The southerly, long and narrow coastline of Alaska is particularly known for its native population heritage. Part of that heritage is represented by Totem Poles, those megalithic, carved-wooden poles featuring symbols of animals, people or spirits which are meant to convey a message to those viewing them. Ketchikan is famous for being the home of the Big Three collections of totem poles. One of the better known collections of totem poles is in Ketchikan's "Totem Bight Park." (The other large collections are in the Saxman Totem Park and the Cultural Heritage Center.) It's an odd name, but "bight" means, in this instance, "a bend or curve in the shore of a sea or river," or "body of water bounded by such a bend."
Totem Bight Park is noted for its Clan House and its 15 totem poles which have an interesting history, besides being beautiful and each having a particular meaning.
By the early 1900's the native tribal way of life was already much changed due to the growing non-native population influx. The Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) hired native tribesmen to repair or duplicate totem poles that were mostly forgotten and in dire need of repair or replacement. Using traditional hand tools, paints and pigments derived from nature, these carvers set to work and in some cases had to learn the skill & craft needed to create totems and artwork. By the time of WWII, these native artists had completed a clan house and 15 totem poles which we are lucky enough to see today at this seaside setting. These totems are attributed to the Tlingit and Haida cultures. Stop in the book shop for literature and a guide to the meaning of each totem character. Admission to the park which is open daily is FREE.
On Creek Street you will have no trouble finding the funicular tram up the hill to Cape Fox Lodge, a hotel with restaurant, coffee shop and gift shop AND most notably, the "Circle of the Clan or Council of the Clan" totem poles. Don't Miss These!! The funicular costs $3 (2006 prices) roundtrip for adults and is free for children. An attendant on the tram will take your money as you board and the fee covers as many rides up or down the mountain all day as you wish. (This is especially good for hotel guests!) The ride up gives you some view of the town and hopefully out to the harbor when skies are clear, all in a matter of merely minutes.
This is a nice place to get away from the shopping frenzy, take a few pictures around the property, stop at the coffeeshop and relax. When you're ready to head down to the main street and/or dock area, instead of taking the funicular try walking down "Married Men's Trail which will deliver you back to Creek Street. It's an easy walk down a trail with mature, fragrant trees for shading.
One of the more scenic places in Ketchikan is Creek Street. Perched on the side of Deer Mountain and running along a rivulet of fast running water, the colorful, wooden buildings along Creek Street once housed the "Red Light 'District" at the turn of the 20th century. These bawdy bordellos attracted men who came to work in the fishing, mining and logging industries of this rugged territory called Alaska. The relative isolation of the early Alaskan settlements meant that the women who came to Alaska for this purpose stood to make a lot of money. Some women became wealthy. It's amazing that the infamous Creek Street establishments didn't close permanently until 1954 when the practice of prostitution even in Alaska fell under federal pressure.
The boardwalk brothels have now been transformed into quaint little shops of all kinds, selling Native artwork, jewelry, clothing, Alaskan Salmon, souvenirs, etc. You can spend an hour wondering through these many little places searching for that unique souvenir or gift. If the fish are running in the rivulet next to Creek Street, you might see fisherman using various means attempting to catch a prized fish like we saw when we first visited Ketchikan in 2002.
One of the most famous buildings on Creek Street is "Dolly's, a famous brothel. The prominent, light green house with red trim stands almost by itself on Creek Street but exudes an inviting aura; today it operates as a museum with guided tours.
The famous madame of "Dolly's" was one Thelma Dolly Copeland, born in 1888 in Idaho. Dolly, who was known to be quite a beauty at an early age, discovered that she could earn much more money catering to the attentions of men than she could waiting tables in cafes. In 1919 she moved to Ketchikan, changed her name to Dolly Arthur, and set up her own house. Prostitution was legal in Alaska until the mid-twentieth century at which time the government forced the closure of houses of ill-repute. Dolly Arthur remained in her little house almost until she died. She passed away at the age of 87 in July, 1975; it is said that all the major West Coast newspapers carried her obituary. A bronze plaque designates Dolly's as a Historic Property.
Tours of Dolly's House and Museum are given daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $5. The furnishing remain much as they did during Dolly's lifetime and are very quaint. There is also a small gift shop carrying souvenirs such as T-shirts, etc. Grant glimpse at a by-gone era!!
One of the most popular attractions in downtown Ketchikan is The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. It's really popular with families especially because children seem to love it. Along with goldpanning, mining, and fishing, Alaska has a tradition and history of logging. It took a lot of skill to bring down those enormous trees and ready them for other purposes. This show features some of those most important lumberjack skills and it's a lot of fun watching it: log rolling is always fun to watch to see who falls off first; climbing to the top of the log poles in a split second is pretty nifty too; wood chopping contests and sawing are real men's work I say! It's all about fun and good sportsmanship.
The stadium seating is covered and heated when necessary. Scheduled shows pretty much revolve around arrival of cruise ships so be sure to check their web site but they have up to 4 shows daily!! Shows last approximately 1 hour or so.
They have a huge gift shop which is ALWAYS packed, and sells anything and everything that looks woodsy, has to do with moose, the outdoors, and plenty of all things cute. I particularly liked the big moose at the front door!!!
Admission to the show will set you back $34 for adults - $17 for children 3-12 yrs. old (2008 prices); admission for 2 yrs. & younger is free (how thoughtful). This is still alot less expensive than some ship excursions! Tickets can be pre-purchased online or through your ship's excursion desk. NOTE: a recent check of dates and prices revealed the 2013 season to begins at the end of April and runs through September. Ticket prices have increased only slightly since 2008!! Adults: $35; children 3-12 - $17.50.
Be sure to visit the gift shop which really has some nice items, toys and cuddly animals, snacks, souvenirs, jewelry, home decor, etc. Pricey but pretty cute stuff!
I would take this tour just because of the beautiful, and well taken care of draft horses and the Alaskan Huskey which are a significant part of this horse-drawn, guided trolly tour! This leasurely, up-close and personal tour takes you to the most historic areas of Ketchikan such as Whale Pakr, Creek Street, the "Klondike Gold Rush" era city park, the "fish ladder" where salmon are "helped" upstream to spawn, the Ketchikan Museum, and of course, totem poles in abundance. Your guide makes some short stops are made for viewing and photography opportunities. Since this tour lasts about 45 minutes and is meant as more of an overview rather than an in-depth tour, you should have the rest of the day for shopping or more in depth exploration.
You can find more information about the tours at the info. booth right on the pier and purchase tickets. Tickets can also be purchased on your cruise ship. Their website does not list ticket prices.
(NOTE: Around the world I have seen horses, mules and donkeys used to make significant profits for their owners, but the animals have not been taken care of and in many cases the animals' conditions were dire. The horses of this Alaskan trolley tour are well taken care of as you can readily see. In addition, thick rubber mats have been provided on the pier for the horses to stand on which acts as a cushion for feet & legs, traction & perhaps gives a certain amount of protection from the weather in certain cases--see photo below.)
We enjoyed a little quiet time in Ketchikan by going to the Ketchikan City Park. You can catch the green line bus and go to the Totem Heritage Center. From there, go out the back door and across a little bridge. There is the City Park, a wonderful peaceful little park with a fountain and a stream meandering through it. After a quiet reprise, you can walk down Park Ave (which kind of parallels Ketchikan Creek) about 1/2 mile and come across Married Men's Trail. This is a pleasant walk along Ketchikan Creek and takes you to Creek Street with its quaint shopping area.
If you are there during spawing season, there will be salmon in Ketchikan Creek going upstream and climbing/jumping the Salmon Ladder along Ketchikan Creek on Married Men's Trail.
As a kid I was always fascinated by totem poles, but I never actually saw a real one until I was at least 30. The highlight of my stay in Ketchikan was my trip to Totem Bight State Park (the word "bight" refers to a tiny bit of land that juts out into the ocean). The park itself is quite small, but houses a huge number of authentic totem poles created by artists from the Tlingit and Haida people. The park was created by the government following World War II as both a way to help unemployed native war veterans get back on their feet and to preserve the ancient art of pole carving.
The park also features an authentic Tlingit clan house which is open to visitors and still sometimes used by native tribes in the area for celebrations and ceremonies.
The park's location, right on the sea, is also stunningly beautiful. It has a gift shop and a small book store on its grounds, both staffed by park rangers who are great at answering questions.
Walking in Ketcikan, is the best way to get around. Everything is fairly close, including the famous Creek Street Stores, once know as the Brothels. One of the more famous "red light houses" is still around, Dolly's House Museum, but only for looky-lou's, nothing more. Prostitution was outlawed in Alaska after the gold miners eased out of the picture. Many fine stores now inhabit the old houses, and tourists swarm to not only see the houses, but to buy their souvenirs of Alaska.
Today this downtown street is a haven for shoppers and pedestrians. Creek Street is lined with a wooden boardwalk overlooking Ketchikan Creek, and no car traffic is allowed. Several shops and cafés are found here along with art galleries and native craft stores, but historically Creek Street was known for its bordellos. In its heyday the brightly colored houses lining the street were home to the largest number of prostitutes in Alaska, serving the large population of gold prospectors and fishermen who made stops in Ketchikan.
In the city of Ketchikan, there are several totem poles displayed that you can see by taking a walking tour. If you are interested, just pick up a map at the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau’s visitor information center at 131 Front Street.
The Totem Bight State Park is about 10 miles north of Ketchikan on the Tongass Narrows. In the summer regular interpretive tours are offered for cruise ship passengers and other visitors to the park. Taking the tour package offered by cruise companies will give visitors a lot of information.
The park consists of about 14 totem poles, a clan house, connected by a boardwalk and path through a small forested area on Totem Bight. The path through the forest gives a good example of what the rainforests of the Tongass National Forest (the largest national forest in the United States) is like. The forest canopy is so thick that in that portion of the park it is too dark to take pictures without a flash.
When you are visiting Totem Bight, to get to the totem poles you will take a short walk through a typical example of the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. The ground is normally wet and often covered with banana slugs. The trees are always green. If a storm has recently passed through you’ll find a mess of boughs and even trees in the path. If you’d like to take a picture, keep in mind that on most days the canopy blocks the light and you will need a camera with a flash.
There is a cove you can see through the woods. I’ve seen Great Blue Herons feeding in the cove; eagles are common in the area; I've seen deer coming down from the hills... and of course as I mentioned banana slugs. No trip through the rainforest is complete without the opportunity to dodge slimy slugs!
One of the historic buildings on Creek Street with the most colorful history is Dolly's; one of the last working houses where fishermen could go upstream to spawn. It is now a museum where visitor's can learn about Ketchikan's colorful history.
This picture was taken in September 1997. On that particular walk the air on Creek Streets carried the distinct odor of rotting salmon and the cacophonous prattle of hundreds of scavenging seagulls.
This is an entertaining show with an excellent hostess who gets the whole audience involved.
We were seated in stands, and then the Hostess divided us into two Teams. This was great fun, with plenty of boo's and cheer's coming from the audience.
They have competitions, like log rolling, throwing the axe, climbing the poles, wood chopping.
The Lumberjack's add to the fun, by stirring each other on.
We loved the show, and also found it interesting seeing the log rolling on water.
Shows are mainly held
Sunday, Monday & Tuesday.....8am....11am.....1.15pm daily
Wednesday, Thursday & Friday, there is an extra show at 3.15pm
and on Saturdays, show's are only at 11am & 1.15pm
ADMISSION IN 2010 .....Adults $35... Children $17.50