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Ketchikan lies at the southern end of Alaska's Inside Passage and at the meeting place of three Alaska native cultures: Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.
Evidence of the rich artistic and dance traditions of the native cultures is apparent throughout town, most visibly in the totem poles scattered through the historic district and found in larger groupings in totem parks near town.
Known as Alaska’s first city and the “salmon capital of the world,” Ketchikan’s historic downtown is wedged between salmon-rich waters and forested mountains. The don't-miss downtown shopping area is built into steep hills and partly propped on wooden pilings with boardwalks and totem poles throughout.
Ketchikan offers many ways for visitors to experience Alaska's visual, cultural, natural, wild and artistic bounty.
The top places to see totem poles are Totem Bight State Historical Park, Saxman Native Village & Totem Pole Park and the Totem Heritage Center. There's also Tongass Historical Museum, which focuses on the history, art and culture of Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska; and Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, where interactive displays interpret the land, people and culture of the region.
There is no better way to get close to Alaskan nature and wildlife than on the water. Outfitters offer kayaking and fishing excursions and whisk passengers across the water to places within Tongass National Forest, including some bear-viewing sights, accessible only by boat.
On land, you can wander along walking trails in and around Ketchikan. The U.S. Forest Service provides maps of trails you can download and print before your trip, but remember to ask for local advice on trail conditions before you set out. Deer Mountain trail, for example, takes experienced hikers through compelling landscapes, even if they don't complete the 3.5 mile trek to the top.
After cultural immersion, get your shopping fix and search for mementoes in Ketchikan's many shops and galleries, especially those showcasing authentic Native American artwork such as jewelry, masks, carvings and baskets. Look for the Silver Hand emblem, signifying that the article was handcrafted by an Alaskan Native.
Ships typically dock in the center of town. On crowded days, some ships may be required to anchor and tender passengers into town. Small ships sometimes dock a mile south of Ketchikan, and cruise lines typically provide shuttles to the downtown area in this case.
Downtown Ketchikan is easily walkable but taxis are also available for those who want them. The city has a very good, inexpensive bus system that takes passengers from downtown to a number of Ketchikan's popular tourist sights, including the historical parks.
Store hours: Stores in Ketchikan are open from about 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Sunday. Some stores may stay open later when cruise ships are in town.
Tipping: A 10% to 15% tip on the restaurant/taxi bill is customary. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.
Weather & dress: Ketchikan is known as the Misty City, and locals are proud of the “liquid gold” that frequently falls from the sky. You should be prepared for showers at a moment’s notice, even when it's sunny out, as the weather can change quickly.
Safety: Ketchikan is considered a safe and peaceful town. As always, be aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables.
ShoreFox contributed to this guide.
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“Drop by Bar Harbor Restaurant for lunch for fresh cod tacos or halibut burgers, or splurge on king crab, sold by the pound.”