MARINE HIGHWAY TIPS
The state of Alaska operates a fleet of ferries over three routes: The Southeast Route serves ports along the Inside Passage from Bellinhgam to Skagway. The Central Route, served by the new fast ferry MV Chenega, covers Prince William Sound ports (Valdez, Cordova, Whittier). Southwest ports include Seward, Homer, Seldovia, and Aleutian Chain ports. The MV Tustumena serves the Southwest, and connects with the Central Route by visiting Valdez about once a week.
In the Southeast, the MV Columbia makes a weekly round trip from Bellingham, WA to Skagway, sailing on Friday evenings with stops at Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau. Connections can be made at Ketchikan for other ports. The MV Matanuska covers the Prince Rupert-Skagway route, usually departing on Tuesdays and Saturdays. MV Lituya started service in 2004 and runs as a shuttle between Metlakatla and Ketchikan. MV Aurora and MV Taku are not listed on 2005 schedules. Weekly visits to the mainland at Hyder were suspended in 2001. MV Kennicott works between Prince Rupert, BC and Skagway via Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and smaller ports. The MV Le Conte connects ports between Juneau and Wrangell in the central part of the passage, with occassional runs to Skagway. MV Malaspinaalso makes runs from Bellingham to Skagway, with a diversion out to Sitka.
A new ferry joined the fleet in 1998. MV Kennicott is capable of crossing the open ocean to link the Southeast and Southwest routes. Kennicott makes weekly round trips from Prince Rupert to Skagway and back, and 2 or 3 trips monthly from Juneau to Valdez and Seward. All of the information above is based on usual practice through the 2005 published schedules, but is subject to change.
In 2004 the high-speed catamaran ferry MV Fairweather started running from Juneau-Skagway-Juneau-Haines-Juneau daily.
Specific schedules and tariffs are beyond the scope of this site. For schedule information link to the Alaska Marine Highway page (D.O.T. page; has link to AMHS) or call 1-800-642-0066. Schedules are published around the first of the year and mailed to people who have requested them. They can be download with Adobe Acrobat software (free). They are also published in MILEPOST(TM), which usually comes out with a new edition in March, amd several other local tourist info publications.
Ferry schedules are subject to change without notice. In 2001 the MV Columbia was expected back in service after repairs following a fire in June, 2000. The contractor was unable to deliver, and other ferries had to pick up the slack. This resulted in fewer sailings between Haines and Skagway, with resultant tie-ups. Similar incidens have plagued the system since. In 2004 the LeConte went out of service after hitting a reef, and the Taku filled in. In 2006 the Fairweather was out for warranty repairs! If you have a resertation, call often to check on any changes!
The ferry is an interesting way to see a fascinating part of the state, but people should remember that the fleet exists to move people and cargo, not to provide sightseeing services. They are very good about accommodating tourists, and have lecturers on board from the Forest Service, entertainers, and well-stocked gift shops. But when planning your trip read the schedule very careful to be sure that you will pass through the scenic portions in daylight. Yes, there are places in Alaska where it gets pretty dark in the summer time!
We caution people with big rigs that reservations are a must, even for short jumps like Haines to Skagway. Smaller vehicles like cars and minivans can often squeeze in, and we do mean squeeze as these vehicles are used to fill space between trucks and RVs. Walk-ons are almost always possible without reservations, the exceptions being during special events like the Southeast State Fair.
When you call for a reservation you will be asked to provide the length of your rig. This results in a price estimate. The ferry staff can and will measure your rig before boarding and charge you for the excess. Please be accurate in reporting the size of your rig to prevent over-booking. You don't want to be the one left behind.
The best Inside Passage scenery is between Juneau and Skagway/Haines. We suggest that you drive to one of the northern ports, leave your big rig parked, and walk on to ride to Juneau when the weather is perfect. Call ahead for a motel room, and return the following day. Stay longer it you want to try some of the fjord cruises or visit Glacier Bay. The Visitors Centers at Haines or Skagway can help with your plans.
In 2003 we called the AMHS (800) 642-0066) from Whitehorse and found that there was a ferry from Skagway to Haines that afternoon. We made a reservation, drove down, did our business and shopping, went across, then drove back to Whitehorse via Haines Junction. If the AMHS had a more convenient sailing from Haines to Skagway we simply would have done the loop in reverse order. We have done this every year since, except the 800 no no longer does phone reservations and we have to call the terminal.
Traveling all the way from Bellingham takes about four days. Cabins are available, but all are taken by December. There are waiting lists. Otherwise, just crash on the floor or in a lounge chair. We did, and loved it. Food is excellent and almost always available. Prices are reasonable. Note that if you drive to Prince Rupert with a car or small van and take the ferry from there it will cost about the same to sail to Skagway as walking on in Bellingham. If you meet the ferry at Prince Rupert, try to allow time to drive up the Cassiar Highway to Hyder to see the bears (after mid July), and/or up to the lava beds park from Terrace.