Far on the southeastern end of Alaska's panhandle lies a town of beauty, charm, and two abundant commodities: salmon and rain. Ketchikan (pop. 15,000) averages 162 inches of precipitation annually (that's 13.5 FEET, about 32 inches of which comes in the form of snow). The self-proclaimed "Salmon Capital of the World" boasts trophy-sized king (chinook), silver (coho), red (sockeye), pink (humpy), and chum (dog) salmon in abundance.
Ketchikan's strategic marine location with its protected, deepwater harbor has made it a transportation and shipping hub for centuries. Native Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshan tribes traded and prospered in the area, and an economy based on fish processing, forestry and/or mining has kept the area vibrant since the Europeans began settling here in the early 1900s. Today, an influx of nearly a million visitors, most of them aboard cruise ships between May and September, add to the economic base.
Art, Artifacts, Architecture
Artwork, much of it reflecting the area's rich tribal heritage, is present throughout the walk. Chief Kyan, Chief Johnson, and Sun Raven totem poles are listed points of interest, and, for a fee, you can see a larger collection of Tlingit and Haida poles at the Totem Heritage Center en route. The "Thundering Wings" sculpture at Eagle Park is an impressive example of a master carver's work.
Architectural highlights of the walk include St. John's Episcopal Church (ca. 1902), the Ziegler House (1900), the Walker-Broderick House (1916), the Monrean House (1904), and the commercial buildings dating back to the 1890s along wood-planked Thomas Street. The Grant Street trestle is not only historic, but an impressive display of engineering on a steep, rocky hillside.
Something For Next Time
Historic Ketchikan, Inc. promotes a second walking tour as well, covering the city's west end. This two-miler takes about 2.5 hours, has one moderately steep grade, and includes historic homes and churches as well as the cannery and aviation districts.
Had I not been visiting Ketchikan with a pair of septuagenarians, I would have tackled the best entertainment value in town -- Deer Mountain Trail. For 3 hours to 5 hours worth of effort, moderately-fit hikers can climb 3,000 feet from sea level to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the harbor, town, and Tongass Narrows. If you're short on time, the first good viewpoint is about a mile from the trailhead. Follow Fair Street (NW side of City Park, which is immediately adjacent to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center) to Ketchikan Lakes Road; signs guide you to the trailhead.
To learn a little more about the sites and opportunities in Ketchikan, visit the chamber of commerce or tourist bureau's websites at http://www.ketchikanchamber.com/ or http://www.visit-ketchikan.com/ .
Sally O'Neal Coates is a Pacific Northwest travel writer. She visited Ketchikan in the summer of 2005. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.