Monday, April 11, 2011

Cruising to Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska sits along the shore of the Inside Passage within the Tongass National Forest.  When cruising into Ketchikan, Alaska you are surrounded by the beauty of the lush green mountainous landscape, which is nurtured by the plentiful rainfall of the temperate rainforest environment. In other words, come prepared for precipitation!  The average temperature in July is mid 60’s but when the sun is shining it can climb into the 70’s or low 80’s.

 The town of Ketchikan is picture postcard perfect. Pick up a walking tour map at the Visitor’s Center then start strolling, (or rent a bike), following the numbered signs posted throughout town. Be sure to walk down Creek Street (formerly the town’s red light district), with its row of brightly colored wooden buildings perched over the water on pilings.  These turn of the century structures are now lovely boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.  You will find Dolly’s House ($5 pp), the once infamous brothel, at 24 Creek Street. Today it’s a museum and gift shop.

 Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.  At Saxman Native Village ($3 pp on your own / tour $15pp+), located two miles outside of town, guests can experience the rich living culture of the Tlingits. There are 32 authentic totem poles (some over 100 years old) and if you take a tour, guides will interpret their meaning. At the Carving Shed master carvers and their apprentices demonstrate their craft. A tour includes entry to the Beaver Clan House and a demonstration of traditional dance and song by the Cape Fox Dancers.  This was one of the places my family visited on our Alaska cruise and we all found it to be informative and entertaining, including my son who was nine at the time.

 In the early 1900’s as natives of Southeast Alaska abandoned their villages and moved to communities, they left behind the standing totem poles. In 1938 the U.S. Forest Services began a program aimed at salvaging and reconstructing the totem poles that were overgrown by forests and eroded by weather. Fourteen of these totem poles now stand at the Totem Bight State Historical Park (free), located about ten miles outside of the town of Ketchikan. The setting of this park is as beautiful as the totem poles.

 Housed right in town is The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show ($35 adult / $17.50 child). Although it sounded a bit hokey to me, our traveling companions couldn’t get done raving about the fun they had watching this competition. Even the “Travel Channel” calls this show a must do!  Events include tree climbing, axe throwing, chopping, sawing and log rolling. It’s definitely a rowdy good time!

 Experiencing Misty Fjords National Monument is the pinnacle of any cruise to Alaska. Seventeen thousand years ago the area was covered in ice. Massive glacier action carved out its present state…long saltwater fjords enclosed by cliffs that soar as high into the sky. Waterfalls cascade as much as 1,000 feet down 3,000-foot-high cliffs. Often shrouded in mist, thus the name, it’s both spectacular and sometimes quite eerie to behold. The trip is also a great opportunity to view wildlife, including bears.  The only way to get to Misty Fjords is by floatplane ($200+ pp) or boat ($99+ pp).  I chose floatplane, an expensive, but once in a lifetime adventure. On some tours the plane will touch down on a remote lake and passengers will be able to walk onto the floats to take pictures. For those too nervous to fly you can visit the fjords by boat.  Big fast catamarans make a half-day trip and have a naturalist onboard to answer questions. I can’t imagine the scenery being any less magnificent seeing it this way.

 Another adventurous excursion offered in Ketchikan is bear watching ($200+ pp).  Once again, these tours require a floatplane to get to an area where the bears are known to be feeding.  From mid July through mid August the salmon are fighting their way up stream to spawn and the bears are there waiting for them! Popular feeding grounds to view and photograph bears are Anan Creek, Traitor’s Cove, or Neets Bay. Once again you are faced with weighing the expense against the experience, but if you are looking to view and photograph these magnificent creatures in a natural setting, then the choice is simple.

One cannot talk about shore excursions in Ketchikan, the “Salmon Capital of the World”, without mentioning salmon fishing ($150 pp /4 hour trip).  For any avid fisherman, no trip to the north is complete without taking a run at one of the most sought after game fish in America. Alaskan wild salmon are world renown for their fierce fighting ability, not to mention how good they taste! Experienced guides with their well-equipped boats will take you out for a day on the water. And if you conquer the beast, they’ll even arrange to have your catch processed and sent to your home. Now that’s an authentic Alaskan souvenir!

 One of the many great things about a cruise to Alaska is discovering Ketchikan.  The shore excursions I’ve written about are all from the research I did when planning my own family’s cruise to Alaska. I hope you will find it useful in planning your own cruise.  When you’re ready to get started give Direct Line Cruises a call and let one of our Alaska cruise specialists help you make it happen.
Check back next week for info on Skagway, Alaska

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