Ketchikan has a population of 14,500 and is built along a steep hillside, with sections of the town built right over the water on pilings. An outstanding collection of totem poles make a visit to Ketchikan essential for anyone interested in Native art. Ketchikan's name supposedly comes from the native term "Katch Kanna", which roughly translates: "spread wings of a thundering eagle" and rightly named, for you only need to look along the water line and you're likely to see many bald eagles on waterside perches. Originally a Tlingit Indian fish camp, settlers moved to the area for the mining and fishing. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city and first port of call on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Inside Passage sailings from Bellingham, WA, and Prince Rupert, BC. Ketchikan is Alaska’s fifth largest city (after Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Sitka), supporting 5 public grade schools, 4 parochial grade schools, a junior high school, 2 high schools and the University of Alaska Southeast campus.
By 1936, seven canneries were in operation, producing 1.5 million cases of salmon. The need for lumber for new construction and packing boxes spawned the Ketchikan Spruce Mills in 1903, which operated for over 70 years. Spruce was in high demand during World War II, and Ketchikan became a supply center for area logging. A $55 million pulp mill was constructed at Ward Cove near Ketchikan in 1954. Its operation fueled the growth of the community. The mill's 50-year contract with the U.S. Forest service for timber was canceled, and the pulp mill closed in March 1997.
Things to do
Start your visit to Ketchikan with a tour of town and the Saxman Totem Park, south of downtown, with 30 totems and a clan house by bus, motorcoach, trolley, or double-decker bus! Guided tours include demonstrations at the Carving Center and performances by the Cape Fox Dancers at the Beaver Tribal House.
Stop by Southeast Alaska Discovery Center for trip planning assistance, information on Alaska public lands, and interpretive exhibits on Native culture and Southeast Alaska history and resources. The Totem Heritage Center houses 33 totem poles and fragments retrieved from deserted Tlingit and Haida Indian villages. This national landmark collection comprises the largest exhibit of original totems in the United States.
More adventure is possible with a guided kayak trip along the waterfront or ride aboard a power boat or catamaran. Visitors agree Ketchikan is undoubtedly one of the most interesting communities in Southeast Alaska.
Totem Bight State Historical Park, 10 miles north of downtown, contains an excellent model of a Tlingit community house and 15 totems in a beautiful wooded setting.
Visit Creek Street, Ketchikan’s former “red-light district,” where Black Mary, Dolly, Frenchie and others plied their trade for over half a century. Restored houses and newer structures house a variety of shops.
For those who enjoy more indoor activities there are many exciting events held annually - the Salmon Derby, the Blueberry Arts Festival, and the Winter Arts Festival just to name a few.