Vast and magical, Alaska dominates both imaginations and bucket lists. It’s a land of superlatives, not the least of which is its size. “The Last Frontier” is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined. Planning a meeting in a state so immense can be a little intimidating, but can reap huge rewards. To get the full Alaskan experience, why not venture to the edge of the wild and give Ketchikan a try?
“[If] planners are looking for a special place for boards and groups under 150, we can deliver great venues and a location with ‘wow’ factor: gorgeous scenery, terrific activities, off-site venues and an easy 90-minute flight from Seattle,” says Patti Mackey, president and CEO of Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.
This charming and quirky island community of 14,000 people is the first port of call for cruise ships that ply the famed Inside Passage and is located within the 17 millionacre Tongass National Forest.
What to See, What to Do
Southeast Alaska’s century-old commercial fishing industry garnered Ketchikan the title of “Salmon Capital of the World” in the early 1900s, when thousands of pounds of salmon were caught, canned and shipped from the town. Today you can catch, eat and view five species of salmon, some as close as the water beneath your feet, from the bridge over Ketchikan Creek.
Once home to a boisterous and colorful fishing, timber and mining populace, Ketchikan has long since cleaned up its reputation. However, when you wander along Creek Street’s antique boardwalk and browse its restaurants and shops, it’s easy to imagine the racy days of brothels and bootleggers that once filled these streets.
Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian natives settled in this region long before the fishermen, loggers and miners arrived, and they left hundreds of beautifully carved totem poles. Their stylized images of ravens, eagles, bears and family crests honor family members, commemorate significant events, and pass down legends and stories. View totem poles and learn their history and symbolism at Totem Bight State Historical Park, Saxman Native Village Totem Pole Park and the Totem Heritage Center.
Woodsmen and -women show off their skills at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which operates May through September. The one-hour tribute to all things timber includes raucous competition and flying sawdust as these remarkable athletes scurry up two-story cedars, try to best each oth er with chopping and sawing, and practice some mean footwork atop floating logs.
The unforgettable Misty Fiords National Monument, a glacier-carved wilderness 40 miles east of Ketchikan, is studded with snowcapped mountains, waterfalls and streams. The only way to reach this pristine treasure is by boat or plane, and you are almost guaranteed to see wildlife: Bears, mountain goats, seals, eagles, sea lions, and humpback and killer whales are common. Allen Marine Tours operates high-speed, covered-catamaran excursions that accommodate up to 145 people.
On land and on the water, Alaska Amphibious Tours loads visitors on a bus for a 90-minute ride past salmon-spawning grounds, through Whale Park and down historic Creek Street before the bus-turned-boat glides into the water for a tour of the harbor, fishing fleet and canneries.
Zip lining is always good for team-building, and Alaska Canopy Adventures consistently wins awards for its high-flying tour. A zip line course in Ketchikan whizzes guests from tree to tree on eight lines in the Tongass National Forest and features three sky bridges and a rappel.
Additional excursions and team-building options include salmon and halibut fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and four-wheeling. The experts at the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau can help you design adventures that range from mild to manic and are guaranteed to be memorable.
Where to Stay, Where to Meet
Soaring windows keep meetings bright and airy at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. Close to town, the center offers a 4,300-square-foot ballroom that can be configured for three meeting rooms. Theater seating in the ballroom can accommodate up to 450 people, banquet space can be configured for up to 304 people and classrooms can hold up to 240 people. The center’s Manzanita Bay Conference Room seats 18 to 48 people. A 1,500-square-foot stage adjoins the ballroom. “We host conventions, conferences, trade shows and weddings. One interesting thing we host is the Wearable Art Show. It’s four or five days, and we have about 600 people for each viewing,” says Alice Nelson, facility manager for the center.
The Sunny Point Conference Center at the 107-room Landing Hotel & Restaurant has a 2,100-squarefoot ballroom with seating for up to 225 people and a 1,100-squarefoot reception space that can accommodate up to 75 guests. The reception room’s fireplace and comfortable seating make it ideal for small groups.
Sitting on a lofty bluff adjacent to the Ted Ferry Civic Center, Cape Fox Lodge has 72 guest rooms and breathtaking views of Tongass Narrows and the surrounding valley. Up to 150 people can meet in the Shaa Hit Room (Mountain Room), which can also be sectioned off with soundproof dividers, and the Blue Heron and Thunderbird suites can be used for breakout sessions. Perfect for board retreats, the Naa Kaani (Council Room) seats 12 banquet-style. And when the meetings are done for the day, you can ride the Cape Fox Hill Funicular—or tram—down to historic Creek Street.
Smaller groups meeting off-site or planning incentive trips should also consider staying at the boutique, 34-room historic Gilmore Hotel.
About the Weather
Temperatures in Ketchikan are mild, ranging from an average low of 40 degrees in winter to a high of 68 in summer, allowing for meetings year-round.
“It depends on the group’s goals and their interests,” Mackey says. “Spring and summer are great for those who want to incorporate outdoor activities like salmon fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking or kayaking into their agenda. Fall and winter events focus on the arts and Native cultural activities.”
An average of 1 million cruise ship visitors tour Ketchikan during the high season. The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau is adept at securing lodging and tours for conventions and retreats to ensure they access all the amazing experiences the town has to offer.