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Adventuring on the Alaska Ferry

Flexible, tailored travel along the Alaska Marine Highway System

MV Tustumena is one of 11 ships that make up the Alaska Ferry fleet, which provides commuters and travelers with flexible transportation options along the Alaska Marine Highway System year-round. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System

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Imagine waking up in your warm, pillowy sleeping bag, then unzipping your tent to look out at the stunning scenery of the Alaska coastline as it drifts by. Fog rises off the water surrounding you, and you remember you're not on land. You're onboard the Alaska Ferry, a ferry system for commuters and vacationers traveling on the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS).

The Alaska Ferry covers 3,500 miles along the AMHS, the only marine route designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road, which provides access to 30 communities year-round. The ferry's southernmost ports are conveniently located in Bellingham, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Popular destinations like Juneau; Haines; Kodiak; and Skagway, Alaska, are all easily accessible via the ferry.

"The ferry started as central transit for Alaska state residents," said Danielle Doyle, marketing manager of the AMHS. "It provides access to a lot of small communities you couldn't get to otherwise. Alaska is so vast!"

The Alaska Ferry fleet, which is composed of 11 vessels, includes shuttles and day-boat ferries offering commuter-style routes each day and mainline ferries operating on overnight and multi-day routes. Depending on the vessel, passengers can book staterooms, enjoy restaurant and café meals, and utilize on-board showers, lounges and decks.

But what makes travel aboard the ferry distinctive from other modes of travel, regardless of whether you're commuting or vacationing, is the ability to tailor each and every trip to the whims of your desired traveling experience.

"Ferry trips are scalable depending on your budget and the experience you want," said Doyle. "There are so many ways to customize it to meet your goals."

Depending on the vessel boarded, ferry passengers can travel on foot or bring their vehicles aboard, rent a stateroom or pitch a tent on the deck for overnight trips, and bring their own food or purchase meals aboard.

"The ferry offers a different experience to visitors looking for more independent travel than what cruise ships provide," Doyle said.

For those wondering what the best time of year is for traveling via ferry, the answer will depend entirely on your plans. The type of adventure you're looking for will determine the time of year you travel.

"Different times of year give you a very different experience," said Doyle. "Fall and spring can be fantastic times to travel. However, if you can only travel during the summer, or maybe it's your first time on the ferry, you'll be able to see Denali (National Park Preserve) and take excursions like kayaking during summer months. Returning visitors might want to see the Iditarod or the northern lights, and in that case, January and February are great for taking the ferry."

Summer months, primarily May to September, tend to be the busiest for ferry travel along the AMHS. By the end of any given year, close to 300,000 people will have taken the Alaska Ferry, and approximately one-third of those people are vacationers. While the ferry doesn't offer military discounts, it does give servicemembers priority booking.

Alaska Marine Highway System Bellingham Terminal, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday; 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, 355 Harris Ave., Bellingham, 360.676.8445, or

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