Ketchikan is famous for its colorful totem poles, rainy skies, steep–as–San Francisco streets, and lush island setting. Some 13,500 people call the town home, and, in the summer, cruise ships crowd the shoreline, floatplanes depart noisily for Misty Fiords National Monument, and salmon-laden commercial fishing boats motor through Tongass Narrows. In the last decade Ketchikan's rowdy, blue-collar heritage of logging and fishing has been softened by the loss of many timber-industry jobs and the dramatic rise of cruise-ship tourism, but visitors can still glimpse the rugged frontier spirit that once permeated this hardscrabble cannery town. Art lovers should make a beeline for Ketchikan: the arts community here is very active.
The town is at the foot of 3,000-foot Deer Mountain, near the southeastern corner of Revillagigedo (locals shorten it to Revilla) Island. Prior to the arrival of white miners and fishermen in 1885, the Tlingit used the site at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek as a summer fish camp. Gold discoveries just before the turn of the 20th century brought more immigrants, and valuable timber and commercial fishing resources spurred new industries. By the 1930s the town bragged that it was the "salmon-canning capital of the world." You will still find some of Southeast's best salmon fishing around here.
Ketchikan is the first bite of Alaska that many travelers taste. Despite its imposing backdrop, hillside homes, and many staircases, the town is relatively easy to walk through. Favorite downtown stops include Creek Street, a narrow boardwalk filled with locally owned shops, and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, where you can learn about the Tongass National Forest from local rangers. A bit farther away you'll find the Totem Heritage Center. Out of town (but included on most bus tours) are two longtime favorites: Totem Bight State Historical Park to the north and Saxman Totem Park to the south.