Potlatch Totem Park – Ketchikan, Alaska - Atlas Obscura
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Ketchikan, Alaska

Potlatch Totem Park

One half of dueling educational centers dedicated to educating visitors on Tlingit history and culture. 

Given that Ketchikan, Alaska is home to the world’s presence of totem poles and a hotspot for cruise ship tours, it’s a little less surprising than it might otherwise would be that it is also home to dueling totem pole parks.

These two distinct historic parks, both dedicated to the preservation and celebration of this ancient Native craft, sit literally next door to each other. The privately owned of the two, built on an old fishing ground in Southeast Alaska, is called Potlatch Totem Park. As sister to Totem Bight State Historic Park, it avoids what would have been the expected pitfall of duplicating ground covered by that of Alaska State Park’s version.

Instead, Potlatch Totem Park features its own large clan house, flanked by four smaller clan houses and a totem carving shed. The former provide historically correct, explorable dioramas of the ways in which the area’s tribes would have lived during days gone by. Each interior is hand-carved in an intricate fashion and colored, showing the way families in the region would have come together to live in a communal setting up through the 1800’s. By visiting the aforementioned Carving Center, visitors are able to witness “resident carvers” in the midst of practicing this ancient art of turning freshly cut cedar logs into the massive, stacked family histories. 

Potlatch Park is, of course, punctuated by totem poles throughout, with the tallest reaching a height of 42 feet. Educational resources abound to help discern their meaning for those unfamiliar with Tlingit mythology, pointing out images including the Raven – who, according to lore delivered the Sun to the world – and Killer Whale, Thunderbird, Wolves, and more. 

After taking in the traditional sights, Potlatch Park offers opportunities for purchasing wares not available at its twin site, which could be either a positive or a negative, depending on one’s personality. Look for these wares alongside a huge collection of antique firearms and classic cars.

Know Before You Go

Located 10 miles north of downtown Ketchikan; accessible by cruise ship, Potlatch Park Tour, Hummer tour, taxi, city bus, or private car.