Alaska : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Alaska - state review
If you are going to Alaska, be sure to put the charming city of Ketchikan on your list of cities to visit.
From salmon markets to more standing totem police than anywhere else on earth to shopping galore, “Alaska’s First City” doesn’t disappoint.
Ketchikan is still part of Alaska, but just west of Canada, making it a great port stop on a cruise or just a 90-minute flight from Seattle.
You also get to avoid the bitter cold of the Arctic Circle.
This is the salmon capital of the world and you can get the fish made in more ways than you could ever imagine.
Even the 234 days of rain seem to add even more charm to this small town of just more than 8,000 people.
Here you can watch lumberjacks hack away or walk the old town vibe of Creek Street.
Pronounced “Catch-ih-can”, it’s hard to believe all this activity is squeezed into just six square miles.
To get away from the crowds, you’ve also got several parks nearby to hike, fish, or relax.
You are also right on the waters of the Gulf of Alaska with plenty of beaches just a short drive away.
Warnings & Dangers in Ketchikan
OVERALL RISK : LOW
The overall risk is low here. It's not prone to big weather events, it's relatively safe (and we'll go through crime numbers) and it's a city built for tourists to explore and enjoy.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
To get from the airport to the city, you'll need to take the ferry, as Ketchikan's airport is on a different island. The city has a bus system with just $1 fares to various locations, including the cruise ship port. There are several air shuttles as well to get you through the southern islands of Alaska. (FUN FACT: Alaska has almost 2,700 islands statewide) All options are low-risk unless you are scared of small planes like I am. It's still low-risk, it will just feel scarier.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Only two pickpockets or purse snatchings were reported, but the thieves did get away with nearly $1600. It's a low risk, but a great reminder to not bring large sums of cash or valuables with you when visiting tourist towns.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of natural disasters, and there's never been a Presidentially-declared disaster in this area, but there's potential. Tsunamis are one concern. Flooding is another. The distance from emergency resources is the third concern. However, it has been around since 1900, with no major disasters, so chances are good there won't be on your trip either.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There were just two robberies in 2020, and they were both at homes, so you've got a really low risk of being mugged.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. Any terrorist attack here would kill more fish than people. Any part of Alaska that would be at risk is far away from Ketchikan.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Alaska gets all the same scams as the lower 48, with spoofed numbers and fraud at businesses, but surprisingly, none impact tourists. You've got a low risk.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women are safe to travel to Ketchikan with low risk. There are plenty of people around if that makes you feel safe, and there are plenty of places to go if you want some solitude. You should still practice good personal safety. Using a small backpack instead of a purse is a good way to keep your belongings close without getting in the way.
TAP WATER RISK : MEDIUM
Ketchikan has a bit of a history with drinking water struggles. On top of that, the water isn't filtered, it's just disinfected. I don't know why that makes my stomach turn, but it does. The city says, "Our water has so few particles that we only need to provide disinfection." There have been some water quality issues that you can review on the city's website. I'd definitely read through that before you call, but I have to call this a medium risk and run for a clean bottle of water at the nearest store.
Safest Places to Visit in Ketchikan
As soon as you get off the ferry or cruise ship, you’ll be in a busy area with shops and a few food options.
The Visitor Center is here as well.
Grab a map of the area so you can get a lay of the land.
This is also where a Lumberjack Show is done several times a day.
By “Show” I mean you get to watch burly men chop wood.
The wood is free after the show if you want to take some home with you.
You’ll want to walk a few blocks to Creek Street.
This is where most of the best attractions are in town.
Don’t miss the Alaskan Fishouse if you like fish.
(I’m allergic, so I can’t speak intelligently about it, but frequent travelers tell me this is THE place for the best seafood.)
There are also shows here where you can watch the crab boat workers go through their haul.
I watched a video that showed an octopus in the net.
There are six types of eight-tentacled creatures in the Alaskan waters.
Just 10 miles north, you can visit Totem Bight State Park.
The totem poles are more than just fun to look at, they also tell stories.
Grab a brochure to explain what the different animals on the poles mean, so you can translate it.
There are also fishing charters here if you want to try your luck in Alaska’s rich waters.
Be sure to check with your cruise line if you can bring fresh-caught fish on board.
Some of the fish houses will let you ship your selection to wherever you’d like.
To get out of the rain, you can visit the indoor Southeast Alaska Discovery Center to learn about the history of the land and the natural wonders beyond the places you’ll get to see during your time here.
Places to Avoid in Ketchikan
As far as crime goes, there really aren’t dangerous neighborhoods in the area and if there were, you don’t have a car to get to them anyway.
The only way you can travel is by foot or someone else driving, steering, or piloting.
I am terrified of my own shadow if I haven’t verified that it’s my own shadow, so on trips like this, I would suggest avoiding going on a tour company’s plane you haven’t researched.
While the percentage of accidents is incredibly low, it can still happen.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) does investigate all crashes, no matter how small the plane.
That information is public data.
In August of 2021, a plane out of Ketchikan crashed, killing all six people on board.
It’s worth the peace of mind to do the research.
Above and beyond that, trust your gut.
If something feels wrong, follow that instinct.
Avoid getting so distracted that you miss the departure time for a cruise ship.
You should know the ship’s departure time and confirm before you debark that the ship will wait for people.
Most times, the cruise ship will wait “within reason” for you to get there.
If you’re on a ship’s excursion that is running late, they will wait for you.
There are times when people get left behind.
You don’t want to be standing at the port watching your ship float away and you certainly don’t want to be the reason the entire ship is mad at you, because you didn’t get back in time.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ketchikan
- If you have personal space issues, Ketchikan is going to seem claustrophobic to you. The port can hold up to four cruise ships and that means 21,000 people at a time could be in the city. There are a lot of wooden walkways, limiting the space between people. It will also most likely be raining, so add umbrellas and parkas to the mix.
- Many of the people visiting Ketchikan might be elderly, as senior citizens love to go cruising. This might mean those dreaded “slow walkers”. Don’t get the walking version of road rage. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the visit and respect your elders and the pace they walk.
- You should sign up for emergency alerts through Nixle.com and add Ketchikan (and other port stops) to your notification list. You’ll get information about everything from tsunami concerns to crime alerts.
- The city of Ketchikan has a very clear tsunami evacuation policy with a map. Take a copy of this with you, just to err on the side of caution.
- The Opioid Crisis reaches all the way to Alaska. As late as March of 2022, a drug bust was made at the airport. The drugs contained the deadly Fentanyl, among other things, and had a street value of nearly $100,000. Don’t ever take a pill from a person or place that isn’t licensed.
- If you are visiting Ketchikan for an extended time, be warned that people can easily get island fever here. As cool as it is for a tourist, people who are new to the area say the ongoing rainfall, lack of good resources, and the requirement to fly to Juneau every time you want to get day-to-day amenities, can wear on you if you aren’t prepared.
- For hikers, be sure to take a GPS with you. The trails here aren’t as marked as some other parks you’ve visited, and low-lying clouds and rain can make markers disappear anyway. Also, make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back in case you get lost or injured.
- The National Park Service lists the parks that have WIFI on its website. Check it out before you go on an adventure. There’s a good chance you’ll be in a dead zone during your trip to an Alaskan park. It might be worth it to bring your own hot spot just in case.
- You do need a license if you are going to fish or hunt. Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game makes it easy to get this done online and you can print out your license long before you leave on your trip.
- Bring rain gear. It rains a lot in this city and not just some sprinkles here and there. The area gets up to 160 inches of rain a year. The U.S. Average is 38. Bring at least three pairs of extra socks. You’ll thank me later.
So... How Safe Is Ketchikan Really?
The crime statistics don’t make it look very safe.
However, with a population of just 8,000, it is easy to get skewed numbers with a few crimes higher or lower in any category.
For example, the theft rate is one in 38 when you consider the number of thefts (213) vs the population (8228).
When you add in the 21,000 that could be in port on any given day, that rate goes down to one in 137.
Alaska also has a problem with natives becoming alcoholics and that can lead to domestic violence.
That also can run the numbers up, but it’s not a danger a tourist would face.
You shouldn’t drink heavily and get in a fight with a local, however, and always be aware of your surroundings.
It’s a city that is designed for tourists, so safety in the tourist areas will be paramount.
How Does Ketchikan Compare?
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- Visas - You will need a visa or passport if you are visiting Alaska and aren't a U.S. Citizen. It's good practice even for citizens to bring their passport, just in case something happens and you end up having to port in Canada. Non-U.S. Citizens will have to show proof of a Visa or passport when coming back on a cruise ship every time.
- Currency - The U.S Dollar is the currency here and many of the tour activities can be paid for well ahead of time. You can even tip, if you choose, through the website or booking agent, so you don't have to carry cash.
- Weather - It's rarely going to be warmer than 65°(F) and colder than 30°(F). The summers are closer to the warmest end and winters keep an average high in the 40s. Pack a raincoat, rain hat, rain boots, or anything that you need to keep you dry from the rain. Even if it's not raining, it's going to be muddy, so don't wear any shoes you don't want to be covered in mud. Make sure you can walk comfortably in the shows too, as there's a lot of walking to do here.
- Airports - The Ketchikan Airport is your only option and it's less than four miles away. However, it is on another island, so you have to take a ferry to get there. The ferry departs every 15 minutes from 6:15 am through 9:30 pm. The fare is $6 for adults and $3 for kids.
- Travel Insurance - You should get travel insurance for a trip as adventurous as Ketchikan. Make sure your insurance covers your excursions and read the fine print on any excursion agreement you are asked to sign.
Ketchikan Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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