This post is part of a series on what to do when you have one day in port on a Cruise. You can find more posts from this series on my page, How To Spend One Day In Port.
Ketchikan is bound to be one of your ports when taking an Alaska cruise along the inside passage. This beautiful city is known for its totem poles, rainforests, and wildlife.
Ketchikan has many things to do, even if you only have one day. But be smart and plan ahead. The cruise season in Alaska runs from April to October; during this time, the cruise lines can have as many as eight ships in the port of Ketchikan.
Only 11,000 people live in the area full-time. But each day during the season, the cruise ships disembark another 10,000 – 20,000 tourists, all vying for the best things to do in Ketchikan.
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With All The Things To Do In Ketchikan, We Chose To Go Deep Into The Rainforest
We spent one day in the port of Ketchikan on two other cruises. So we have already toured the sites close to town (there is more on these areas below). On this cruise, we chose to go deep and explore the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.
Many people go hiking or biking in the rainforest to experience the beauty of this unique ecosystem. But when we couldn’t find a ship’s excursion that interested us, we turned to Get Your Guide to see what else was available. We find a UTV Adventure to Mahoney Lake with KetchikanAdventureVue and think, “Why not?” let’s give it a go!
Quick note, UTV is the acronym for a utility task vehicle. These are off-road vehicles designed for more than one passenger, or hauling heavy loads. UTVs may not be as agile as ATVs, but for us novices, they get you out on the old logging roads, and you can go with your partner.
Many tours in Ketchikan, including ours, meet at a central location just off the cruise ship docks on Front Street called “The Rock.” This monument is an ode to the town’s heritage depicting a fisherman, miner, logger, bus pilot frontierswoman, and native drummer. The Rock sits in an ample open space, making it a good choice for a meeting ground.
We find Bethany in front of the monument with a large sign for our adventure. I show her the QR code on my phone on the Get Your Guide app, and she signs us in. We fill out the obligatory “waiver” for the trip and head to the bus that takes us out of town to the Tongass.
Bus Ride, UTV Adventure, Mahoney Lake, Reindeer Hotdogs and Chili
We leave town on a royal blue school bus (but with better seats). The ride takes about 40 minutes along the White River Road, cutting from west to east through the Tongass National Forest to George Inlet. Here KetchikanAdvenureVue has their base camp and 40 UTVs waiting to take us further into the rainforest to Lake Mahoney.
At the base camp are four porta-potties. While not the favorite facility, they are the only facility, and we are encouraged to take advantage of them while we can. From here, we go inside the site’s main (only) building for a short briefing and to get outfitted with our helmets. The operators also have wellies and raingear available if needed. The UTV tours go out every day, rain or shine. Fortunately for us, today has clear skies.
Next, our guides, Collin and Jazzy, give us an overview of our UTVs. How to start, what gear to use, and the two essential hand signals we will use. 1. Arm out straight and hand open for slowing down, and 2. Arm bent up at the elbow with hand in a fist for stopping.
The group will be following an old logging road up to the lake. You can imagine this road is not in such great shape. Collin encourages us to stay in the middle of the road. “Embrace the potholes,” he tells us. There is much gravel on the sides of the road, and if your UTV hits this, it may lose traction, slide, and potentially go off the road into a ditch or worse.
The last thing before we head out is a head count for reindeer hotdogs for lunch. It seems like everyone is up for the grub! Crash course in driving and the road rules complete, lunch order was taken, and it’s time to hop in our UTVs and head out single file with Collin in front leading the way and Jazzy bringing up the rear.
Driving The UTVs On Old Logging Roads In Ketchikan
We are following an old logging road from the inlet to the lake. The total drive is about 10 miles round trip (5 miles up and 5 miles back). About halfway to Mahoney Lake, we pull out at an overlook to view George Inlet. I also suspect this stop allows our guides to check in with everyone now that we’ve driven a few miles.
The inlet today is beautifully serene. Collin told us there we a few gray whales playing in the water yesterday, but today all is still. This is following the trend of our luck with wildlife sightings in Alaska this trip; we seem to be just missing whales, moose, etc.
Collin and Jazz are always in contact with each other and the other guides on the trail. We’ve also pulled over so that the group that went up ahead of us can safely pass on their way back down.
BTW, the seemingly smooth drive in this video is a testament to Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro’s image stabilizer. You can tell by the rocks and potholes on the trail this was not a smooth ride.
With the early group past us on their way down, we jump back in our UTVs and head to the lake.
Mahoney Lake – An Open Space In The Rainforest
When we reach Mahoney Lake, Collin points out the waterfall high up the mountainside that feeds the lake. Up on the mountain, there are often mountain goats. We peer through our field glasses but do not see any goats. Next, we take a short walk from the logging through the rainforest to the water.
After exploring the shores of the lake and the rainforest for about 30 minutes, we return to our UTVs and start back down the logging road to camp. This time we keep up a pretty good speed (only about 22mph, which feels fast in these machines) and don’t make any stops.
With all the bouncing around you are doing in the vehicle, it seems longer, but the trip only takes about 15 minutes.
Back At Base Camp – Time For Reindeer Hotdogs and Chili
The KetchikanAdventureVue crew has been busy getting our lunch ready. We are asked to leave our helmets in our UTV and come inside for hotdogs and chili. Yes, it’s a rustic lunch, but very fitting for the setting.
I’ve never had reindeer before and was expecting maybe a “gamey” taste. But there was none of that. It just tasted like a delicious hotdog. I chose to have my dog as a chili dog, but you can have the chili on the side. By the way, the crew told us that the chili was vegan (or maybe vegetarian, I’m not quite sure). So you still get a good lunch if you don’t eat meat or just don’t want to eat reindeer.
Lunch finished, we thanked our guides, Collin and Jazz, and climbed back on the van (a different one this time) to return to Ketchikan. Our van driver is very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna and points out many of the plants in the area used by the native peoples for food and medicine.
Finally, we see some wildlife – A sitka deer jumps out of the forest and runs across the road in front of the van. As we get closer to Ketchikan, the driver points out bald eagles flying around the harbor. Since there is a fishery here, it makes sense that the eagle would be looking for an easy meal.
We are back in downtown Ketchikan by 3:00, and our ship’s Back On Board Time is 6:00. This gives us plenty of time to walk around this quaint Alaskan town.
A UTV trip was a fantastic way to tour the rainforest and a fun thing to do in Ketchikan. I would definitely recommend KetchikanAdventureVue for a tour when you are in the area.
Other Things To Do in Ketchikan, Alaska
If you don’t want to go on an organized tour, there are still many things to do in Ketchikan. You can visit the parks or walk around the downtown Ketchikan area. And many travelers like to go and see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. A good itinerary for this would be:
See Historic Creek Street
In the morning, take a short walk to historic Creek Street so, named as it crosses over Ketchikan Creek. At the end of the street is an old wooden staircase that makes its way over the Tongass Narrows, an area known as “Married Man’s Trail.” This muddy path along the creek once provided discretion for men visiting Ketchikan’s red-light district
Most old brothels are gone now, but one of the first, Dolly’s House, is still open to visitors today as a family-friendly museum. Take a peek inside, then explore the historic boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants, and totem poles. This is a good place to browse the souvenir shops and find unique gifts and Alaska-themed items.
Learn about Ketchikan’s Past
Visit the Tongass Historical Museum, which tells the story of Ketchikan’s past through its collections. The museum’s mission is to preserve and interpret history and culture.
Enjoy Some Local Food
By now, you may feel a bit hungry; it’s probably been several hours since your breakfast on the ship. Choose from the many excellent local restaurants in town, like 108 Taphouse & Burger Bar, for a bite of lunch before attending the afternoon lumberjack show.
Axe Throwing, Log Rolling, and Tree Climbing
See the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show: This show features lumberjacks from all over the world competing in various events, such as log rolling and axe throwing. Make sure to book ahead for this show. It does sell out fast.
Want To Go Further Afield? Here Are Things To Do Just Outside Ketchikan
Totem Bight State Park
Want to see unique native Alaskan art? Catch a bus on Front Street up to Totem Bight State Park. This park is home to some of the most photographed totem poles. These totems are each carved wooden poles used by Native Alaskans to tell stories. It’s interesting to note that each pole is carved from just one tree.
Public transit connects downtown Ketchikan to Totem Bight State Historical Park. Don’t worry; the bus drivers are happy to help you along the way.
Saxman Native Village
On a previous cruise, we visited the Saxman Native Village. Three miles south of downtown Ketchikan, this village, incorporated in 1929, holds the world’s largest collection of totem poles.
On a typical tour, you will hear about the legends of these ancient totems and learn the meaning of the many carved figures. You can also visit the outside of the Clan House. Some tours even include carving demonstrations and native performances. This is an excellent tour to learn about Tlingit culture.
You may wonder if you should go to Saxman Village or Totem Bight; they offer many poles to view. The answer is genuinely subjective. The totem carving studio at Saxman is impressive. But Totem Bight has an inspiring location and better interpretive materials.
Misty Fjords National Monument
Take a flightseeing trip from Ketchikan to tour Misty Fjords National Monument. Owing to the park’s geography, the best way to see the fjords in just a few hours is by float plane. You may even be able to land on a lake and take a short hike through the rainforest.
If you are not too keen on being in a small plane, there are daily boat cruises from Ketchikan. A Boat cruise lets you explore Misty Fjords’ waterfalls, cliffs, and wildlife from inside the warm cabin of the vessel.
Whale Watching Is A Fan Favorite Thing to Do In Ketchikan
Many charter tour boats leave out of the port in Ketchikan every day. Once you see these majestic creatures (whether gray or humpback whales) in their natural habitat, you’ll understand why this is such a popular choice of attraction.
Did Someone Say Salmon?
Did you know Ketchikan is considered the salmon capital of the world? Yes, that’s right! This is the place to go on a salmon fishing tour. You can fish for salmon to take home from your cruise, and halibut is also abundant in the waters off Ketchikan.
Are You a Fan of “The Deadliest Catch?”
One of the newest things to do in Ketchikan is to go out on the Aleutian Ballard (one of the crab boats from the series) and see how crabbing is done in Alaska. You won’t be out in the Bering see, but the action is real.
There Are So Many Things To Do In Ketchikan; You’ll Probably Want To Go Back
The eight or so hours most cruise ships give their passenger in Ketchikan cruise port is just enough for a teaser. I’m sure you will want to return as we have now three times. You may even feel you need to spend more time in the great place and opt for a land-based, more extended vacation.
With so many things to see and do in Ketchikan, Alaska, you will have an unforgettable experience.