Ketchikan is known for its steady rainfall. Big, grey clouds and a soft drizzle awaited us the day our ship pulled into the port. The first thing that stood out, were the many seaplanes looping around the port, landing and taking off. As we learned later, these were taking tourists to the nearby Fjord. As always, we had planned to escape our ship and its passengers as soon as we got off.
On this particular day, we were heading to the Rainbird Trail. I hadn’t found much information about it online but knew that it should be short enough for us to hike within the 4 hours we had ashore.
The official trail-head is located in downtown Ketchikan, by the Alaska University. Since Ketchikan spreads out to both sides of the cruise terminal, we weren’t quite sure whether to go right or left, and ended up asking a local. We asked for the Rainbird Trail. With a broad grin and pointing uphill he said: “If you can make it up there!”
Having hiked at our two prior Alaskan stops we felt very comfortable and were sure we could manage “the hill”. It was steep alright, and probably took 10 minutes to climb. However, I am really glad we started the trail at its end. It makes for a much better beginning. Once on top of the hill we couldn’t quite make out where to go, so we stopped by the local radio station. Not much was going on that early in the morning, but the lady swiftly pointed us in the right direction and we found the trail’s end in no time.
The Rainbird trail goes along the mountain side backing Juneau. You basically walk from the cruise port to the University of Alaska, located in downtown Juneau (left side), in very dense rainforest. At first we were a bit skeptical as we would see the harbor and neighboring islands. However, it didn’t take long and we were in the midst of it. It looked like a place straight out of Middle Earth, magical. Densely green, lush, and overgrown, large trees, broken trees, lots of moss, and everything wet, it was simply beautiful and always changing.
As it was early in the morning, we were the only ones there. Half way into the trail, we spotted a reindeer. Instead of running off it simply looked at us with its dark black and gentle eyes. I felt as if it was communicating with us. We kept staring at each other for a good 5 minutes, before it peacefully trailed off.
The Rainbird Trail proved to be a wonderfully authentic adventure, for a town otherwise thriving with tourist shops and masses of cruise passengers.
Here are a few things you will want to watch out for if you are headed to the Rainbird Trail:
- It will rain, make sure you have the proper gear and protect your electronics
- Bring some water to drink
- Your shoes need good tread and need to be ideally waterproof. The terrain goes up and downhill, there are large rocks, gravel, and tree trunks to cross. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your foot and your gear is adequate.
- Chances are, not many of your fellow travelers will know about the trail. And, even if they do, if you start at the end, you will likely not run into any of them until the very beginning of the trail.
- The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is steep at times and can be a bit challenging.
- You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own, be responsible as some parts of the trail can seem risky.
- Bring bug spray just in case
- To walk the entire trail and back to the ship you will need about 2 hours.
- The official trail-head is located behind the Ketchikan University in downtown Ketchikan (left side when getting off the ship). I recommend starting at the trail end however, which you can find by walking up Schoenbar Road and then turning left onto 3rd Avenue. Once you turn into 3rd Avenue you will quickly come upon the set of stairs that lead you onto the trail.
- Tread quietly, you never know what kind of animal you might be lucky to spot
Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT Stefanie Pichonnat is a Princess Cruise Lines Certified Expert at AAV Travel. With her personal experience in Alaska she can help you create and customize a personalized travel itinerary. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org