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Potlatch Totem Park
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One of two side-by-side totem pole parks dedicated to educating visitors on Tlingit history and culture.

Given that Ketchikan, Alaska is home to the world’s largest presence of Native American totem poles and is a hotspot for cruise ship tours, it’s not altogether surprising that it boasts not one but two totem pole parks, which sit right next door to each other. These two distinct parks are both dedicated to the preservation and celebration of this ancient native craft. Potlatch Totem Park is the privately owned of the pair, built on old Tlingit fishing grounds in southeast Alaska. It is situated next to the Totem Bight State Historical Park, yet manages to avoid duplicating any ground covered by the heritage park.

Learn How to Carve a Totem Pole

Instead, Potlatch Totem Park features a large clan house flanked by four smaller clan houses, which provide historical dioramas depicting how the local tribes would have lived up through the 1800s. Each colorful interior is hand-carved in an intricate fashion to illustrate the way families in the region would have come together to live in a communal setting.

A major highlight of the park is the totem carving shed. Here, visitors are able to witness resident carvers at work practicing the ancient art of crafting totem poles, and learn about the process of turning freshly cut cedar logs into massive, stacked family histories.

Potlatch Park is, of course, punctuated by such 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. Information boards point out significant figures such as the Raven—who, according to native lore, delivered the Sun to the world—the Killer Whale, Thunderbird, Wolves, and many more.

Know Before You Go

Located 10 miles north of downtown Ketchikan, accessible by cruise ship, tour bus, Hummer tour, taxi, city bus, or private car. After taking in the sights, the park offers opportunities to purchase souvenirs not available at its sister site. Look for these wares alongside a huge collection of antique firearms and classic cars.

Content originally created for Atlas Obscura.

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