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Southeast Alaska
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Southeast Alaska


Tongass National Forest & Smaller Wilderness Areas

Hyder, AK & Stewart, BC

Misty Fiords National Monument


Prince of Wales Island



Stikine-Leconte Wilderness

Admiralty Island National Monument


Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness

Sitka & Sitka National Historic Park

West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness & South Baranof Wilderness


Skagway, Klondike National Historic Park & White Pass and Yukon Route

Glacier Bay National Park & Gustavus

Yakutat & Russell Fiord Wilderness


Location/Climate: 235 miles south of Juneau, 679 miles north of Seattle, on the southwest coast of Revillagigedo Island. 154"/yr. precip., 29°F–59°F.

Population: 8,557 (15.7 percent native, mainly Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida); Ketchikan Gateway Borough (includes Saxman and surrounding area), 15,082 (13.7 percent native).

Travel Attractions: Misty Fiords National Monument access, ferry link, historic town, Creek Street, Totem Heritage Center, Southeast Alaska Visitor Center, Community of Saxman.

Getting There: Scheduled air service from Juneau, Seattle, and other points; scheduled ferry service from Juneau and Prince Rupert.

Information: Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, 131 Front Street, Ketchikan, AK 99901, (800) 770-3300, 225-6166, kvb@ktn.net, www.visit-ketchikan.com.

Ketchikan is located beside the Tongass Narrows on the southwest shores of Revillagigedo Island—named by Spanish explorers who visited the region briefly in the 1700s. Tongass and Cape Fox Tlingit Indians had long used the area near the mouth of the Ketchikan Creek as a fish camp. They called it "Kitschk-him," which translates to "thundering wings of an eagle." Fish and timber resources attracted settlers in the late 1800s and the town quickly grew. By 1936, seven canneries were in operation producing 1.5 million cases of salmon annually. Spruce logging grew in importance in World War II. The huge and infamous Ketchikan Pulp Company mill was built for $55 million in 1954.

Today Ketchikan is the largest community in the southern panhandle. This wet, blue-collar version of Juneau has plenty to offer both typical tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The town attracts cruise-ship activity and is a major stop on the Alaska Marine Highway. Visitors enjoy the compact town center and important native sites. Those with access to a vehicle or bike can tour the roads to the north and south, gaining access to Forest Service roads and trailheads.

The town and roads of Ketchikan are actually on a modest, isolated thumb of the largely wild Revillagigedo Island, bounded by Clover Passage to the north, the Tongass Narrows running from northwest to southeast, and the George Inlet to the east. This 100-plus-square-mile thumb is a microcosm of the Southeast. There are wild, rain-forested valleys, forest roads leading to clear cuts, barren summits, isolated lakes, and a busy coastal town. Forest Service campsites are a hike, paddle, or drop-off flight away, while a vast wilderness is just around the corner.

Take the North Tongass Highway 5 miles north of town to Ward Cove to see what was the largest year-round manufacturing facility in Alaska—the Ketchikan Pulp Company mill. Its closure in March of 1997 ended pulp milling in the Southeast. To attract attention in a local cafe, loudly discuss the environmental damage caused by the release of poisonous fumes and effluent from the pulping process. Almost 1,000 jobs went with the mill, and they didn’t go quietly. New sawmill jobs may pick up some of the slack.

Three miles southeast of Ketchikan on the Tongass Highway is the largely native community of Saxman (population 402; 77 percent native, mainly Tlingit), center of the Cape Fox Village Corporation. Just above the road is an interesting totem park and tribal house, as well as the Cape Fox store and Saxman Arts Co-op where art and craft objects can be purchased. The Beaver Clan youth demonstrate tribal dances and stories, and master totem carvers can be observed at work. Call 225-5163 for information.

A walking-tour map for Ketchikan is available in several locations, including the Ketchikan Visitor Information Center and the Southeast Alaska Visitor Center (see details above).

Things to See and Do in Ketchikan

Creek Street—Following Ketchikan Creek between the small boat harbor and Park Avenue, this boardwalk lane raised on pilings was once the red-light district in town. Now gift and other tourist-related shops line the way. A short, free tram climbs to the Westmark hotel on the hill (ride it for fun and a view). This is certainly the town’s biggest camera click and offers pleasant browsing.

Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery—Next to City Park and the Totem Heritage Center, the hatchery is a salmon- and steelhead trout–raising facility. A new raptor center features birds that cannot be returned to the wild. 429 Deermount Street, 225-5158. Open May 15–September 30.

Southeast Alaska Visitor Center—As one of Alaska’s interagency, public lands information centers, this is much more than a place to get pamphlets and information with a smile. It’s my favorite of Ketchikan’s offerings; the exhibits here are outstanding. Detailed information is available for trip planning and wilderness access throughout the Southeast. 50 Main Street, Ketchikan, AK 99901, 228-6214.

Tongass Historical Museum and Public Library—This inauspicious museum offers regional and local heritage exhibits, including the tale of the town of Loring, Ketchikan’s predecessor. Outside are three historic Tlingit totems, including the Chief Johnson Totem Pole, an exact replica of a turn-of-the-century pole raised by Tlingit Chief Johnson (carved by Israel Shotridge). 629 Dock Street. Open daily May 15–September 30 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday– Sunday winter; $2.

Totem Heritage Center—Original and replica totem poles are displayed indoors and out at this national landmark center. Also featured is the Drums of the Northwest Coast collection, a Fish Camp Life exhibit, and other exhibits and presentations relating to the arts and culture of the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples. 601 Deermount Street (10-minute walk from downtown), 225-5900, fax 225-5901. Open daily May 15–September 30 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; winter Tuesday–Friday afternoons; $5 (includes hatchery).

Recommended Hikes near Ketchikan

A number of maintained trails are easily accessible from town via the Tongass Highway. Several short paths are found near fishing lakes and campgrounds. Two of note are:

Deer Mountain Trail (10 miles, 2,000' gain)—This rugged route through the high country is Ketchikan’s best. The trail climbs directly from town for 2.5 miles to the Forest Service cabin near the summit of Deer Mountain. From here, the route winds through open, rocky terrain with small lakes and a couple of 3,000-foot summits, then drops to Silvis Lake and the trailhead at the end of the Forest Service road. It’s 15 miles back to town by road. Through trail—overnight.

Perseverance Trail (2.3 miles, little gain)—This moderately easy route is mostly boardwalk through mixed muskeg and forest. The trailhead is near Ward Lake on the Ward Lake Road. RT—3 hrs.

Where to Stay in Ketchikan

The Gilmore Hotel, 326 Front Street, 225-9423. $64–$74 (winter), $70–$130 (summer), suites more. On National Historic Register, waterfront views, private baths, cable TV. Features good food and drink at Annabelle’s Keg & Chowder House.

Inside Passage Bed-and-Breakfast, 114 Elliot Street (on the stairway), 247-3700. $60–$70 (rooms), $85 (apartment, 3-day minimum stay). Two rooms share one bath, one-bedroom apartment, breakfast.

Ketchikan Reservation Service, 412 D-1 Loop Road, (800) 987-5337, 247-5337, krs@ktn.net. B&Bs, hotels, rental cars, charters, tours.

The New York Hotel and Cafe, 207 Stedman Street, 225-0246. $60 and up (winter), $70 and up (summer). Small, charming, restored hotel near Creek Street; full baths; cable; 1920s decor.

Settler’s Cove State Recreation Site, North Tongass Highway (end, 15 miles north of town) on Clover Passage.

Tongass National Forest Campgrounds: Two campgrounds, Signal Creek and Three Cs, are located on Ward Lake Road north of town.

Westmark Cape Fox Lodge, 800 Venetia Way, (800) 544-0970, 225-8001. $109 and up (winter), $131 and up (summer). The nicest hotel in town; ride the short tram up to lobby from town center.

Where to Eat in Ketchikan

Annabelle’s Keg & Chowder House, 326 Front Street, 225-9423. Moderately priced lunch and dinner. Seafood, pasta, chowder, salads, sandwiches, espresso.

Papa’s Ketchikan Cafe & Pizza, 316 Front Street, 247-7272. Tasty lunch and dinner, pastas, sandwiches, pizza, burgers.

Pioneer Restaurant, 124 Front Street, 225-3337. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Pizza Mill, 808 Water Street, 225-6646. Pizza, burgers, subs, Mexican. Open late