Alaska Travelogue Part 9 – Ketchikan


If Icy Strait was a bit of a letdown, Ketchikan more than made up for it.  As I’ve mentioned before, the weather wasn’t exactly balmy blue skies every day, but we were especially prepared for bad weather in Ketchikan, which receives rain approximately 350 days a year.  I booked a kayak outing with Southeast Sea Kayaks for the three of us, so before our trip John and I bought appropriate coats and hats to get through 3 hours of kayaking in the rain without too much misery.  Since the kayaking would be followed by a flightseeing tour to Misty Fjords National Monument I hoped the weather at least wouldn’t be a repeat of the blinding fog we saw in Skagway.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when we got up that morning – it was the most beautiful, sunny day, without one single, solitary hint of rain to come!

A beautiful day in downtown Ketchikan

We had a leisurely breakfast, enjoyed some time on our verandah and did a bit of shopping before we had to meet up for our tour.  The prices in Ketchikan seemed a bit higher than Icy Strait, but there were several native art galleries that we all enjoyed strolling through.  With our requisite t-shirts purchased we headed over to the giant rain gauge (I mentioned they get a lot of rain, right?) at the dock to meet our guide Brandon.  There were supposed to be 6 of us going, but one couple didn’t show so it was just the 3 of us and a nice, single lady named Jerrilee.

Brandon walked us over to their big boat in the harbor where he and a fun Aussie named Rob kitted us out for our trip (heavy, water and cold-proof pants and jackets and life vests) and then we headed over to a smaller boat for the short trip out to Orcas Cove.  Southeast does 2 kayaking tours – a shorter, less expensive one in the harbor at Ketchikan, where you apparently dodge a lot of watercraft and sea planes (or so I read in many reviews), or the longer, slightly more expensive tour on which just 6 of you will be whisked by boat to Orcas Cove where you will paddle around the islands in complete solitude.  Guess which one you should opt for.  On our way out to Orcas Cove we saw, wait for it – some Orcas.  Bonus!  I love me some Orcas!!!

A pod of Orcas
A pod of Orcas in the harbor

We tied up to yet another boat in a secluded cove where our kayaks and an older gentleman, Greg, were waiting for us.  Can I just say Brandon, Rob and Greg have the best jobs ever – Brandon paddles around with tourists all day, Rob gets to pilot them to and from Orcas Cove (he does construction work in town during the off season) and Greg hangs out on the boat sunning himself till it is time to serve the most fabulous smoked salmon lunch to hungry kayakers (okay, he probably does more than that).  I need that job!  As Rob and Brandon started explaining how we would be getting in the kayaks a brief moment of panic set in.  They went on and on about how to free yourself from the kayak if it tipped over.  It looked very complicated because in order to keep you dry while you paddle, you shimmy into this rubber tube thing that is attached to both you and the kayak.  I imagined myself drowning in 2 feet of water, but in actuality the thing is ridiculously easy to undo.  Only Brandon got his own kayak; the rest of us were put in 2 person kayaks – John with me and Cristal with Jerrilee.  We practiced paddling about in this quiet cove and then set off on our adventure.

The best seat in the house
Not a bad shot for holding the camera up over my head! Here is John and I, Brandon on the left and Cristal and Jerrilee on the right.

The weather was just glorious – bright, sunny and perfectly calm waters.  I don’t know much about kayaks, but one other thing I was nervous about was being utterly exhausted from a couple hours of paddling.  Cristal and I had done some kayaking up in the mountains of North Carolina and it was so HARD and my arms killed me for days afterwards.  Granted, I am more fit now (thank you Zumba, yoga and muscle class!!!) but still.  Apparently the kayaks Southeast uses are pretty high class, because they practically propelled themselves.  At no point did I ever even feel like we were struggling – we just zipped along!  Brandon took us all over to see eagles, an eagle nest, the most beautiful hidden coves and even some petroglyphs.

One of the eagles we paddled by.
An eagle nest. Eagles use the same nests year after year, and just keep building them up. Brandon said this one was about 4 years old.
Brandon pointing out some petroglyphs.

After a few hours we paddled back to the boat where Greg had lunch waiting.  Southeast Sea Kayaks has a bit of a “side-business” with their own special-recipe smoked salmon.  Now, I love smoked fish and eat it often, but this stuff was off-the-charts delicious.  I hit the buffet 3 times and my southern manners were the only thing preventing me from snatching it off other people’s plates.  Which reminds me, I believe you can mail order the stuff from them – have to get on that.

As we finished the last of lunch Mr. Dave Rocke of Family Air Tours taxied in to pick John, Cristal and I up for our flightseeing tour.

Here comes Dave!
Here comes Dave!

John was not so up for this as he is not keen on little planes but I convinced him that people love this type of activity, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, he didn’t have to go but I was, etc., etc., so he agreed to go.  Of course Dave put John right up front next to him (probably the same force of nature that propels dogs and cats to the person who least wants to interact with them) and Cristal and I tucked in to the back.  Um, this activity is not for the large or claustrophobic person.  I hoped that John wasn’t noticing that this plane looked like it was built to drop bombs on the Kaiser (and I tried not to think about it too much myself!) and off we went.  After a few minutes John confirmed he was okay and we all enjoyed a fabulous flight.

Happy fliers!
Happy fliers!

Dave took us out to Misty Fjords and circled around a few mountains looking for mountain goats, which we eventually found.  Then he put us down in Big Goat Lake and let us out near a cool ice cave.  After a quick stretch we piled back in to head off in search of some bears.  Dave flew low over a long stretch of river, and tho we could see thousands of spawning salmon in the river, alas we saw no bears.  Sorry John.  Guess we’ll have to go back again…

Looking for mountain goats
One of many lakes in Misty Fjords
At Big Goat Lake
The ice cave – I was only brave enough to go in a little way.

We got back to Ketchikan with just enough time to walk up to Creek Street, which is a boardwalked section of town in the hills that used to be the red-light district during the gold rush era.  It is now chock-a-block with pricey shops, but still worth the time to stroll around.

Creek Street
Creek Street

On our way back to the ship I snapped a pic of a very cool statue by Dave Rubin called “the Rock”.  It is located on the cruiseship pier in the harbor and it depicts all the people who made Ketchikan what it is – native peoples, gold miners, bush pilots, fishermen and the women who ran the shops, taverns and “other” businesses.

The Rock, by Dave Rubin

Such a fabulous day, and worth every penny.  Even if it had been raining it would have been a neat day, but the whole thing just felt like one spectacular gift from God with a great big bow on top!

Read the Next Post in this Series – OR – Skip Ahead to the specific post you need:

  1. Anchorage
  2. Whittier
  3. Seward
  4. Hubbard Glacier
  5. Juneau
  6. Skagway
  7. Icy Strait
  8. Ketchikan
  9. Inside Passage

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