Are you planning an Alaska cruise, but your budget won’t allow you to spend hundreds of dollars on shore excursions? From an insiders perspective, it IS possible to have a great time in the ports of Alaska’s Inside Passage without paying a dime! I am a native Alaskan, and I will give you budget friendly ideas for experiencing the wondrous nature Alaska has to bring. If you are looking for things to do in Ketchikan, this page is for you!
Southeast Alaska is one of the most beautiful, lush places in the world due to being part of the nation’s largest rainforest. It is by far the BEST place on earth to experience nature. For that reason alone, my advice is to leave the streets filled with tourist shops and go experience the outdoors! Each port is going to have unique hiking locations, and it would be beneficial to look up each port city before you begin your cruise and choose a trail depending on what difficulty level you want. Best of all, hiking is FREE! Be sure to bring a good pair of hiking shoes. If you don’t have any, I would recommend either men’s Merrell waterproof hiking boots (or shoes) or women’s Merrell waterproof hiking boots (or shoes).
Ketchikan is my city of choice, because I spent 18 years living there. It is most often the first port you come to. If you are looking for a moderate to difficult hike I would recommend hiking up Deer Mountain. It is one of the tallest peaks on the island of Revillagigedo, and majestically looms above the city of Ketchikan. It has the best views out of anywhere on the island! It is a short 7 minute taxi ride from the ship dock to the trailhead. The starting elevation is around 500 feet and the Deer Mountain summit reaches a height of 3,000 feet in the course of 3.5 miles. The trail climbs steeply through the Tongass National Rainforest, past a stunning array of plants, trees, and countless beautiful waterfalls. Depending on how long your ship is in port, you may not be able to reach the summit and get back in time, but even hiking halfway up would be an experience you’ll never forget.
If you are looking for an easier option, a 15 minute taxi ride from the port will bring you to Ward Lake. Encircling the lake is the flat and easy, roughly 1.5-mile Ward Lake Trail.
In the 1930s, this area was used as a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) camp. Historical information signs are posted about this history at the Ward Lake Recreation Area. Due to the lake’s close proximity to Ketchikan, the recreation area has always been popular with the locals. It has three shelters(each with their own fire places), picnic tables, BBQ grills, horse-shoe pits, and a beach area.
Ward Lake trail is gravel, mostly flat, and follows the lake’s shore. It is wide enough for two people to walk side by side. The lake is scenic and beautiful and is placed in a mountainous valley. In the winter, when the lake freezes, it is a popular destination for the locals to go ice skating. This is a great location if you want to get away from your 2,500 fellow cruise passengers for a few hours and enjoy the serenity of Alaska.
2. Bear viewing
Herring cove is the one and only bear-viewing area in Ketchikan that is accessible by car. Located 8 miles south of downtown lies Herring Cove. Bears frequent this area because the Whitman Lake Fish Hatchery is located in the same cove.
Herring Cove is not a ‘prime’ bear viewing area when compared to some of the paid float plane tours that are offered through the cruise company. However, bears are often seen here. (It’s where I tell people to go who want to see bears in town!) It’s just a taxi cab ride away(which would be cheaper than a car rental). I don’t recommend a car rental in Ketchikan. There aren’t many car rental companies in town so cars are hard to come by.
Bears are frequently in this area during the salmon spawning season ( June 10-15 through September 15) and your best chance for spotting one is an hour before and an hour after low tide.
Even though you don’t know for absolute sure if you’ll see any bears, what you will see is some of Alaska’s famous scenery. Get yourself out of the hustle and bustle of down town and you’ll have a chance to walk around and enjoy relaxing in the beauty of the Tongass National Rainforest.
3. Bar Harbor
If you feel like taking a leisurely stroll along the largest boat dock in town, you can take a quick 7 minute cab ride to Bar Harbor. You may see fisherman who have just returned from a commercial fishing trip, or you may see people cleaning fish. If there’s one thing I know about Alaskan’s, it is that they are friendly people and are proud of the place they call home. Don’t be afraid to stop someone along the dock if you have questions. My dad parks his commercial troller there and would be happy to answer questions if someone asked him about his boat or about his job as a commercial fisherman. It is definitely something to be proud of, and most people don’t mind answering some questions. There is also a very good restaurant overlooking Bar Harbor, conveniently named “Bar Harbor Restaurant”. Check it out if you’re in the area and are hungry!
4. Tram ride for breakfast, lunch, or happy hour at Cape Fox Lodge
One of the best restaurants in town with the most breathtaking views is Cape Fox Lodge. A short walk from the ship is a tram that will take you on a beautiful ride up the mountain side and into the beautiful lodge. This is one place I absolutely have to go when I’m in town. *Tip- try their brie and crab dip!
If you are looking for some excellent local cuisine or just to sit down and enjoy happy hour, this is the destination for you.
The bottom line is, no matter where your travels take you to in Southeast Alaska, there will be a vast array of fun things to keep you busy without having to pay a dime for guided shore excursions. Enjoy your trip!
Have you remembered your raingear? I would highly recommend bringing a rain jacket. This is one of the wettest places on earth, even in the summer months. Here is my top recommendation:
Helly Hansen Mandal Rain Jacket(100% waterproof)