Ketchikan is Alaska’s second-busiest cruise port, greeting more than 1 million cruise visitors this year.

Ketchikan makes plans for port expansion

Ketchikan’s motto of “Alaska’s First City” comes from the fact that it is usually the first stop for cruise ships traveling up Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Port of Ketchikan has four cruise ship docks that are used throughout the summer cruise ship season.  

This season was another blockbuster year for Alaska’s First City, as 43 different ships made a total of 507 visits to Ketchikan and the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the city broke the 1 million mark. Those figures clearly demonstrate the growing importance the cruise ship industry has become for both Ketchikan and Alaska’s overall economy.  

“Our community has been an advocate of developing the cruise industry in Alaska for years,” said Patti Mackey, President and CEO, Ketchikan Visitors Bureau. “In fact, the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau was founded in 1976 by local business owners as a means of engaging with the cruise lines and letting them know Ketchikan was ready to do business – and their efforts have paid off. Ketchikan enjoys a strong tourism economy that provides jobs, local business opportunities, keeps taxes lower for residents and helps fund a host of community services.”

Looking towards the future, the docks will need significant upgrades to handle the larger Post-Panamax vessels that will enter Alaska’s waters as early as 2019. Post-Panamax ships measure more than 100 feet longer in length than cruise ships currently sailing the Inside Passage. Three docks are owned by the City of Ketchikan and operated by the city’s port and harbor office. The fourth is privately owned and is leased back to the city. 

The City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Dock Company, a company consisting of the three major cruise ship lines that stop in Ketchikan, are exploring financing options for expanding Berth 4 for Post-Panamax vessels. The projected cost is between $11 and $12.5 million. One possibility is to use the state’s commercial-passenger-vessel excise tax. More commonly known as the cruise ship head tax, it’s divided equally between the borough and city of Ketchikan, which comes to around $2 million dollars a year to the city. 

A timeline for expansion of the three remaining berths is under consideration by city officials and the Ketchikan Dock Company. A recent study examining all options for financing dock improvements that could top $50 million dollars is being used to make a final determination on funding.

Creek Street in Ketchikan is one of the most famous streets in Alaska

Lots to see and do in Ketchikan   

A city of 4,000  that draws more than a million cruise ship passengers a year clearly has a lot going for it. Ketchikan is world-famous for all the activities and sightseeing opportunities it offers visitors. 

Here are the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau’s Top 10 recommendations (in no particular order): 

Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour – Ride aboard the fishing vessel Aleutian Ballad, as seen on the Discovery Channel’s Emmy Award-winning television series, Deadliest Catch. 

Creek Street – The most famous street in Ketchikan features an antique boardwalk on wooden pilings and is home to restaurants, curio shops and a special salmon-viewing area over Ketchikan Creek. 

Deer Mountain Trail –  One of the best day-hike trails in Alaska, the hike is challenging – but the reward is spectacular views of the city, ocean and surrounding islands. Appropriate footwear and clothing are highly recommended. 

Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show – Watch Alaska lumberjacks battle it out with Canadian Lumberjacks in chopping, sawing, tree climbing, axe throwing, log rolling and much more. 

Misty Fjords National Monument –  Take a sightseeing flight or a day-cruise to experience icy blue lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys.  

Saxman Native Village – See the impressive collection of standing totem poles, a Clan House, Native Carving Shed and more in the village of Saxman, an extremely popular stop for cruise ship passengers in Ketchikan.   

 Sport fishing – It’s called the salmon capitol of the world for a reason!  Your dream chartered fishing trip for all five species of salmon, halibut and rockfish are readily available throughout the summer.  

Tongass Historical Museum – America’s largest national forest is 17 million acres in size and is the largest temperate rainforest on the planet. Visitors can see wildlife, enormous trees and truly unspoiled wilderness.  

Totem Bight State Park – An 11-acre state park features restored and re-carved cedar monuments that are instantly recognizable symbols of southeast Alaska Native culture. 

Totem Heritage Center –  A museum owned and operated by the City of Ketchikan, the Totem Heritage Center displays one of the world’s largest collections of unrestored 19th century totem poles. 

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