Ketchikan Backcountry Zodiac Excursion Is An Adventure

On my first visit to Alaska, I was so excited to be visiting a state on my bucket list, I neglected to do any research. Days before my NCL cruise was scheduled to depart Seattle, I scrambled for things to do in port. Instead of researching best excursions in Ketchikan, I looked at the NCL excursions offered. Flying in a seaplane sounded terrifying, the lumberjack show sounded a bit dull, and everyone was doing the Deadliest Catch sea crab fishermen’s tour. But when I discovered the backcountry zodiac expedition, I knew it would be an epic adventure.

Fast forward to the summer of 2019, and we’ve now done the backcountry zodiac excursion in Ketchikan, THREE times! These are small excursions and each time we’ve had the zodiac to ourselves. And every experience has been different. The zodiac, is an inflatable boat that seats four, and I’ve been lucky enough to drive the zodiac on every excursion. There’s something thrilling about piloting a small boat in the frigid Alaskan waters while actively searching for bald eagles, whales, bears, and other Alaskan wildlife.


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Exploring The Alaskan Coastline

people in zodiac boats

Now, you’re not alone in the wilderness. The excursion includes a knowledgeable guide that pilots their own Zodiac in the lead position. Your guide knows where the eagles are nesting, sea otters are sunning and whales might be surfacing. The guide “pilots” the way in the lead Zodiac boat while the others follow in a line from a safe distance. And while the air can be fridgid as you’re zipping along on the open water, the guides provide you with gloves, boots, rain gear, face masks and a dry bag. When you’re suited up in the yellow rain gear you’ll resemble the Gorton’s fisherman.

There’s a reason we’ve chosen the zodiac excursion on all three of our visits to Ketchikan-there’s nothing else like it. We’ve watched a bald eagle swoop down just feet away from our boat to catch a frozen fish, thrown by our guide.

bald eagle flying over coast
Bald eagle flying along coastline in Alaska Photo by Kristin Barclay

And while on our honeymoon we hit the jackpot when we came upon a pod of whales bubble feeding less than 50 yards from us. Our guide was so excited, we spent over 30 minutes just drifting while watching the whales feed.

whales feeding
Whales feeding off the coast of Ketchikan Alaska Photo by Kristin Barclay

Whales, Eagles, Bears & More

Of course wildlife are “wild” and there’s no way of knowing if you’ll encounter whales or maybe catch bears looking for salmon. But that’s part of the fun, not knowing what you’ll see as you pilot your fourteen foot inflatable boat across the water looking for surprises on the water, land and in the air.

starfish in hand
Holding a starfish off the coast of Alaska Photo by Kristin Barclay

During our most recent excusion, we had our children with us, and while we were sad not to see any whales we still had a blast!

salmon swimming upstream
Salmon spawning on Creek Street in Ketchikan Alaska Photo by Kristin Barclay

Whether you book your Zodiac tour early or later, make sure to allow some time to explore the unique shopping in Ketchikan. You can easily walk from the cruise ship dock to Creek Street in Ketchikan and browse local artists work in the shops.

Creek Street Ketchikan Alaska
Creek Street Ketchikan Alaska Photo by Kristin Barclay

If you’re lucky you’ll catch the salmon spawning upstream, and of course the salmon often attract bears. While we were able to see the salmon on our last visit to Ketchikan in August, we didn’t see any bears “fishing”.