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Watching lumberjacks dance like Fred Astaire in Alaska
By Tom Adkinson

Ketchikan arrival
Ketchikan arrival; image by Tom Adkinson.

KETCHIKAN, Alaska – When one of the approximately 40 cruise ships that visit Ketchikan arrives, there is a shore excursion so close to the dock that you can be at your destination’s front door in less than a five-minute walk, and that’s if you walk slowly. It’s the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, staged multiple times a day, rain or shine – and that’s a good thing, since Ketchikan gets 165 inches of rain every year.

The show, which does have covered seating, needs its outdoor setting so two teams of timber athletes can throw axes at targets, race up 60-foot-tall poles and then drop to terra firma in the blink of an eye, crank up supercharged chainsaws, pull back and forth with two-man saws and dance like Fred Astaire on floating logs in a shallow pool. It’s a raucous spectacle, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see show founder Rob Scheer, the first man to win the title of Ironjack World Champion. He also is a three-time world champion in the 90-foot pole climb event. The Ketchikan show opened in 2000.

Dancing lumberjacks
Dancing lumberjacks; image by Tom Adkinson.

Ketchikan, surrounded by water and the Tongass National Forest, receives more than a million cruise passengers during each summer’s sailing season (late April through early October). Beyond marveling at the lumberjacks, activities while in port include seeing Alaska’s largest totem pole collection, kayaking, walking t through the historic town and learning about the entire region at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. The Tongass National Forest covers 16.7 million acres and is the largest national forest in the U.S.

Trip-planning resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published June 28, 2019

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