By Air -- Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/252-7522; www.alaskaair.com) jet service connects Ketchikan south to Seattle nonstop and north to Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Juneau, and Anchorage. Commuter lines run wheeled planes and floatplanes from Ketchikan to the neighboring communities, and also offer fishing packages and flightseeing.
The airport is on Gravina Island, to which there is no bridge. A ferry runs each way every half-hour (more frequently at peak times). Believe the airline when it tells you when to catch the ferry for your plane. The fare, payable in cash only, is $5 for adults, $2 ages 6 to 12, and free 5 and under. Returning the same day is free. The fare for cars is $6 each way, no matter how soon you come back. Carts are available to move your luggage onto the boat..
By Ferry -- The dock is 2 1/2 miles north of downtown. Alaska Marine Highway ferries (tel. 800/642-0066; www.ferryalaska.com) run 6 hours north to Wrangell and 6 hours south to Prince Rupert, B.C. The walk-on fare from Prince Rupert is $54, from Wrangell $37. Call the local terminal at tel. 907/225-6182 or 225-6181 for a recording of updated arrival and departure times.
Ketchikan is on huge Revillagigedo Island, popularly known as Revilla Island. The downtown area, pretty much taken over by tourism, is quite compact and walkable, but the whole of Ketchikan, including a second commercial area used by locals, is long, strung out between the Tongass Narrows and the mountains. A waterfront road goes under various names through town -- Front Street, Water Street, Tongass Avenue -- becoming North Tongass Highway as it stretches about 16 miles to the north. Saxman is 2 1/2 miles to the south of downtown on the 14-mile South Tongass Highway.
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, 50 Main St., Ketchikan, AK 99901 (tel. 907/228-6220; www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass, scroll down for the link), is much more than a visitor center. Housed in a large, attractive building of big timbers and cedar, and located a block from the cruise-ship dock, the center is the best museum in the region when it comes to illustrating the interaction of the region's ecology and human society, including both traditional Native and contemporary uses. An auditorium shows a selection of films. Admission to these facilities in summer costs $5, free ages 15 and under, with a $15 family maximum; in winter it's free. Without paying, you can get guidance about planning your time and activities in the outdoors. An information kiosk is located near the entrance, and downstairs you'll find a luxurious bookstore decorated like an explorer's private den with room to relax. The center is open May through September daily from 8am to 5pm, October through April Thursday through Sunday 10am to 4pm.
The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, 131 Front St., Ketchikan, AK 99901 (tel. 800/770-3300 or 907/225-6166; fax 907/225-4250; www.visit-ketchikan.com), has two offices on the docks. The main office on downtown cruise ship Berth 2 offers town information and booths where tourism businesses sell their wares, including tickets for tours. A satellite is located on Berth 3, just north of the downtown tunnel, where you'll find a large public restroom. The bureau is open daily in the summer from 8am to 5pm and when cruise ships are in town; weekdays only in winter.
There's a detailed events calendar at www.visit-ketchikan.com.
A variety of events are put on all year by the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council, 330 Main St. (tel. 907/225-2211; www.ketchikanarts.org). The Blueberry Arts Festival, held the first weekend of August, has booths, music, and food. If visiting during the colder months, the council has much more going on. The Monthly Grind coffeehouse variety show happens in the Saxman Tribal House every third Saturday from September to May. The Torch Night Performing Series brings in well-known musicians. And the Festival of the North brings art to Ketchikan audiences for the entire month of February, including theater, ballet, live music, poetry readings, and a wearable art show the first weekend of the month that is a highlight of the winter.
Summer events include the King Salmon Derby, a 60-year-old tradition, which takes place at the end of May and the beginning of June. The Fourth of July celebration is huge, with a long parade on Front Street attended by mobs of locals and visitors. Don't miss the legendary pie sale at St. John's Church at 423 Mission St., where a slice, ice cream, and beverage is $5. Fireworks are at 11pm on Gravina Island, best viewed from the cruise-ship dock. Twice weekly through July, the First City Players (tel. 907/225-4792; www.firstcityplayers.org) perform the melodrama Fish Pirate's Daughter, as they have for more than 40 years, and serve a crab feed at the Civic Center.