Want to see Alaska on your time? Then traveling onboard the Alaska Marine Highway might just be “your ticket” to a great summer vacation.
During the summer months most of the towns here in southeast Alaska have daily ferry service. When you are planning your trip you can take your time and visit each town as long as you’d like.
Plan your trip well in advance to reserve space when driving and/or walking on: www.ferryalaska.com.
I boarded the M/V Matanuska in Bellingham, Washington and began my voyage up the coast and the Inside Passage.
The hospitality of the crew members on board is always friendly and welcoming. After boarding I met up with two of the crew I have come to know from my many travels on the ferry system, and I was welcomed with smiles and hugs. When the M/V Matanuska pulled away from its port, I felt like I was already in Alaska.
I purchased a cabin for the first two nights and enjoyed my own space with a shower and bunk. The last 24 hours of the voyage I spent on the solarium at the back of the ship in my sleeping bag for the first time. I did this so that I could tell you, that it was great if you are an adventurist type. In the summer people set tents up or sleep on the lounge chairs in sleeping bags for the duration of the trip.
The cafeteria serves many different kinds of meals including: daily specials, meat and potato type meals, salads, sandwiches, and deserts. The kitchen staff quite often has music playing and can be heard carrying fun conversations with guests passing through the line. The food is great!
Some of the ferries have lounges for adults to sit and have a quiet cocktail and mingle with other people from around the world. In the lounge on the M/V Matanuska there is a piano and guitar for folks to entertain the lounge if they wish. I have been known to entertain via guitar, but only for a song or two.
Many of the southeast communities are connected to the road system only by the ferry. Bellingham Washington is the only town in the lower 48 to connect with the ferry. Other connections are: Prince Rupert, British Columbia in Canada and in the north end of Southeast Alaska in Haines and Skagway.
Haines and Skagway connect with the Alaska Highway in Yukon Canada, leading to Alaska’s Interior or south toward mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The highway winds through some of the most rugged and remote wilderness areas in the world.
So, if you are driving and you want to see it all, here is a great place to start.
Bellingham Washington: The southernmost port from which to embark on a journey up the famous Inside Passage. In 1967 the Alaska Marine Highway began service from its southern most point, Seattle Washington. In 1989 the port moved to Bellingham Washington, where it remains.
An Alaska Marine Highway vessel leaves port once a week and travels up the coast between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. It continues through the Queen Charlotte Islands and into open ocean twice before it reaches its first port of call, which is Ketchikan. Marine life of all kinds can be seen along the entire route.
On my particular route the ferry stopped in this order: Bellingham to Ketchikan which is about 38 hours and is the longest part of the journey, then on to Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, and Haines with only a few hours at the most in between ports. Although I didn’t go on to Skagway, it is only an hour from Haines and is a beautiful place to visit.
Ketchikan Alaska: The first and southern most city in Alaska’s Inside Passage, making it the first port of call for ships and airlines. It is also known as the “Salmon Capital of the World.” Ketchikan and most of southeast Alaska is in the Tongass National Forest and is considered a temperate rainforest. The city receives an annual rainfall of more than 150 inches of rain a year. Summer temperatures range between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but I have seen it warmer. The temperatures seem to be in about the same range throughout the southeast. It seems the further north you travel up the Inside Passage the less rain that falls; however, it is Southeast Alaska and any given summer can be unseasonably rainy and cold or hot.
For more information, visit www.visit-ketchikan.com.
Wrangell Alaska: A beautiful Southeast City and the “Gateway to the Stikine River.” The Stikine is an estuary for over 100 different species of migrating birds.
In April the second largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the world gather here for the annual Eulachon (Hooligan) run. Eulachon is a tiny smelt type of fish. Bring your camera!
If you are a history enthusiast, visit the Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park where ancient markings can be found carved into rocks.
For those interested in viewing wildlife visit: The Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory in July and August to watch brown and black bears fishing together during the annual salmon runs.
For more information, visit www.wrangell.com.
The Wrangell Narrows: A channel of water that runs north and south between Wrangell and Petersburg. The channel is extremely narrow and requires buoys throughout the waterway toguide marine vessels as they pass through. It takes approximately three hours and is one of the most captivating parts of the trip.
Petersburg Alaska: I spent a few hours in Petersburg in the fall when thick fog prevented the ferry from starting its journey through the Wrangell Narrows. When the fog finally burned off, a spectacular view of a beautiful fishing village appeared in front of me.
To the east of town the famous Devil’s Thumb Mountain can be seen sticking out of the Coast Mountain Range at over 9,000 feet.
Juneau Alaska: The Capital City of Alaska. In 1959 Alaska became the 49th state. It is accessible only by air or sea, and has everything from shopping to camping, tours, flightseeing, and hiking.
The Mendenhall Glacier is a must see when visiting Juneau. The glacier is 12 miles long fromthe ice field to the Mendenhall Lake. It is up to 1,800 feet thick in areas and is North America’s fifth largest ice field.
I often hike into the glacier in the summer and winter when I’m visiting Juneau. It takes approximately 30 minutes and is moderately easy. The trail ends at Nugget Falls.If you are not one for hiking, then there are several viewing areas near the trail head.
For more information, visit www.traveljuneau.com.
Haines Alaska: “Valley of the Eagles!” Haines has the largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the world each fall. Up to 4000 eagles gather here to feast on the late fall salmon runs. To find out more about The Bald Eagle Festival visit the website at www.baldeagles.org.
In the summer there are many tours to choose, from boat trips through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, wildlife viewing, guided trail rides. For more information, visit www.haines.ak.us.
Haines has the only wildlife park in Alaska to see a myriad of native Alaskan wildlife up close. Photos can be taken of the animals in a natural setting. Watch this video as Steve Kroschel shows and talks about his wolverine, Banff. Steve Kroschel and his wolverine. For more information, visit www.kroschelfilms.com
Skagway Alaska: Known as the “Gateway to the Klondike.” The Chilkoot Trail begins just outside of Skagway near the old town site of Dyea. Gold seekers travelled the route north into Canada over rough terrain to the Klondike gold fields of the Yukon during the famous “Gold Rush of 1898.”
I visited Dyea many times just to learn about and feel the history near the trail, and what it must have been like during that time period. Standing on an actual piece of physical history where many prospectors stood before beginning their difficult climb, leaves plenty for the imagination to reflect upon. Because of the extreme conditions and the avalanche of April 3, 1898; many did not survive and are buried in the local cemeteries. For more information, visit www.skagway.com.
Have a great time!