Spring Getaway in Ketchikan, Alaska

Photo © Seanna O'Sullivan Photography

Visit Alaska in spring. Depending on what you’re looking for in a getaway, that’s a sentence that might not pass logical muster the first time around. But narrow the scope to Southeast Alaska—the bridge between the Pacific Northwest and the Great White North. That changes things a bit. And if you’re the type of traveler who prefers to avoid the crowds and the cruise ships, maybe spring starts to look a little more attractive. Perhaps you’re the sort who enjoys a more authentic travel experience coupled with the smaller price tag of a shoulder season. If all of that floats your boat and you don’t mind packing an extra layer and shouldering up to locals for coffee in the morning, then trust me, you want to visit Alaska in the spring. Towards the southern fringe of the Tongass National Forest, just about as southeast as you can get while still being Alaska, sits a personal favorite: Ketchikan.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is secure accommodations. There are no Hiltons or resorts in Ketchikan—one more tally in the plus column. Perhaps the best way to find the perfect vacation rental is on the Alaska Travelers Accommodations website. Bear in mind if you’ve got early season steelhead or late season salmon on the brain, consider getting a rental with a kitchen.

Speaking of fishing, the outdoors is one of the primary reasons for to a trip to Ketchikan, and the city is home to dozens of fishing charters. For those with a competitive nature, the Ketchikan King Salmon Derby takes place in late spring. As the snowline retreats to higher elevations, the wilderness areas become more easily accessible for independent types who prefer to go it alone. Near Ketchikan, Settlers Cove State Recreation Site offers camping, a primitive cabin for rent, day use, fishing areas and some incredible hiking. The forests of Southeast Alaska are legendary and the massive Sitka spruce and western hemlock you’ll encounter along the Lunch Falls Loop Trail drive the point home.

If you’re not going to be entirely living off your own catch, Ketchikan cooks up great options for every meal. Stop by the Green Coffee Bean Company for a cup of house-roasted coffee and a pastry first thing in the morning. For lunch or an unbeatable weekend brunch, check out the New York Cafe is in the Historic New York Hotel. And last, but not least, pay a visit to the Bar Harbor Restaurant for dinner. Their local seafood offerings are fresh and delicious.

Aside from fresh air and fresh food, Ketchikan has a healthy amount of history and culture and plenty of ways to experience it. No trip to Ketchikan would be complete without a walk along historic Creek Street. There is plenty of salacious history to explore there, along with shopping options for modern day gifts and keepsakes. To garner an in-depth understanding of the land, recent history and the history of the people who have called the area home for untold generations, spend some quality time at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center and the Tongass Historical Museum. For an utterly fascinating look into the artistic traditions of the native Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida peoples, visit the Totem Heritage Center and the Totem Bight State Park.

If you’ve got more than a few days, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Check with the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau for everything that spring in Southeast Alaska offers.