste of Alaska (18 Creek Street) for regionally made foodstuffs, from honey to barbecue sauce to soaps, lotions and ulu knives.
Another interesting "shopping" area is a line of galleries along Stedman Street such as Blue Heron (123 Stedman Street), which has Alaskan crafts, including locally carved totem poles, and Golden Eagle Gifts (123 Stedman Street) for state-made coffees and teas.
Been There, Done That
See black bears catch and eat their fill of salmon at Neets Bay in Tongass National Forest. Sign up on board your ship for this floatplane and bear watching thrill (late July through September).
Serious hikers should traverse Deer Mountain, a 3 mile trail that begins in Ketchikan (Fair and Deermount Streets).
Go sea kayaking, deep-sea fishing, and tour the Misty Fjords by air (at the pier there's a tourism center where local operators have booths -- you can sign up there).
Right in the heart of downtown, the Eagle Spirit Gallery (310 Mission Street) and Scanlon Gallery (318 Mission Street) have interesting native Indian arts, from ivory carvings to cedar bark baskets and masks.
Catch a great view of Ketchikan and beyond from the Cape Fox Lodge; you can access this hilltop resort from a funicular that operates on Creek Street ($2 roundtrip).
Fishing. Fishing excursions are very popular in Ketchikan, and there are two main types. Visitors can opt for a salmon fishing excursion (arrangements can be made to ship the catch home) or go bottom fishing for rock fish and halibut, an excursion that's often coupled with a lunch onshore (of the catch) at a "fish camp." Both options also provide an excellent opportunity for wildlife spotting.
Totems and History. Parks like Ketchikan's Potlach Park feature re-created Native Alaskan villages with traditional tribal homes and hand-carved totem poles. A guided visit is one of the more reasonably priced Ketchikan excursion options. Passengers can pick up some stories about native mythology -- like the bizarre origin of salmon -- and watch carvers demonstrate totem construction.
Boat Tours & Marine Life. Fans of TV's "Deadliest Catch," which follows boats searching for lucrative king crab through treacherous waters, will enjoy the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour. The tour takes place on the 107-foot Aleutian Ballad, a former commercial fishing boat immortalized in season two of the show after it was savaged by a rogue wave. During the tour, which is technically unaffiliated with "Deadliest Catch," the crew expounds on fishing, tells tales of near death at sea, offers a ship tour, pulls up shrimp, crab and octopus using creature-specific gear, and points out other marine life along the way.
Casual, in-town joints: New York Cafe (207 Stedman), is a historic inn serving local seafood. If you get lucky and the sun comes out, you can dine al fresco on the boardwalk deck, which overlooks Ketchikan Creek.
Gourmet Dining: Annabelle's Keg and Chowder House (in the Gilmore Hotel, 326 Front Street, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), which celebrates the 1920's, has two sections -- a somewhat formal linen tablecloth dining room and, across, a boisterous, atmospheric pub.
Staying in Touch
Seaport Cyber (on the pier, upstairs at #216 Salmon Landing), a crew favorite, offers Internet access. You can buy a card that works in three ports -- Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau.
Ketchikan Coffee Company (211 Steadman, at the New York Hotel) offers Wi-Fi and a number of desktops (Macs) as well.
For More Information
Ketchikan Convention & Visitors' Bureau: 800-770-3300
On the Web: www.visitketchikan.com
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--Updated by Dan Askin, Associate Editor