The Last Frontier is one of the most majestic and isolated places on Earth. People from all over the world explore this vast land to embrace the Alaskan pioneer spirit and we were no different.
As recent college graduates ready to explore the world, we wanted to appreciate all that this state had to offer—on a low budget, but still having an amazing experience. We were ecstatic when someone told us about a ferry that travels up the coastline of Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway travels from Washington, up the Southeast Alaskan coast to the Kenai Peninsula and even to the Aleutian Islands. What a sweet deal! There was no more room for convincing. We booked, and got ready to hit the seas.
It was a picturesque morning in Ketchikan the day we departed. Trucks, motorcycles and RVs all lined up to begin the journey north. As backpackers, my friend Elliot and I lined up next to joyful couples, families, and rugged travelers alike, all awaiting to come onboard.
The excitement was overwhelming. We were going to experience the Alaskan coastline, one of the greatest beauties in North America.
As we boarded the ferry we noticed all its great features, like the café, lounge, movie theatre, rooms, and our new humble abode, the solarium. Passengers have the choice of paying a fee to sleep in a room, but as “rugged travelers” we decided to stay with others in the solarium, which is equipped only with lounge chairs. Although it can be rough on the open seas (although only in the Gulf of Alaska—the inland waters are quite calm) it was one of the greatest decisions we made.
The ferry sounded its horn and we left the Ketchikan port with the wind at our backs and the sea in our sights. The inland waters of Southeast Alaska revealed spectacular views of coastal mountains, the occasional pod of whales and a newfound sensation of freedom that comes from traveling the open sea.
There was always an activity happening on the ferry. Couples meandered the outdoor walkways snapping pictures. Kids watched movies every night (a great break for parents) and played in designated areas. Elliot and I talked with fellow passengers in the lounge while playing cards or reading novels. And if all else failed, naps were always a great option during long days on the water.
On the journey north, we stopped at several ports, to allow some passengers to depart and others to board. During these stops, we had opportunity to spend three to four hours experiencing each town. It was the perfect amount of time to do an activity or to gather supplies for the ferry ride. (Food in the ferry’s café was fairly expensive—$8-15 for a meal, but the food looked good—so we made sure to bring lots of PB&Js.)
We took full advantage of our stop in Juneau, by traveling to the illustrious Mendenhall Glacier. The 12-mile lake dotted with glaciers and icebergs, and the overpowering Nugget Falls, was a sight I’ll never forget.
The people on the ferry were a delight, too. We met vacationers from places such as New Zealand, Luxembourg and various parts of Alaska—and all with unique stories.
By the end we got off the ferry, we had traveled from southeast Alaska to Homer—more than 200 miles and five days on the sea. This was a trip to remember and it will always bring back fond memories.
Alaska Marine Highway System
Everything you need to know about traveling on the Alaska Marine Highway System - an overview, list of terminals and fare information.