Pick up a copy of the Official Historic Ketchikan Walking Tour Map, available all over town, which has three routes to follow and loads of information about sites of both great and modest interest on the way. The town also maintains handy directional signs and maps at intersections all over the downtown area.
Many motorized tours of the town vie for customers, getting the majority of their clients from the cruise ships, but welcoming independent travelers when space is available. Tickets are for sale at the visitor center on the dock. Besides riding a tour bus through town, you can go into the woods in a Hummer or on a motorcycle, or even drive from the streets into the harbor in an amphibious vehicle. That one, painted bright yellow and called the Duck (tel. 866/341-DUCK  or 907/225-9899; www.akduck.com), is a favorite of kids. It costs $38 adults and $24 children, and lasts 90 minutes.
Ketchikan's longest-established tour guide caters only to five visitors at a time -- not ships full of clients. Schoolteacher Lois Munch, of Classic Tours (tel. 907/225-3091; www.classictours.com), has a fun personality and creative concept: She drives visitors around in her '55 Chevy, often wearing a poodle skirt. A 2-hour tour to the Saxman totem poles is $109; a 3-hour tour adds a natural history stop and costs $139. Rates are per person and include the admission to Saxman.
Tlingits, Haida & Tsimshians Cultural Heritage
The Ketchikan area has two totem pole parks and a totem pole museum, as well as a wealth of contemporary Native art displayed all over town. Notable pieces stand at Whale Park at Mission and Bawden streets and at the Cape Fox Lodge. Most of what you see in Southeast Alaska is Tlingits -- the Haida and Tsimshians generally live to the south and east in British Columbia -- but Ketchikan is near the boundary between the three peoples' areas, so their similar cultures mix here.
Ketchikan's best downtown attractions are all within walking distance of one another. See Creek Street, then walk up Park Avenue past the Ketchikan Creek fish ladder and up to lovely City Park, site of the Totem Heritage Center, described above. The park is among our favorite places in Ketchikan. The creek splits into a maze of ornamental pools and streams once used as a hatchery, with footbridges, a fountain, and large trees with creeping roots.
The Creek Street boardwalk starts at the Stedman Street bridge, running over the tidal creek. It was Ketchikan's red-light district until not that long ago; now it's a quaint tourist mall. Prostitution was semilegal in Alaska until 1952, recent enough to survive in local memories but distant enough to have made Creek Street historic and to transform the women who worked there from outcasts to icons. Dolly Arthur, who started in business for herself on the creek in 1919 and died in 1975, lived through both eras, and her home became a commercial museum not long after her death. Dolly's House (tel. 907/225-6329) is amusing, mildly racy, and a little sad. Admission is $5; it's open from 8am to 4pm during the summer and when cruise ships are in town.
Creek Street has some interesting shops, described below, but it's also fun just to walk on the creek-side boardwalk, into the forest above, and over the "Married Men's Trail" -- once a discreet way for married men to reach the red-light district. The Cape Fox Hill-Creek Street Funicular (known as "the tram"), a sort of diagonal elevator, runs 211 feet from the boardwalk up to the Cape Fox Lodge on top of the hill. Take it up and then enjoy the walk down through the woods. The summertime fare is $2, but if no one is around, just press the "up" button and go.
Avoiding the Crowds -- Ketchikan is overrun with as many as 10,000 cruise-ship passengers daily May through September, far more than the small visitor attractions or even the streets can comfortably handle. Independent travelers can avoid the crush by planning to visit popular spots in the afternoon. Spend the morning on an outdoors activity instead. Ships usually leave the town in early evening. If you can plan your itinerary around this issue, Saturday is usually the quietest day in Ketchikan. Check out cruise-ship schedules for the whole year at www.claalaska.com, the website for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska.
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.