We arrived in Ketchikan, AK in the late afternoon, after a “milk run” plane ride. Meaning we stopped everywhere on our way: Fairbanks to Anchorage, Anchorage to Juneau, Juneau to Sitka, and finally Sitka to Ketchikan. Needless to say, I was happy to be off the plane, ready to begin our adventure.
Ketchikan is on an island. A small dot of civilization on a wild, rugged coastline. The town itself is a mix of industrialism and tourism. These two seemingly opposing sides of the coin geographically split the town. From the airport ferry drop-off to downtown we walked through two different world. Outside the downtown, the city is framed in metal shipping containers and warehouses and commercial fishing boats, rusted and twisted by harsh weather. It felt gritty and real. The transition to downtown was striking. Fresh paint, bright signs, little shops, and looming over the harbor, giant cruise ships that swamp the town in loads of people when they dock. The strange thing is the two parts seem to merge and separate seamlessly. I liked the juxtaposition of it all.
The little downtown was cute, and tiny, but my favorite part was seeing Creek Street. Not because I wanted to shop or the salmon where running, but because my grandparent’s had been there, many years before, on their own vacation. I had seen the picture my Gram took of the shops lifted up over the water by stilt-like wooden beams, and I wanted to merge the real version with her picture. Memories laid on memories. And it lived up in the live version. A quaint, walking-only street, floating in the air over water.
We only had a short visit in Ketchikan, but to me, these were the highlights:
- Ward Lake- our pretty (but loud) campground. Nestled in a valley ward lake is surrounded by snow capped mountains and features a walking trail that circles the lake. On the trail, green draped trees towered over us, twisting towards the sky like sleeping giant. Sitting by the lake, in the shadow of the mountains was a beautiful place to eat our first dehydrated dinner of the trip!
- Deer Mountain- a local called this the “standard” hike, and I can see why. With a quick rise in elevation after just a few short miles, it offers spectacular views. I loved both the hike through the temperate rainforest (more green- I may be obsessed!) and the ocean/mountain views at the top. We didn’t get all the way up, about 500 feet short of the summit, because the snow was still very heavy, but it didn’t impact the beauty. We could see out over another distant island, and on the farthest horizon, snow covered Canadian mountains. Water drifted like dark ink between the green and white pockets of land making the world seem like the wide screen opening of a movie. Pretty, pretty.
- Rotary Beach- our first ocean stop. Here I loved the piles of sun bleached drift wood stacked in haphazard designs, the rocky crests of tide pools, and slow lapping of the stunted ocean waves. We ate lunch here, smelling the thick aroma of salt and drying seaweed, and later came back for a nap/break. It is such a different kind of Alaska leaning against the smoothed wood, sitting in sand, scanning the sky for eagles.
- Totem Bight State Historical Park- the totems in this park are as impressive as I imagined they would be. A gravel path weaves through the woods to an open area with totems looking out towards the ocean. I loved the intricate designs, paint colors and patterns, and the stories they tell through symbols. A remarkable history. Most totems are made of red cedar because it resists rot and for the height, isn’t as heavy as other kinds of wood. Standing beside one of the massive totems made me feel toy-solider-small.
- Settlers Cove- our second camp ground, snug against the rock shoreline with a waterfall pushing fresh water out into a new salty world. And it was quiet. Thankfully. So quiet. Here we also hiked, Lunch Falls Loop, with nice view of the waterfall and the river, more green on green, and the howling of ravens that sounded so much like monkeys it felt like we had slipped into the jungle. Dinner on the rocks looking out at the ocean.
Bright and early on our last day we boarded the ferry. Best way to travel ever! The solarium, a covered outdoor deck complete with overhead heaters and chase-lounge chairs, was our spot. We put our sleep pads and sleeping bags right on the chairs and watched the scenery float by while snug and warm.
Steaming to Juneau!