The Alaska State Ferry System has been operating year-round since 1963, with regularly scheduled passenger and vehicle service to 31 communities in Alaska, plus Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Designated as a National Scenic Byway, travel on the Alaska Marine Highway is at a leisurely pace, offering unobstructed views form the observation decks and varied food service.
Routes are divided into three different systems servicing three different areas: Southeast, Cross-Gulf and Southcentral/Southwest. These three systems are fully connected during the summer months, with limited Cross-Gulf sailings in winter. All ferries have vehicle decks, and cabins are available on four Southeast ferries and one Southwest ferry.
If you are headed for Alaska from Bellingham, Wash., or Prince Rupert, British Columbia via the Alaska Marine Highway, you'll take the Southeast system, which stops at mainline Southeast Alaska port cities from Ketchikan to Skagway. Keep in mind that only two major Southeast communities are connected to the Alaska Highway: Haines, via the Haines Highway; and Skagway, via Klondike Highway 2.
The Southcentral/Southwest system serves coastal communities from Prince William Sound to the Aleutian Islands. With the exception of Cordova, Seldovia and Kodiak, Southcentral communities on the ferry system are also accessible by highway. These road-accessible ports are Valdez and Homer. Whittier is accessible to vehicles through the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson tunnel. The tunnel has a schedule that accommodates both rail and vehicle traffic. Communities on the Southwest system are accessible only by ferry or air.
Tips for Traveling the Alaska Marine Highway
- It's a good idea to bring your own snacks, books, games and toiletries, since these are not always available on board.
- Food service varies from vessel to vessel. There's dining room service on the Columbia, Kennicott and the Tustumena. The Columbia also has a 24-hour snack bar. Cafeteria service is also available on all other ferries. Cocktail lounges on board the larger vessels are open from late morning to midnight.
- Reservations on all vessels are required and should be made as far in advance as possible to get the sailing dates you wish. Requests for space are accepted year-round and held until reservations open.
- The summer Alaska Marine Highway ferry schedule is normally distributed in September and can also be found in the back of the Milepost Guide to Alaska. This schedule will contain departure dates along with vehicle travel rates, passenger rates and cabin costs.