The city of Ketchikan was the last stop on our 7-night cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska with the Disney Wonder. While the city itself is known for its many Native American totem poles that can be seen around the town and its historic Creek Street district, it’s also a jumping off point to experience some of the natural and wildlife wonders of Alaska.
Nearby is Misty Fiords National Monument, which makes for a popular floatplane trip to see snowcapped mountains, waterfalls and salmon spawning in the streams. Wildlife in the Ketchikan area include black bears, wolves and bald eagles.
We chose on our stop at Ketchikan to take a floatplane to nearby Neets Bay to hopefully see some bears up close (but not too close!). Our trip was organised through Disney Cruise Line, but if you sail with another cruise line to the port you can take the same tour that we did through Taquan Air.
Neets Bay is 40miles north of downtown Ketchikan – a 25 min plane ride or 35 min by boat. it’s a prime spot to see black bears from late July through early September because the bay is also home to the Neets Bay fish hatchery, where thousands of Coho, Chinook, & Chum salmon return every year in early June to swim upstream and spawn. The salmon attract the bears and the bears attract the people!
For our floatplane and bear watching adventure, we are picked up at the cruise port and transferred by by to the waterfront base where the planes depart. It’s about a 15-minute drive. We watch a safety video before boarding our plane, and then an approximately 25 min flight to Neets Bay. The plane ride is bumpier than expected and for the first time ever, Cheese and I feel motion sick in the air.
On the ground at Neets Bay, we are given a tour of the hatchery on the way to the bear viewing platform. It’s as short 1/4 mile/400m walk through the rainforest and during the walk we learn about the different kinds of salmon, their life cycle and the bears who live in the forest and return every year.
The observation area we are led to has two small undercover gazebo areas where we stand when the rain comes down. The stream directly in front of is teams with salmon and it’s not long before we see bears ambling down to the river to try their hand at fishing.
Despite the abundant number of salmon in the stream, the bears don’t manage to catch any while we are watching. We see about seven different bears during our stay, as well as several bald eagles.
When our time at the river is up we walk back to the waterfront to catch our floatplane back to Ketchikan. During our walk back through the rainforest we come across a black bear only a metre or so away.
The bear was somewhat startled to see us, but was quite relaxed about having several cameras snapping photos not too far away. I guess the bears who return continually to Neets bay have learned that they get a free food buffet but in return have to put up with the paparazzi.
Back in Ketchikan, there is time to take a walk around the town and look at the totem poles before boarding the ship. A few streets from the port is Creek Street, an historic area that is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.
Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district between 1903 and 1954, with over 20 bawdy houses set up for business on the one strip. The area is now a combination of shops, museums and art galleries.
NOTE: There is no food allowed on this trip as it attracts the bears. Be sure to feed kids a BIG meal before boarding the floatplane. There are bathrooms and water available at the hatchery. Ketchikan has a very we climate and there will be a high chance of rain when you visit so dress accordingly.
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!