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Sitting on the southeast tip of Alaska where the the panhandle plunges into British Columbia, misty Ketchikan is a popular cruise ship destination facing the Inside Passage. Sculpted by nature, the city is famous for a stunning landscape featuring snow-capped mountains, massive glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and salmon-spawning streams. In fact, Ketchikan has long been known as the salmon capital of the world. Just outside of town lies Tongass National Forest, a mossy paradise of places to hike, camp, fish, and catch sights of wildlife. The city itself has an undeniable charm, with colorful cabins, wooden boardwalks, and the world's largest collection of totem poles-a striking display of the culture that shaped the city and still thrives today. Whether you want to explore the area by seaplane, go trekking over nature trails, or dig into indigenous traditions at Saxman Native Village, this breathtaking destination is an oasis of heritage and nature.
Downtown - Though home to just over 8,000 people, the quaint city of Ketchikan boasts dozens of attractions, from heritage centers and museums to shopping, dining, and live entertainment. In downtown between Ketchikan Harbor and Ketchikan Creek, find the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, the Tongass Historical Museum, and the Totem Heritage Center, a museum featuring 19th-century totem poles and other handmade art. The rich cultural history of Ketchikan can also be seen along the waterfront at the George Inlet Cannery and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. While small, the city is also home to a diverse selection of dining, though unsurprisingly, the seafood reigns supreme. Unique shops selling one-of-a-kind treasures line Main and Creek streets, and can also be found in the Salmon Landing Market near the pier. Also along Creek Street, the Dolly's House Museum dives into the intriguing and lawless tales of Ketchikan's red-light history.
Tongass National Forest - Spanning 17 million acres (6.9 million ha), Tongass is the largest national forest in all of the United States. Made mostly of temperate rainforest and comprising 19 wilderness areas, the forest is filled with fjords, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, streams, and hiking trails. Of the wilderness areas, that in Ketchikan is the Misty Fjords National Monument, which makes up roughly 14 percent of the entire park. Throughout the area, find an abundance of wildlife including black bears, bald eagles, mountain goats, and deer, while in the summer months, whales, otters, and sea lions swim just offshore.
Totem Bight State Historical Site - Just 20 minutes north of downtown sits the Totem Bight State Park, another historical site featuring preserved totem poles at a former Native American fishing camp. Here, you can immerse yourself in the heritage of the native people as you step inside a replica of a traditional clanhouse, a carved structure representing the shared homes that once housed anywhere between 30 and 50 people.
Scope out the most majestic sights of the Misty Fjords on a spectacular sightseeing flight aboard a seaplane. From the dock in downtown Ketchikan, soar into the air over glassy icefields and verdant forests filled with hemlock and spruce. In a window seat, marvel at bird's-eye views of ancient glaciers and granite mountains, swooping low over the cliffs to catch sight of mountain goats and bears. Take time to snap photos from the emerald waters of an alpine lake or in the fjords themselves before touching back down in Ketchikan.
Uncover some of Ketchikan's must-see sights, both natural and manmade, on a comprehensive, all-in-one tour. In a comfortable van, begin with a drive through downtown's local landmarks including the salmon ladder, where enterprising fish battle their way upstream. Travel south to Saxman Village to learn more about the meaning of Native American totem poles, and then head farther to Rotary Beach to search for orcas and humpback whales. Watch as wildlife like bears, eagles, and heron go crazy for the fish at Herring Bay before making a final stop for photos at a waterfall.
Once you've explored the city, take to the backcountry for a guided hiking expedition through Tongass National Forest. Travel over 4 miles (6.4 km) of gentle terrain, meandering beneath towering Sitka spruce and Alaskan yellow cedar trees. If speed is what you're after, you can also experience the forest from the seat of a high-powered ATV. Strap yourself into a Tomcar for a fast-paced ride over rugged trails, muddy puddles, and steep, winding curves.
For those into watersports, Ketchikan is a perfect place to explore the rivers, canals, and bays in a kayak. Cruise the calm waters of Orcas Cove, row from downtown to Pennock Island, or pair a hike of the Black Mountain with a kayaking adventure to Icehouse Cove. Even if you prefer not to row on your own, you can still enjoy the water. Simply sit back and relax as an amphibious vehicle leads you through the glistening narrows.