Downtown Ketchikan on a rare sunny day.
Photo © Aaron Saunders
As the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World”, two things are quickly apparent about the pretty little town of Ketchikan, Alaska: one, there’s lots of salmon.  Two – it rains here.  A lot.
But the average 3,900 mm of rain per year hasn’t dampened passengers enthusiasm for the town, which has been a staple of the traditional Alaskan cruise itinerary for years.  Just under 8,000 people call Ketchikan home, and on a busy day in summer, another 8,000 arrive by cruise ship.  The result?  Downtown Ketchikan has a tendency to become very busy indeed.
 Ketchikan’s famous Creek Street.
Photo © Aaron Saunders
Rain and potential congestion aside, there’s a lot to like about Ketchikan, and almost all of it lies within easy walking distance from the cruise piers.  One such area is historic Creek Street.  Made up of several clusters of houses perched on boardwalks suspended high above the Ketchikan creek, this area was once a notorious collection of brothels and saloons but now plays host to a variety of shops and services.  Dolly Arthur’s famous brothel – known as Dolly’s House – now exists as a museum open to the public, and provides a fascinating glimpse at Ketchikan life more than a century ago.
Intricately carved totem poles adorn Ketchikan.
Photo © Aaron Saunders 
Ketchikan is also home to a number of fascinating and extravagant totem poles, a large collection of which lies just beyond Creek Street.  Thirty-three totem poles were retrieved from abandoned Tlingit and Haida villages near Ketchikan and can now be seen on permanent display at the Ketchikan Totem Heritage Center.  In fact, the town boats the largest collection of standing totem poles in the world. 
The downtown area is highly walkable, and many unique shops can be found well off the beaten path.  Ditch the free map that the cruise lines give you and rely on local recommendations instead, or simply wander the streets in order to find souvenirs exclusive to Ketchikan.  Some remarkable woodworking can be purchased here, as well as original artwork, jade sculptures, and more.
Competition is fierce at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
Photo © Aaron Saunders 
Another fun diversion takes place roughly two hundred feet from the cruise pier: The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.  Make no mistake about it – this isn’t some tame performance put on by actors.  Generally, a team of people take turns competing against each other to determine who indeed is the best lumberjack.  Feats like pole climbing, axe throwing, and tree chopping are featured, and of course the whole event is produced with a theatrical flair.  But the events are truly fascinating to watch, and a must-see for those visiting the town for the first time.
So grab your umbrella and when planning your 2011 Alaskan cruise, consider one that stops in Ketchikan.  You won’t come away disappointed.

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