Ketchikan – totem poles, brothels, lumberjacks & lots of tourists

Sunday, 23 July 2023


▲ Ketchikan, Alaska

As we pull in to our final Alaska stop there are already two ships in port – the Diamond Princess, which has overtaken us during the night, and the Celebrity Solstice. Late the Niue Amsterdam, a sister ship to our Westerdam, arrives. Well that accounts for all four cruise ship berths, which totally occupy the Ketchikan waterfront. For cruise ship passengers this is a very convenient location, you stop off the ship right into the centre of the small town.

▲ Waterfront

In the morning Ketchikan looks like the very definition of overtourism. The harbour office signboard proclaims there are 10,458 passengers in town, versus the Ketchikan population of about 8000. But mid-afternoon it’s surprisingly quiet and when I reboard just before 1700 (5pm) there seem to be very few other tourists around town. The downtown areas features lots of tourist shops with some really quite nice local art, indigenous and Alaskan, but something mundane like a tube of toothpaste is very hard to find.

◄ Waterfront pioneer statues beside the tourist information centre

▲ Totem Heritage Center – I’m glad I didn’t miss the centre, the final stop of my Ketchikan exploration. It does a good job of explaining the significance of totem poles and unravelling their design and meaning. I’d walked around the Thomas Basin Boat Harbour and out on the Waterfront Promenade to the harbour entrance, then back up at the south-eastern end of town to the centre, passing St Elizabeth’s Church on the way.

◄ Chief Johnson Kooteeyaa totem pole – there’s no shortage of totem poles around town, this one is near Creek St although it’s a replica of the original from 1901 or 1902. That original is now in the Totem Heritage Center. That’s Fog Woman, the creator of all salmon, at the base.

▲ Creek St sign – the brothels and bordellos are long gone, but once upon a time Ketchikan Creek St was the town’s sex and sin (and booze during prohibition) centre.

▲ Today Creek St is very much touristy shops, it’s crowded but interesting. The funicular tram from the boardwalk is shuttered, but you can still walk the stairs up Married Men’s Trail – where respectable married men made their escape when the authorities arrived. Up at the top there’s a bit of a lookout. The creek features a salmon ladder (to help them get upstream) and Parnassus Books is an excellent place to catch up with reading matter, particularly on Alaska.

▲ The Great Alaskan Lumberjack show is total hokum, but great fun.

▲ The four lumberjacks are said to be two Canadian and two American, the audience is divided right side Canadian, left side American and instructed to support their respective teams. Loudly. We Canadians win, but definitely on a technicality. They’re four remarkably fit young men who saw through logs, chop tree trunks down, clamber up tall poles with stunning speed and balance on spinning logs in a water tank.