90% of Ketchikan’s visitors come by cruise ship, so odds are if you’re reading this, you’re about to take an Alaskan cruise! While there are lots of cool shore excursions to be found in Ketchikan, they can be not so cool if you’re a budget traveler. Lucky for you, there are also plenty of free or cheap things to do here, and these 5 should fill your day with lots of authentic Alaskan fun!
1. Explore the Town
Cruise ships port right by downtown Ketchikan, and you will be greeted by the iconic “Welcome to Alaska’s 1st City, Ketchikan, The Salmon Capital of the World” sign. At Berth #2, you can find the Ketchikan Visitor’s Bureau, which has representatives from a number of different shore excursions at desks. Unless you are enticed by one of their offers, your goal is to find the Free Walking Guide Map, which will show you lots of different spots to explore in town. Feel free to follow this map or to just wander around and see what appeals to you. We decided to spend a day wandering around and exploring all the gift shops that had “Made in Alaska” products, but there are lots of different things to see and do around town, including lots of stores that offer free gifts and stalls that offer free samples. Definitely check out Creek Street, Ketchikan’s Red Light District from the logging days.
2. Free Downtown Shuttle Bus
If you liked the idea of the walking tour but didn’t like the whole “walking” part, you’re in luck! There is a free shuttle bus that makes 20-30 minute loops around the downtown Ketchikan area, with stops and schedule listed here. You can check out the Totem Heritage Center ($6 for adults), Creek Street, and even stop by the Plaza Mall, home to our very own Safeway!
3. Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
Whether you stop by on your self-guided walking tour or need a place to spend a rainy day, visiting the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is a great way to learn more about Ketchikan’s ecology and history. The center has a flat rate fee of $5 per adult, and for this you get access from 8am-4pm to extensive, interactive exhibits on the Tongass National Rainforest, the Native Alaskan culture of the area, and how Ketchikan has been affected by the fishing, mining, logging, and tourism industries. In addition, the center has a movie theater which plays the Ketchikan Story Project films on a big screen throughout the day. Overall, it’s a wonderful way to spend an hour or a full day exploring and learning about the history and environment of Ketchikan.
4. Dolly’s House Museum
For $10 per person, you can check out a home left in authentic condition by Dolly, one of the lovely ladies of the Red Light District era in Ketchikan. It’s an entertaining tour led by a very informative guide, which shows and tells you about a time when “both men and salmon came upstream to spawn” here on Creek Street.
5. Take a Hike
Ketchikan is home to a number of hikes, most of which are doable in the time cruise ships port, but only one of which is realistically close to port. The Rainbird Trail starts about 30 minutes walking, 6 minutes driving from Berth #4. You could take a ~$10 cab or get a bus day pass for $5, or if you’re feeling like as much walking as possible you could walk through town to get there. Upon arrival, you’re in for about 1.3 miles through the rainforest, stopping at a bluff along the way which overlooks the city of Ketchikan. If you are an expert hiker who doesn’t mind paying a bit more to get to a trailhead, you can give Dude Mountain a shot. I talked about my experience here, but overall I would recommend only going if you have full confidence in your ability to climb a mountain quickly.
There is lots to see and do here in Ketchikan, and this just includes 5 of the free or cheap ways to spend your day. However, this doesn’t begin to cover the multitude of shops, restaurants, and pubs that fill the streets of downtown Ketchikan, all of which are worth a peek and a few dollars spent towards supporting the locals! We hope you enjoy Ketchikan, a small town with a lot to offer.