Every Saturday, the Disney Wonder’s “Wish upon a Star” horn heralds a day of family fun in Ketchikan but it is not just Disney bringing families to Alaska, many other Alaska Cruise lines now offer great kids programming and families are also traveling to Alaska on the Marine Highway ferries, and flying in with Alaska Airlines. Whichever way you travel to Alaska, don’t be afraid to bring the kids. Alaska is a great destination for families and a truly unique place to share with your children.
We travel with a tornado of twins who are now almost eight years old: they are active, outdoors loving boys with no patience for being still or shopping, unless it’s in a toy store. When we visited Seattle last year, the only activity that they really did not enjoy was our 1.5 hour harbor cruise (kind of funny for kids who have grown up on boats). After enduring an hour of whining, that was only slightly improved by expensive hot cocoas, I realized that most shore excursions and tours are not that interesting for little kids. They don’t want to cruise by the Space Needle hearing about its history; they want to climb it; see the way people look like ants from up there; and push all the buttons in the elevator.
Fishing, flight-seeing and kayaking are great Alaskan activities for older kids and will work for some younger kids too. But, as much as we love our twins, fishing with them between the ages of 3 and 6 was a nightmare. They were bouncing around the boat as soon as we left the harbor and after the excitement of catching the first fish they were done while the adults on board were just getting started. Kayaking was a little better, but at 5 one of our boys could paddle for hours while the other was in constant danger of falling in or tipping everyone over with his wiggling. So, with this in mind, I asked the boys to come up with some things to do in Ketchikan (apart from play soccer) that they thought would be fun and interesting for visiting kids between the ages of 3 and 8.
1. Grant Street Playground
Time: 30 mins - 1 hour
Age: 1.5 yrs and up
Tucked away just 2 blocks from the Cruise ship dock is Ketchikan’s newly renovated Grant Street Playground. Don’t expect green grass or tons of space: grass is almost impossible to grow in Ketchikan’s wet climate and flat land is in very short supply in hilly Ketchikan. Grant Street is a classic Ketchikan play area: it’s very compact and the play surface is gravel (most of our sports fields are gravel here too.) According to Clancy and Declan, the new slides are “epic” and they love that the traditional spinning tire swing is back. There are picnic tables and great views of Deer Mountain and the waterfront so it is a nice spot to bring your lunch and let the kids play.
2. Walk Along Creek Street and the Ketchikan Creek to City Park
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Age: 3 years and up
A walk on Creek Street and along the Ketchikan Creek to City Park is one of our favorite ways to burn off some excess energy and appreciate the beautiful town that we call home. In addition to being a charming historic area, the Ketchikan Creek is also an active salmon stream. From mid July through the end of September the Creek is filled with salmon. It smells a bit fishy but the sight of all those salmon heading up their home stream to spawn and die after years in the ocean is pretty amazing and the kids love watching the salmon and the seals chasing them in the shallows. For those who want to shop there are many local stores and galleries along the historic boardwalk including the SoHo Coho, home to Ketchikan’s own Ray Troll, and The Carver at the Creek, owned by native artist, Norman Jackson. At the end of Creek Street a narrow path known as Married Men’s trail leads back along the Ketchikan Creek to a waterfall and salmon ladder. From the bridge over the waterfall you can follow the signposts about another block to City Park and the Totem Heritage Center.
As soon as we have enough sunlight after school our kids spend hours at City Park, splashing around in the waterways, climbing on logs, flipping over rocks in the Creek and playing hide and seek with their friends. Rain boots are recommended as the water is shallow enough to wade in several places. There are picnic tables and bathrooms in the park. Older kids may enjoy a visit to the Totem Heritage Center which houses historic totem poles. If little legs are too tired to make it back there is a free shuttle that runs from the cruise ship docks, to the Salmon Landing, and the Totem Heritage Center about every 20 minutes.
Watch Out For...
People often confuse the Cape Fox tram on Creek street with the Mount Roberts Tram in Juneau. The Mount Roberts tramway takes you all the way up the mountain with great views of Juneau and surrounding area whereas the tram ride up to the Cape Fox Restaurant is only a couple of minutes. The Creek was once a booming red-light district. Dolly’s House Museum on the Creek is very interesting for adults but not really suitable for children.
3. Totem Bight
Cost: $1 per adult/50 cents per child bus fare each way
Time: Allow 3 - 4 hours to get to and from Totem Bight from downtown Ketchikan
Age: 2 years and up
Totem Bight State Park is one of our favorite places to go as a family here in Ketchikan. The Totem poles are amazing, the views of the water and surrounding mountains are beautiful and there is a great little beach for kids to explore. Entrance to the park is free, guided tours are available at an additional cost or you can just explore on your own. The visitors center has information to help you learn more about the poles and there are interpretive signs throughout the park. There is a picnic shelter with a barbeque above the beach on the north end of the park. Bring lunch with you from town if you plan to picnic as there is no food available at the park. Totem Bight is about 12 miles north of downtown Ketchikan. Take the Ketchikan Bus, from the cruise ship dock area or a taxi cab from downtown Ketchikan.
5. Rainy Day Fun at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
Time: 1 - 2 hours
Age: 4 and up
Cost: $5 for adults/Free for children 15 and under
Our kids love museums, especially natural history museums: here in Ketchikan, visiting the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is their favorite rainy day activity. The Discovery Center is very kid friendly. It has a walk through rainforest exhibit; a life size native fish camp and a room dedicated to Southeast Alaska’s wildlife with great interactive displays and a salmon viewing scope. The Theater shows two short movies about Southeast Alaska and the Tongass National Forest both of which are interesting for kids. Check in with the friendly staff at the information desk for kid activities including a scavenger hunt activity (for preschool through middle school age) or a Junior Ranger package (for 5th grades and up). The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is operated by the USFS and is located right in downtown Ketchikan, just a block from our dock and a short walk from the cruise ship dock.
5. Kayak Ketchikan
Cost: $59 kids/$89 adults
Time: 2.5 hrs
Age Recommendation: 6 yrs and up
Our kids have grown up kayaking, so of course they couldn’t make a list of things to do in Ketchikan without kayaking. The boys love being out on the water and they love to paddle (or be paddled) up the Ketchikan Creek, especially July through October when the salmon are running. Apart from getting some exercise and fresh sea air, one of the advantages of taking the family kayaking is that it is more of an experience than a tour. Kayaking is quite literally “hands on” and even if they are not doing much paddling or listening to the guide there is a lot to engage kids: they can touch the kelp or hold a sea star; dip their fingers in the ocean; feel the mist in the air and smell the fishy aroma of low tide.
We recommend 6 as the minimum age for kayaking with us, but if you have your own family group (6 or more) we will take 5 year olds too. It is important to know that while many kids love being out on the water in kayaks they may not help much with the paddling until they are 9 or 10 years old. To make the paddling easier for the grown-ups we have double kayaks with center seats that fit small children and several true triple kayaks that can fit 3 paddlers of any size. Our guides will help team up family members to make strong paddling teams so that everyone has fun. We recommend Ketchikan Kayaking for younger kids because it is shorter but families are welcome on all our tours!
What did we miss? What do your kids love to do in Ketchikan? Please share in the comments and thanks for reading the blog.