Sailing Up The Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway System ⛴

From Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska

We met Ray & Shirley at the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Terminal for our 3pm check-in. Then we sat in line until 5pm while they loaded the ferry with trucks, cars, campers, boats and commercial vehicles.

Getting loaded aboard the M/V Columbia
Finally aboard and leaving the dock
A chance meeting aboard with Durango friends Steve and Dora Lee

The Alaska Marine Highway System operates along the south-central coast of the state, the eastern Aleutian Islands and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. Ferries serve communities in Southeast Alaska that have no road access, and the vessels can transport people, freight, and vehicles. AMHS’s 3,500 miles of routes have total of 32 terminals throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. It is part of the National Highway System and receives federal highway funding. It is also a form of transportation of vehicles between the state and the contiguous United States, going through Canada but not requiring international customs and immigration.

Sunset west of Vancouver , Canada

M/V COLUMBIA IS THE LARGEST VESSEL OF THE FLEET. THE VESSEL IS 418 FEET LONG AND 85 FEET WIDE, WITH A SERVICE SPEED OF 17.3 KNOTS. THE M/V COLUMBIA IS DESIGNED TO CARRY 499 PASSENGERS AND 63 OFFICERS AND CREW AND HAS A VEHICLE CAPACITY OF 2,660 LINEAR FEET, WHICH IS EQUAL TO APPROXIMATELY 133 TWENTY-FOOT VEHICLES. THERE ARE 45 FOUR-BERTH AND 56 TWO-BERTH CABINS, AS WELL AS 3 WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE CABINS.

Amenities include observation lounges with comfortable chairs, a covered heated solarium, a snack bar, a full service dining room, a movie lounge, showers, coin operated lockers and laundry, writing and quiet lounges, and a toddler’s play area.

Walk-on passengers are welcome to sleep in lounge chairs, hang hammocks or pitch tents (using duck tape instead of tent stakes) to secure them to the deck.

The solarium
Tents and hammocks
Out of the weather
Vistas continually changing

On our first day we saw 2 pods of seven Orcas. One group was feeding on a freshly killed sea lion.

Ketchikan

On day number two, having a six hour stop in Ketchikan, we decided to get off and explore town, 2.5 miles from the ferry dock. Unfortunately Ketchikan is incredibly touristy. In addition, three huge cruise ships disgorged their passengers that same morning. There were some nice gifts and nice views, but lots of “Authentic Made in Alaska” (China) native art and souvenirs, fast food joints, etc.

The ladies enjoyed poking around the gift shops, we all enjoyed the history, diverse population, the refurbished “red light” district, Creek Street (“Where men and salmon came upstream to spawn”) and a quick lunch before returning to the ferry.

One of the local beauties
Surreptitiously sipping whisky in Ray and Shirley’s cabin
Dinner with Steve and Dori in the scenic dining room

Onboard we met a national park ranger, Mike Thompson, who had worked all over Alaska. Over dinner he suggested quite a few scenic towns, campsites and backcountry roads which were not on the main tourist trail. We will report on them later on the trip.

Sunset near Wrangell, Alaska
Another sunset view outside Wrangell

Breakfast surrounded by scenic Alaska
The Juneau Icefield, Mendenhall Glacier
Eldred Rock Lighthouse, nearing our destination port, Haines, Alaska
The view from our campsite, Haines Alaska

Author: David Willett

Worked at Agilent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, attended University of Washington and Michigan State University, lived in the Netherlands, the Peoples Republic of China and the United States, visited 36 countries, 10 of 13 Canadian Provinces and all 50 U.S. states, living in Fort Collins, CO, USA

9 thoughts on “Sailing Up The Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway System ⛴”

  1. Just WOW! What a great start. I’m not locating you on find my friends , oh well keep up the great dialogue and wonderful visuals.

  2. great stuff, i was exactly there last week. please include date and day of when you were in these places. easier to follow you, thanks. i put on my crampons and helmet and went over and under the mendenhall glacier it was wicked cool

    have fun be safe.

    x0x0x0 lisa

  3. A fantastic trip already. And you are just getting started. Looks as if “cruise ship” (ferry) was a very nice means of transport! Loving the photos.

  4. Beautiful pictures! It’s great (grrr) that the weather is so good in Alaska, when it’s crummy and grey in San Francisco and snowing in Fort Collins…

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