There's a lot to do outdoors around Ketchikan, but most of it will require a boat or plane; drive-by attractions are limited. In any event, your first stop should be the trip-planning room at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center for details on trails, fishing, and dozens of U.S. Forest Service cabins.
Salmon returning to a fish hatchery on a creek south of town have long attracted black bears. A local business, Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary (tel. 877/847-7557; www.alaskarainforest.com), takes advantage of the viewing opportunity by hosting visitors on well-made trails with guides. A tour also includes captive reindeer and an owl and bald eagle, as well as a Native carving demonstration. It's a good variety of experiences, and the tour is the right length. Most guests come from cruise ships, affecting times, so call to check for availability and scheduling. The price is $79 for adults, $50 children 12 and under. You may be able to watch the same bears from public property for free, without a guide. Drive about 10 miles south of town, beyond Saxman on the South Tongass Highway, to the Herring Cove Bridge. From here you have a viewpoint of the same estuary owned by the sanctuary and just as good a chance of seeing black bears. Bears may be present June through September, and sightings are most likely in July and August.
For more of a wilderness experience, Ketchikan is a good place to get on a floatplane, soar over water and wooded islands, and land where bears are gathering at streams where the salmon are running. Depending on where the bears are and the flight service you choose, it costs $329 to $495 per person. Promech Air (tel. 800/860-3845 or 907/225-3845; www.promechair.com) and Island Wings Air Service (tel. 888/854-2444 or 907/225-2444; www.islandwings.com) offer this service.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains more than 50 cabins around Ketchikan; all are remote and primitive, but at $25 to $45 a night, you can't beat the price or the settings. This is a chance to be utterly alone in the wilderness; many of the lake cabins come with a boat for fishing and exploring. For details and descriptions of all the cabins, contact the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center (tel. 907/228-6220; www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass, scroll down for link).
If you stay in a cabin, you'll need all your camping gear except a tent, including sleeping bags, a camp stove, your own cooking outfit and food, a lantern, and so on. The easy way to handle this is to contact Alaska Wilderness Outfitting and Camping Rentals, 3857 Fairview St. (tel. 907/225-7335; www.latitude56.com/camping), which has been supplying cabin trips for more than 15 years. They rent almost everything you need, including small outboards and life jackets for the skiffs, and deliver directly to the air taxi or water taxi.
The cabins are remote. You can hike or take a boat to some of them, but most are accessible only by floatplane (and unless you have loads of stuff, flying is probably the cheapest way to go). Expect to pay around $1,000 to $1,500 round-trip for three to five passengers. Some cabins at tidewater can be reached more economically by water taxi. Obviously, the logistics makes sense only if you will stay for a while -- we never go for less than 3 nights.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game produces a 24-page fishing guide to Ketchikan with details on where to find fish in both freshwater and saltwater, including a list of 17 fishing spots accessible from the roads. Get it from the local office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 2030 Sea Level Dr., Ste. 205, Ketchikan, AK 99901 (tel. 907/225-2859), or download from www.alaska.gov/adfg (click "Sport Fish," then the Southeast region on the map). As is generally true in Southeast Alaska, most fishing takes place from boats in saltwater, for which you need a guided charter. Ketchikan Charter Boats (tel. 800/272-7291 or 907/225-7291; www.ketchikancharterboats.com) has a lot of experience in these waters. You can also find links to charter companies on the Visitor Bureau's website (www.visit-ketchikan.com), or contact them for a referral. The going rate for a daylong charter for salmon or halibut is around $300 per person, half-day about $150.
Eight miles out the North Tongass Highway, the Ward Lake Recreation Area covers a lovely patch of rainforest, lake, and stream habitat and has a picnic area, several trails, and campgrounds. Ward Creek has steelhead and cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden char, and silver salmon; check current regulations before fishing. The wide, gravel Ward Lake Nature Trail circles the placid lake for 1.3 miles among old-growth Sitka spruce large enough to put you in your place. For a more challenging hike, the newly refurbished Perseverance Lake Trail climbs through forest from the Three Cs Campground, across the road from Ward Lake, to a lake 2.3 miles away that can be reached no other way. There's a good bit of climbing to get there, but the trail is extraordinarily well maintained, without mud even in wet weather. To reach the recreation area, turn right off the highway on Revilla Road and follow the signs.
Deer Mountain Trail, right behind downtown, is a steep but rewarding climb through big, mossy trees up to great views. You can walk from City Park to the trail head, .5 mile and 500 feet higher on steep Fair Street and Ketchikan Lakes Road, but if you take a cab, you will save energy for the trail. The first mile rises 1,000 feet to a great ocean view south of Tongass Narrows, and the next mile and 1,000 feet to another great view, this time of Ketchikan. The alpine summit, at 3,000 feet, comes near the 3-mile mark. A public shelter (first come, first served) is a bit farther, and the trail continues to another trail head 10 miles away. Pick up a trail guide from the Forest Service at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.
The islands, coves, and channels around Ketchikan create protected waters rich with life and welcoming for exploration by kayak. Southeast Sea Kayaks (tel. 800/287-1607 or 907/225-1258; www.kayakketchikan.com) rents kayaks, provides transportation to remote areas, and guides day trips and overnights. They offer a number of half-day, full-day, and overnight tours starting at $89 per person and going as high as $1,600 per person for 5 days in Misty Fjords. A 2 1/2-hour paddle is $89 adults, $59 children 15 and younger; kids need to be at least 6 to go along. The shop is a mile from the cruise ship dock at 1621 Tongass Ave.
The sport of zooming through the tree tops in a harness attached to a cable has become a popular visitor attraction in Southeast Alaska, but no more so than in Ketchikan, where there are three choices. Southeast Exposure (tel. 907/225-8829; www.southeastexposure.com) offers the Rainforest Ropes and Zipline, which is like a giant jungle gym, with eight spans, suspended logs, and rope bridges. It happens at regular morning sessions, costs $99, and is only for ages 11 and older. The same folks who offer the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary bear-viewing experience, described above, have a family-oriented zip line at that site, with a mountain slide, and a more challenging setup at the end of an all-terrain-vehicle ride. The tours each cost $179 and last 3 1/2 hours for participants at least 70 pounds and 50 inches tall only. Book with Alaska Canopy Adventures (tel. 907/225-5503; www.alaskacanopy.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.