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Visiting Ketchikan By Cruise Ship? Everything You Need to Know!

If you’ve booked a cruise to Alaska you may be looking for the best things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska. I’ve just got back from a fantastic cruise there.

Ketchikan is positioned amongst the breathtaking landscapes of the Inside Passage.

Emma Cruises. Norwegian Encore cruise ship
Norwegian ships now dock at Ward Cove – which is a 20/30 minute shuttle ride to Ketchikan

The Inside Passage stretches hundreds of miles from Puget Sound, Washington, through the British Columbia coast and into the Gulf of Alaska.

The Inside Passage includes more than 1,000 islands, beautiful shorelines and thousands of idyllic coves and bays.

The town of Ketchikan has so much to offer for cruise ship travellers, with a range of exciting activities to explore and do – from scenic walks to exciting excursions, museums and interesting shops/stores.

Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Ketchikan Alaska during your cruise stop

Can You Walk Around Ketchikan From The Cruise Port?

It used to be possible to just get off the ship and walk around downtown Ketchikan. You would always be docked centrally – but now whether you can do that depends on whether you are docked in the original cruise port, or out at Ward Cove.

Ward Cove is around seven miles from Ketchikan and is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Spirit docked centrally in Ketchikan on my first visit in 2005

When I visited as a child we just walked around this interesting town. We saw the famous Creek Street – where colourful wooden houses are built on stilts, we saw Totem Poles and the famous Salmon Run.

There is a range of gift shops, cafes, and boutiques where you can buy a range of locally-made goods and foods in the town.

You can walk along the waterfront, where you will have wonderful views of the marina and the surrounding mountains beyond.

You will find interesting Totem Poles just scattered throughout the town.

Ketchikan has a rich Native American heritage. The Totem Pole carvings are thought to symbolise or commemorate ancestors, and cultural beliefs. They are thought to recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events.

Totem Pole, Ketchikan Alaska
You will find well-preserved Totem Poles scattered around the town.

Where will my ship dock in Port?

Downtown Ketchikan has three main cruise ship docks, that can hold Mega-Ships.

There is a 4th Cruise ship dock about a 10-15 minute walk from the town.

In 2024 I was docked at Norwegian’s purpose-built dock at Ward Cove – a twenty-minute shuttle bus ride from Ketchikan. Unfortunately, that did mean that as I had a boat tour booked, I didn’t get to visit the town of Ketchikan at all.

Download your FREE Ketchikan Map with all four Cruise Ship Docks marked below:

Ward Cove to Downtown Ketchikan Shuttle Service.

There is a new docking area exclusively used by Norwegian Cruise lines called Ward Cove. This is about a 20 to 30 min shuttle ride into the town of Ketchikan.

This is where I docked on my latest trip to Alaska on Norwegian Encore. Most cruisers were on organised tours with NCL and the tours started from here.

They also offer a free shuttle to Walmart if you don’t fancy a trip in to Ketchikan!

When I visited we only made a half-day port stop in Ketchikan, which was a shame because I didn’t get to visit and explore the town.

There is a complimentary shuttle service from Ward Cove to Cruise Ship Dock 4 in downtown Ketchikan.

The journey takes approximately 20 minutes each way. Make sure you check the ship’s departure time and the final shuttle bus departure time back to the ship. You don’t want to be left behind!

Find out the most common reasons people miss their cruise ships here:

3 Reasons Why People Get Left Behind By Cruise Ships At The Port (It’s Not To Do With Not Buying Cruise Line Excursions)

To explore downtown Ketchikan, you might want to disembark early to catch an early shuttle and make most of your time ashore.


The shuttles operate continuously throughout the day. Allow at least 30 minutes for the journey to downtown. You’ll find the shuttle service starting from the far end of the Welcome Center.

Upon reaching the Ketchikan Cruise Dock 4, allow 15 minutes for a leisurely walk to the heart of downtown.

For guests with mobility issues, a complimentary bus service operated by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough departs from Cruise Ship Dock 4 every 20 minutes. This will take you to various destinations within downtown Ketchikan.

Can I explore Ketchikan on my own?

Yes, Ketchikan is a pedestrian-friendly town, perfect for exploring by yourself.

When my family visited in 2005 we walked around and saw the Totem Poles, Eagles, and the Salmon Run where large Sockeye Salmon swim upstream. We visited in Ketchikan in August, but you can also see this in July.

We also visited Creek Street and saw the famous brightly coloured houses on stilts.

Creek Street, Emma Cruises and family
Me with my brother and cousin in Creek Street, 2005.

We visited the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. There is the Tongass Historical Museum within walking distance too, but we didn’t visit that.

For nature enthusiasts, a hike along one of Ketchikan’s many scenic trails, such as the Rainbird Trail or the Deer Mountain Trail is a must.

Rainbird Trail is perfect if you only have a couple hours but still want to experience a small piece of Southeast Alaska’s rainforest. The trailhead is only a 20 minute walk from downtown (or a 5 minute drive), and the trail’s southern end offers great views of downtown Ketchikan, the Tongass Narrows, and the neighboring islands beyond.

There is so much to do in Ketchikan you couldn’t possibly see everything in one trip. You may need to book a second cruise for another time...

Fishing at Ketchikan in 2005
I visited in August 2005 with my family. We saw the Salmon Run, and watched many people fishing.

If you visit at the right time of year you may catch the Salmon Run. This is usually in July and August.

How do you spend a day in port?


There are so many things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska you can spend the day exploring its many attractions.

Start your morning with a visit to the close by Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, where interactive exhibits showcase the region’s natural and cultural history.

Take a walk along the waterfront, and check out the coloured houses on stilts at Creek Street.

Afterwards, you could try some locally caught seafood feast at one of Ketchikan’s restaurants, freshly caught salmon and halibut are always on the menu.

Anabelle’s famous Keg and Chowder House serves delicious food a great local favourite just great food and is conveniently located on Front Street.

Ketchikan from cruise ship in 2005
Ketchikan from my balcony on Norwegian Spirit

What is the best excursion in Ketchikan?

That is impossible to answer – it depends on your interests!

Cruise excursions you may want to consider include:

  • Whale Watching
  • Seaplane tours
  • Boat trips
  • Alaskan Native Totem Pole Tours
  • Kayak Tours
  • Sea Crab Fisherman Tours
Emma Cruises on an
I took an “Eagles, Totems and Lighthouse” tour by boat when I visited Ketchikan.

The “Eagles, Totems and Lighthouse” tour that I took was wonderful. We ticked those three things off the list and also got to try some locally-produced snacks – like locally caught Salmon.

ketchikan tour

Which Shops Are Near The Ketchikan Cruise Port?

If you’re in the mood for some shopping the cruise port is surrounded by many shops offering everything from locally crafted souvenirs to high-end jewellery.

Shops That Are Worth A Visit:

This post was created in collaboration with Melissa from CruiseShopSave. She worked in Alaska for many years while working for cruise lines, and she’s taught me a LOT about Alaska.

Gifts and Jewellery

  • Milano – Family Owned and Operated
    • Here, you will find unusual jewellery and unique designs inspired by Alaska’s natural beauty.
    • They actually sell jewellery that glows in the dark.I have a necklace from here like this and we saw it glow in our cabin when we turned the lights off to go to sleep!
  • Julie’s Fine Jewelry
    • Julie’s Fine Jewelry is a proudly Alaskan family business, founded in 1993. It operates 3 long-standing stores. Here you will find the biggest and best selection of hand-carved Totem Poles from local Alaskan Artists.
    • Beautiful sculptures, artwork fabulous collections of Gold and Quartz jewellery, Gold Nuggets, Diamonds, Gold and Ivory.
  • Del Sol:
    • During the demonstration they give you when you enter the store, their products change color in the sun. Yes, there is some sun in Alaska, it certainly was sunny when we were there. 
    • They have colour change everything, even Nail varnish that changes colour in the sun.  There is a coupon on the back of the map above; my favourite is called Revenge in a Bottle…
  • Cariloha:
    • This is more of an apparel shop with everything from bedding, blankets, socks, shirts, work out cloths and even underwear.
    • Everything feels so soft I couldn’t stop touching everything there is also a coupon on the back of the map above.

Julie’s Fine Jewelry only offers American-made products and authentic, genuine items crafted by Alaskans.

Art and Galleries

  • Norwest Coast & Traditional Alaskan Native Art Work Arctic Spirit Gallery
    • They specialise in Northwest Coast & Traditional Alaskan Native Artwork.
  • Scanlon Art Gallery
    • Since 1972, Scanlon Gallery has offered residents and visitors to Ketchikan the finest in Alaskan art.
    • You will find art at affordable prices – whether your interests are in original paintings, sculptures, fine art prints, posters, or fine art books.

Local Produce

  • Salmon Etc.
    • This family-run, locally owned and operated business has run for over 35 years. It sells the finest locally sourced Alaskan seafood.
    • It sells smoked salmon and other wild seafood products that you can take with you or have shipped to your home address.
alaskan food

Find out more about the amazing excursions I took when I visited Alaska here:

Before You Go

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Planning And Packing For Your Cruise – Things To Do In Advance!

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