A new cruise port outside Ketchikan provides even more opportunities for travelers to explore Alaska. It may even be the formula for a bit of a cruise dilemma: skip going into Ketchikan at all and spend even more time in the Tongass National Forest, which it borders—Tongass is the largest National Forest in the United States and home to a majestic array of glaciers, salmon streams, fjords and islands.
History of Ward Cove
Ward Cove is at the site of the historic Ketchikan Pulp Mill, the longest operating pulp mill in Alaska, located seven miles north of downtown Ketchikan. Completed in 1954 and operated until 1997, the mill was the economic heartbeat of Southeast Alaska.
In 2019, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd., partnered with the Binkley and Spokely families to develop a plan to responsibly repurpose the mill site. The result? A two-berth, floating cruise ship dock, which has been recognized for its state-of-the-art design emphasizing environmental sensitivity. Alaska tourism buffs may recognize the Binkley name from Fairbanks, as this family founded the highly successful Riverboat Discovery steamboat tours, and John Binkley was the founder of the Alaska Cruise Association—adding credibility and an innate knowledge of Alaska tourism to the Ward Cove project.
Norwegian Encore silently cruised into Ward Cove on August 4, 2021, as the first cruise ship to dock at Ward Cove. Now Ward Cove is growing into a must-visit destination—although as its promoters state, “Welcome to the real Alaska. You can still go downtown.”
Getting Into Ketchikan
As of 2022, complimentary shuttle service at Ward Cove starts as soon as the ship arrives and provides service between Ward Cove and Berth 4 in downtown Ketchikan (downtown has four cruise ship berths). The shuttle service departs from the far end of the Welcome Center in Ward Cove. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes each direction. Buses run continuously throughout the day. We recommend that if you wish to visit downtown Ketchikan, go ashore early to catch the shuttle so that you can maximize your time in port. Annie Scrivanich, Senior Vice President of Cruise Specialists, is personally familiar with the Ward Cove area and attests, “the Ward Cove setting is truly Alaskan and it’s a beautiful drive into town.”
Upon arrival at Berth 4 in Ketchikan, it is about a 15-minute walk to the center of downtown Ketchikan. For guests with limited mobility, there is also a complimentary bus that departs from Berth 4 every 20 minutes and provides access to other destinations throughout downtown Ketchikan.
There is an abundance of activities in Ketchikan, including visiting the Totem Heritage Center; strolling the network of raised wooden walkways and watching feisty salmon from above; and shopping for goods by local carvers, weavers, jewelry designers and more.
Tour Options from Ward Cove
Ward Cove itself opens up new opportunities for exploration and fun. The Welcome Center features a theater where you can learn more about the lives of true Alaskans or shop for goodies from jackets and hats to locally made chocolate. Historic train cars once used in conjunction with the mill now serve as part of the unique detail of the Welcome Center, with one serving as a stop for a quick bite to eat.
If you have a tour focused on Tongass National Forest, you’re in luck: you’ll now have quicker access to this area—perhaps allowing for a bit of retail therapy in Ward Cove before or after your tour. Tours taking place in or near Ward Cove include a self-drive Zodiac adventure, hiking at Talbot Lake, kayaking in Connell Lake, and a “sip and paint” experience where anyone from a beginner to advanced painter can create a beautiful keepsake.
From the economic engine of the timber industry to cruise ships bringing guests to experience the Tongass National Forest, the renovated pulp mill at Ward Cove has become a metaphor for the multiple uses of this national treasure.
If you have any questions about Ward Cove or a cruise to Alaska, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Cruise Specialists Cruise Consultants.