Ketchikan got its start as a Tlingit fishing settlement. Its abundant salmon population and nearby mines attracted a few additional arrivals to the area. However, it was the Klondike Gold Rush that brought big changes to Ketchikan and kicked off the town’s expansion.
Today, Ketchikan has a population of about ~8,200 and a reputation as a tight-knit, welcoming community. Many are attracted to Ketchikan for its breathtaking scenery and its year-round arts scene, fostered by a burgeoning creative community.
141 inches of rain per year
Still others come to Ketchikan to enjoy much milder winters than Alaska’s more extreme destinations. However, Ketchikan is also well known for its persistent rain. In fact, the Rain Capital of Alaska gets an average of 141 inches of rain per year, well more than Seattle (34 inches of rain per year, on average). However, with the right gear and the right attitude, you’ll acclimate, just as new arrivals to Ketchikan have done before you.
If you’re thinking of relocating to Ketchikan, we’ll show you what to expect once you make the move. We’ll share some fun facts, delve a little more deeply into the weather, discuss where to live, and share our favorite things to do in the area.
Let’s get started with your tour of Ketchikan!
Fun Facts About Ketchikan, Alaska
- Like many destinations in Southeastern Alaska, Ketchikan is only accessible by air or boat. You can either hop one of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries or fly into Ketchikan International Airport. In fact, even getting from the airport to downtown Ketchikan requires a boat! The good news is that it’s only a short ferry ride from the airport on Gravina Island to downtown Ketchikan.
- Ketchikan is a significant hub for several maritime industries, including shipping, seafood, and fishing. You’ll find a shipyard in town, plus several ferry lines and barge operations that stop in Ketchikan’s port.
- Ketchikan is sometimes called Alaska’s “first city.” If you’re on a boat headed north toward Alaska, Ketchikan will be the first town you see, making it many visitors’ initial encounter with the Last Frontier.
- Within the Ketchikan community, you’ll meet Native Alaskans from the Haida Nation, Tlingit Nation, and Tshimsian Nation. In fact, the word “Ketchikan” is based on the Tlingit name for the creek that flows through town, which they call “Kitschk-hin.”
- Southeast Alaska is dominated by the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the U.S. and the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world. Yes, we said “rainforest”—which explains why Ketchikan gets so much precipitation. If you’re new to Ketchikan, stop by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center to get familiar with the area and all it has to offer.
And while we’re on the topic of rain…
What Is the Weather Like in Ketchikan?
The headline for those moving to Ketchikan is often its prodigious precipitation: How much does it really rain, and how often? Especially for newcomers, the thought of 141 inches of rain per year may seem overwhelming. After all, even Hawaii, the rainiest U.S. state, only gets 57 inches of rain on average per year.
Ultimately, there’s no sugarcoating it: You’ll see a lot of rain in Ketchikan, with precipitation falling approximately 234 days out of the year.
So how do Ketchikan residents deal with it? They gear up and go about their business.
Tip: Invest in Some Good Wet Weather Gear
Most Southeastern Alaska residents don’t mess with umbrellas. If there’s any wind at all, an umbrella won’t offer you much protection. Instead, if you’re moving to Ketchikan, get yourself 1) a pair of solid waterproof boots, like XTRATUFs and 2) a water-repellant rain jacket—a serious one, like a Carhartt. You may also want to grab a pair of rain pants, too. This gear will keep you warm and dry throughout the year.
If the rain has you nervous, here’s the plus side to Ketchikan’s wet coastal climate: It doesn’t get as cold in Ketchikan during the winter months. Whereas a place like Anchorage might get as cold as 11° F in January—and Fairbanks can get as low as -17° F—January low temps in Ketchikan hover right around the freezing mark.
Average Lows in January
30° F – Ketchikan, AK
11° F – Anchorage, AK
-17° F – Fairbanks, AK
During the summer months, Ketchikan gets a fair amount of the Midnight Sun that Alaska is famous for. In June, Ketchikan peaks at about 17.5 hours of true sunlight, with the sun rising at about 4:00 am and setting around 9:30 pm.
Plenty of tourists take advantage of this time to enjoy Alaska. In fact, Ketchikan has welcomed more than a million tourists in the summer season, the vast majority of whom arrive by cruise ship.
What’s the Best Place to Live in Ketchikan?
In Ketchikan, the majority of the population lives in and around the city center. You’ll find these homes fairly close together, so if you want a little more space, you might consider heading down toward Saxman in South Tongass, where you’ll find homes on larger lots that afford a little more privacy.
The rest of the population lives in North Tongass, which lies (you guessed it!) north of the city, along the North Tongass Highway. There, you’ll find the second-largest concentration of single-family homes, just behind the city of Ketchikan proper.
If you’re considering coming to Ketchikan for seasonal work, you might consider living near town and using the bus to get around. However, if you’re planning on settling down in Ketchikan, having a car will allow you to explore the area to the fullest.
Finally, let’s talk a bit about what your leisure time will look like in the Ketchikan area.
Things to Do in Ketchikan, Alaska
Fishing & Hunting
For many Alaskans, hunting and fishing is simply a way of life—and you’ll find plenty of opportunities for both in the Ketchikan area. In fact, Ketchikan is also known as Salmon Capital of the World for its abundant fishing opportunities. You’ll find a huge variety of species in the surrounding waters, including several varieties of Pacifica salmon, halibut, rockfish, brook trout, and many more. Hunting-wise, you’ll find Sitka blacktail deer, mountain goats, and black bears in the area.
If you love a good walk in the woods, you’ll find a number of opportunities for hiking around Ketchikan. This guide offers an excellent list of local trails, plus some useful safety tips. (Ketchikan is bear country, after all!) Along the trails in and around Ketchikan, you’ll encounter serene lake views, snowcapped peaks, panoramic vistas, and even a waterfall. The weather can shift rapidly in the area, so make sure to pack rain gear and share your hiking plan with a friend.
The Art Scene
With more than 350 registered artists in town, Ketchikan enjoys a thriving arts scene—maybe even one of the most active in the state. You’ll find a cluster of galleries in the city center, as well as arts and music events around town. Don’t miss the Arctic Spirit Gallery, which features one-of-a-kind pieces of Native Art from the Northwest Coast and throughout Alaska.
Appreciate Ketchikan’s Native History & Culture
You’ll find a rich tapestry of Alaska Native arts, culture, and traditions in Ketchikan. Start your journey of discovery at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, where you’ll learn the natural and cultural history of the area, including that of the Native Alaskans who settled it. Additionally, make sure to explore Ketchikan’s collection of totem poles, the largest in Alaska—and possibly the world. Stop by the Totem Heritage Center to get a full appreciation for this unique artistic tradition. You’ll find other examples to admire at Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park, and Potlatch Park. Finally, to get a full picture of Ketchikan’s Native history, sign up for a walking tour with Native-owned business Where the Eagle Walks.
Making Your Home in Ketchikan
A truly unique way of life awaits you in Ketchikan. It might be a quieter one than you’re used to, and it might be a wetter one, too. However, in Ketchikan, you’ll find a welcoming and fascinating community, one that can quickly feel like home.
Ready to move to Ketchikan? We’d be happy to assist! We’ve helped individuals and families relocate all over the state, including Ketchikan. To get started, request a free quote from one of our experts.
Tell us about your move!