For many, an Alaska cruise is a dream getaway filled with beautiful landscapes of jaw-dropping glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and Alaskan wildlife. It is all that and so much more. It’s a chance to disconnect from the demands of the real world and go back in time to a simpler life.
Sailing in the inside passage, I learned about the early settlers, the “get-rich” prospectors, and the sale of Alaska from the Russians to the United States.
During my cruise, I explored Alaska’s charming towns with my favorite being the walkable Ketchikan. It’s a community that oozes so much character. So today, we are going to discover the unique area of Creek Street, Ketchikan.
For most cruise ships, Ketchikan is generally the first port of call, seeing that it’s located at the southeasternmost tip of Alaska. Another favorite town, Skagway, is positioned at the northernmost point of the inside passage.
Where Is Creek Street in Ketchikan?
- Location: East Ketchikan running from Stedman St to Totem Way
One of the great things about traveling to Ketchikan is that most attractions are within walking distance of the cruise port. So, there’s no need for a car rental in Ketchikan.
Disembarking my cruise ship, I immediately noticed Ketchikan is set against a backdrop of mountains, with a narrow town built up along the coastal waters. It’s a photographer’s dream with plenty of places to capture amazing Ketchikan photos.
Disembarking my ship, I noticed the visitors center on the dock, where you can get a city map should you need one.
Creek Street is a must-visit for everyone arriving in the great white north because it offers the best of Ketchikan. To get to Creek Street, it’s a leisurely 10-minute walk without any hills.
History Of Creek Street, Ketchikan
A popular cruise port, Ketchikan, Alaska, has a rich history that dates back more than a decade. Salmon fishing brought the Tlingit people during the summer months to provide for their families.
As I walked across the Stedman Bridge to access Creek Street, the evidence that it’s still an Alaska fishing town is prominent.
Viewing Creek Street for the first time, I was in awe of its construction. Built on wooden pilings between the Ketchikan River and the lush Tongass rainforest, the colorful cabin-like houses invite visitors to explore their small nooks and crannies.
While not a street you can drive on, the meandering boardwalk is a tourist hotspot that is very photogenic and worthy of a walking tour. When looking to do some shopping in Ketchikan, this is the place to be.
The buildings stood out with their bright colors against the green hues of the forest backdrop. It was a real-life artist canvas with the perfect selection of complementary palettes.
As I started my adventure along the boardwalk, I quickly learned its beginnings evolved as Ketchikan’s “red light district” back in the early 1900s. At its prime in the 1920s, historic Creek Street had 20 brothels frequented by local fishermen, miners, and whiskey peddlers.
The working girls offered their services in these bawdy houses that have now been restored and become a trendy shopping area. One of the first buildings I stumbled upon was a lime green house known as “Dolly’s House.”
Dolly’s House Museum
- Location: 24 Creek Street | Admission Fee: US 10.00
Today, Dolly’s House Museum at No. 24 Creek Street, Ketchikan, replicates an original brothel run by Thelma Copeland. Known by her alias, Dolly Arthur, she was renowned as being Creek Street’s longest-working madam.
Inside the “House of Pleasure,” as Dolly called it, there’s an antique piano with old sheet music, old posters, and treasures from the past. A guide dressed in period costume tells the story of Dolly’s life and her time in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Upstairs, there are two bedrooms, with the main room housing a bed with some of Dolly’s dresses. It’s hard to believe that all those years ago, Creek Street was made more famous by prostitution than by salmon fishing.
Behind Dolly’s House is the Married Man’s Trail. This trail marks the hidden path once used by married men to sneak into the brothels by using the back doors. It also provided a quick exit route when police raided the brothels.
Continuing along the wooden boardwalk, I learned about other Alaska prostitutes, such as Annie Watkins at No. 4 and Beatrice Green at No. 20.
Salmon And The Salmon Ladder
Walking the boardwalk on a beautiful July day, I stopped to admire the views of the creek below. Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital of the world, so it’s no surprise I saw salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die. Ketchikan has five species of salmon.
These are King Salmon (Chinook), Silver Salmon (Coho), Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon (dog), and Sockeye Salmon. The Ketchikan Creek salmon runs from mid-July to mid-September.
If the salmon are running, try your luck at catching one by renting a rod and buying a fishing license from a nearby store. During my three visits, Ketchikan Creek fishing was a popular activity with plenty of fishermen (and fisherwomen) on the Stedman Bridge.
During the height of the salmon run, the fish crowd the creek and become a blanket of eagle food. At the end of the salmon season in September, Creek Street can be a stinky place with an abundance of black, rotting fish. However, it is a part of the circle of life.
Walking the Married Man’s Trail, I reached the Ketchikan Creek Falls. Here, a salmon ladder aids the spawning fish up the waterfall. If you have never seen salmon in their natural habitat before, this is an amazing Alaskan experience.
Seals And Otters
Looking into the creek, salmon are not the only creatures gliding through the waters. Seals and otters also frequent this area, and it’s fun to watch the seals frolicking around. When the fish are plentiful, fishermen are competing with the local bald eagles, otters, and sneaky seals to catch a tasty treat.
Creek Street Shopping
You can’t take a vacation without a little shopping, right? What I loved about the stores on Creek Street was that they weren’t the same usual shops you see at all the other cruise ports.
Instead, the unique curio stores showcased locally made gifts that support Alaskan artists. The quaint, historic buildings had interesting angles and rooms to wander through at leisure. It’s a fantastic place to purchase unique Alaskan souvenirs.
Browsing from store to store, each one had something different and plenty of hidden treasures to suit everyone, no matter what their taste. My top pick for Creek Street shopping is Soho Coho.
Being a fiber artist myself, I really enjoy browsing the work of other artists no matter what their median. Soho Coho showcases the work of the Alaskan legend Ray Troll, who has quite a quirky sense of humor. His whimsical t-shirts, posters, and accessories are a hit amongst visitors, especially those into fishing.
Ketchikan is renowned for having the most extensive collection of live totem poles in the world. So, at the start of Creek Street, I was welcomed by the Chief Johnson Totem Pole. Carved by Israel Shotridge, the 55-foot pole is a replica of the original, which succumbed to the weather over the years.
The red cedar totem pole is hard to miss at the entrance to Creek Street. On the very top of the pole sits Kajuk, a fabled eagle that reigns over all the other creatures below.
Other animals on the pole are the Raven, Raven’s Slaves, and the Fog Woman. The Fog Woman is responsible for the creation of the Salmon and their return for spawning.
More than 50 other totem poles are viewable in various parts of Ketchikan. Each totem pole is unique, with carvings representing living creatures.
While Creek Street is the heart of Ketchikan, it attracts the crowd like bees to honey. Don’t let this discourage you from wandering its magnificent boardwalk and enjoying a slice of Alaskan history. It doesn’t take that much time to explore Creek Street.
So, if you want to do a tour, my top picks are the Crab Fishermen’s Tour and Misty Fjords floatplane.
Happy travels ~ Karen
Richard M Morris
Sunday 18th of July 2021
I spent the first 3 plus growing up on Ketchikan creek, Dolly was my God mother and I slept in a dresser drawer my mother was basically pushed into working for Dolly because she got with child at the age of 15 and he kicked out of her home. I still have pictures of me playing on the docks in my diapers. My grandfather was the highliner for years ,his last boat that he and his sons built called the Rocket! He made sure they couldn't catch him ,he instalIled 2 motors . He buried himself at sea ,I still have his last letter.
Sunday 18th of July 2021
Wow, thank you for sharing your family history and connection with Creek Street in Ketchikan. It's wonderful you still have pictures as a reminder of those days, even though they may have been difficult times for your family.