The town gets its name from the Tongass and Tlingit Indians who named their fish camp kitschk-hin, meaning stream with “thundering wings of eagles.” While Skagway attracted gold prospectors, Ketchikan was a treasure trove of abundant fish and timber that attracted Americans to the area. In 1885, Mike Martin bought 160 acres from Chief Kyan to found the township. The first cannery was built in 1886 near the mouth of Ketchikan Creek and by 1912 four more were in operation.
By 1936 there were seven canneries in working, producing almost two million cases of salmon a season. The need for lumber fostered the Ketchikan Spruce Mills built in 1903, which operated for over 70 years. The lumber industry collapsed when the Clinton administration moved to reduce timber cutting in Alaska by having the U.S. Forest service cancel contracts for timber in March 1997.
Where Your Ship Docks
Getting from your ship into town is convenient as there are several piers near downtown for berthing cruise ships.
Ketchikan is a small town with the central district encompassing only a few dozen blocks. Most trips out of town involve specific nature tours by bus, car, boat or plane. The town is located on one of Alaska’s large coastal islands with most of it covered in large tracts of undeveloped forest.
Ketchikan is an American town and uses the U.S. Dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted and so are ATM machines.
Ketchikan is home to Tongass Historical Museum along with a waterfront cannery exhibit and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Salmon fishing charters are readily available and you can have your catch flash frozen or smoked and couriered home (a bit pricey but worth the bragging rights). Additional tours include wilderness expeditions, trips to the Misty Fjords and whale watching.
Shopping offers a number of opportunities with the smoked and canned salmon being high on everyone’s list being a reasonably priced prize.