Area: 586,412 square miles
County: Ketchikan Gatew
As one of Alaska's tourist meccas, you know you're in Alaska when you set foot in Ketchikan. Cruise ship traffic abounds. The little town of 14,500 is built right over the water in many places—the steep hillsides making construction extremely expensive. Established originally as a fishing camp, Ketchikan today bustles with activity. Commercial fishing enterprises, growing tourism and the Misty Fjords National Monument to the east make Ketchikan a great place to visit.
An outstanding collection of totems make a stop here essential for anyone looking for the "real Alaska". Ketchikan's name supposedly comes from the native term "Katch Kanna", which roughly translates: "spread wings of a prostrate eagle". But lest you think eagles are creatures of the past, look carefully along the water line, both north and south of town, and you're likely to see one or more bald eagles circling back to their waterside perches.
Although the town appears to have grown in topsy-turvy fashion, it almost seems today to have been built for its visitors: The big jet airport (its runways built on three levels), is just a short ferry ride across Tongass Narrows.
In 1883, a man named Snow built a salmon saltery on the spot where Ketchikan now stands. Two years later, businessmen from Portland, Oregon, hired Mike Martin to investigate possibilities for building a salmon cannery on the banks of Ketchikan Creek. Martin and the cannery's manager, George Clark, set up a partnership and opened a saltery and a general store. Two years later, with the fishing trade flourishing, Ketchikan was definitely in business. And by 1900, with a population of 800, the town was officially incorporated.
With mining activities beginning in the area, Ketchikan became an important trading community, with an estimated two-thirds of miners' wages reportedly ending up in the bars and bordellos of Creek Street.
Despite a mining decline, the fishing industry and timber operations began to grow with establishment of the Ketchikan Spruce Mills early in the century.
In 1954, Ketchikan Pulp Mill was completed at nearby Ward Cove, assuring jobs not only in town, but in the surrounding woods as well. Today, that industry is in trouble world wide but the ever resilient Alaskans are starting to focus on another mainstay, tourism. Cruise ships, the Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska Airlines as well as many charter operators bring thousands of visitors to town through the summer months, while across Tongass Narrows, an endless stream of jet aircraft keep Ketchikan very much in touch with the world outside.
Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, is right on the cruise ship dock. 907-225-6166. Inside you will find 20 tour booths ready to meet your needs. Everything from bus tours, kayaking, helicopter tours, flightseeing, horse-drawn trolleys, biking and guided walking tours. web: www.visit-ketchikan.com
Post Office on Tongass Avenue near the State Ferry terminal.
ATM: First Bank, 331 Dock St. & Tongass Ave. Branch 2000 Tongass Ave.
Forest Service Information has opened a new Public Lands Information Center/Museum, called the Southeast Alaska Discovery center. World-class exhibits and award winning audiovisual programs. Totem poles, rainforest room, Native fish camp scene and exhibits on Southeast Alaska's ecosystems, fishing, mining, timber and tourism. One block from cruise ship dock. 50 Main St. Ketchikan, AK 99901; 907-228-6214, fax 907-228-6234.
Emergency only 911: Ketchikan police 225-6631; State Troopers 225-5118; Ketchikan Hospital 225-5171, 3100 Tongass Avenue.
Dump station: Free RV dump station at 3915 Tongass one mile north of ferry terminal.
Things to do
Centennial Museum Library on Dock Street in downtown Ketchikan, has an excellent collection of Indian artifacts, pioneer relics, wildlife, ores and minerals, a gun collection, pioneer household equipment, old photos and books on Alaska. An outstanding place to spend a rainy afternoon.
Hiking trails around Ketchikan offer another exciting dimension to your visit there. The Deer Mountain Trail, for example, begins right in town just behind City Park at the intersection of Deermount and Fair streets. An easy though steep hike, much of this well-maintained, five-mile-long trail is boardwalk. The trail can be climbed in about four hours, and the reward is a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
Craig and Klawock on Prince of Wales Island are two Indian communities which offer fishing, as well as scenic, historic and cultural interest. Served by the State Ferry System.