Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System
I have been toying with the idea of taking an Alaskan Ferry from Bellingham, WA to somewhere in Alaska, and then riding back. Realistically/financially, I think I could be ready for this in a couple years. Looks like June is the preferred time to motorbike in Alaska.
This forum is a wealth of information on Alaskan motorcycle trips, I was wondering if anyone has any experience on one of the many Alaskan Marine Highway ferrys? Any experience would be helpful. For example, you can camp on the deck, is camping pretty good, or is it wet and miserable? Was a an overall good experience? etc.
From what I have seen on the websites, I can expect to pay ~$450 for a motorcycle stall on the ferry and primative tent sleeping, rooms are extra, so is food. Does this sound correct?
Any Alaskan ports recommended as my destination? Do some ports have better roads out of the city, or at least they have roads, etc :evil
Apologies, if this is covered to death in another thread, I did my best searching for the Alaskan Ferry information.
Here was a neat article I found from the Seattle Times.
I have taken both the Alaska and BC ferries a few times and have really enjoyed them each time, so I try to work them into my adventures. On all my trips though, I have either had a room on the long hauls, or just wandered around without setting up "camp" on the short ones. Here are a few thoughts:
If your schedule allows, consider breaking the trip once or twice for layovers. I do not think it has a big effect cost-wise versus the full Bellingham to Haines long haul. There is enough to do in Juneau or Sitka, and even Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, to make it worthwhile. If you do this, some of the legs are so short that worrying about sleep is moot. Juneau to Haines is only about 6 hours, for example. On the other hand, on a longer leg, you could pay for a room if only for the change.
People do camp on deck, and there is a real "culture" there. I will defer to a camper's response rather than speculate. The larger ferries at least, have a covered deck with ceiling mounted heaters, so you are not totally exposed to the elements. One thing that is obvious is that you need a buddy so you do not feel you need to guard your stuff 24/7.
You will encounter crazy scheduling at times. I had a 3:30AM departure from Juneau to Sitka once that might make squeezing onto an already "claimed" camping deck iffy. On the other extreme, I had an 11PM arrival in Prince Rupert this summer, making getting settled into land-based lodging something you really need to pre-plan, particularly if it is raining and cold.
The ferries have self-service laundries and pay-per-use showers, so you can get your gear (and yourself) all sorted. There are short periods every few hours when they allow you to "visit" the vehicle deck and fiddle with gear (this is mainly for people with pets in their RV's).
Broadly speaking, the scenary gets better as you go north. In/out of Sitka, Juneau to Haines, should be done in the daylight.
You can arrange everything on-line or by phone. Everyone I have worked with has been real helpful.
Take a look at where you might want to go as some of the places that the ferry stops don't have roads leaving them at all.
The ferry seems slooooow to me and there ain't much to do on it. Bring a book or two. You'll find yourself wondering if your bike is laying on it's side skidding around on the below deck for the first while. Not to worry though... you can't go make sure anyway. :1drink
Btw... it's a great idea.
Thanks! These replies are exactly what I want to hear!
I took the ferry from Bellingham to Haines last summer and loved it.
Unless things have changed the ferry's only run every three days, so plan accordingly. The cost was in the $650-$675 range for me and the bike, no room. Camping is first come, first served. Things were pretty crowded at the Bellingham end but thinned out at each stop.
You can sleep on the floor, or if you're lucky, one of the plastic sun loungers in the solarium area, but you'll have zero privacy.
I duct taped my tent to the deck while it was dry and it held for the duration. I got a nice spot by the edge of the solarium yet on the outside, so that meant I got some heat from the lamps, and was protected from the winds that would whip up most nights, yet still had a great view straight out of the tent.
There were a few people sleeping downstairs, in the TV/lounge area which is carpetted, but they had to roll all their stuff up and out of the way during the day.
In hindsight, I think once you've got your ticket you can walk onboard the ship. Go ahead and grab a tent spot and set up, park the bike later.
I used 15' tie-downs to secure my luggage to the bike on the trip, I also used them to strap the bike down once onboard, although they did supply all the rope/twine you needed.
We set sail in the evening. Next day stopped at Ketchikan for about an hour, second day, Petersburg, then Sitka. Last day, made a two-three hour stop in Juneau, but you'll have to catch a cab to get into town as the port is a few miles out. I got off at Haines in the wee hours of the morning. From there the ship went on to end it's journey in Skagway.
The ferry's are quite a bit smaller than the cruise liners so you'll go places and see things those rich pampered bastards never will, the only way you'd get any closer to the inside passage would be to paddle it :D
Don't put it off...it's a once in a lifetime journey.
Hope this helps, good luck.
First, the ferry trip is great. The scenery is magnificent and it's a wonderfully unique experience.
A tip or two ... If you're traveling early in the season, May/June, then I suggest you ride up and ferry back. The northbound ferry's are pretty packed but the southbound trip I took in late June of this year had about a quarter of the Columbia's capacity. That meant no waiting for anything and only 3 tents on the Solarium deck instead of the crush that Antware shows. Besides taking the ferry at the end of the trip provides a welcome break from riding. Also, we stopped in Sitka on the southbound ferry. We didn't a few years ago on a ferry out of Bellingham. You'd have to check the schedule on that because Sitka is worth the stop....
I agree with Harry; I think I was on the next ferry after him--Lots of space on deck, and a nice respite frim the Dempster. We took the ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert, cost about $600 (Canadian) for the bike, me and a room. I like the room even if it's just a secure place to stash your stuff. The stops along the panhandle are worth seeing, but very short, and often at weird times. It also seems to me that if you get off there, you have to get back on there, as the only road into a panhandle town is via stewart bc- the rest are local roads.
The boat staff were quite helpful to us; the onshore people were bureaucrats in every sense of the word. I did all reservations by internet.
Thanks again for the replies, this is valuable information! I think taking the ferry FROM Alaska to Washington, might be a welcome break from being in the saddle anyway! Thanks everyone!
I agree with others have said, particularly the ride north/ferry south suggestion, as the distances will wear you out if you plan on covering a lot of ground in only 2/3 weeks. Driving north is no sweat as you're pumped to get there, but on my way home I was happy to see the ferry.
FYI, if you camp, tents are NOT allowed under the solaruim, so you are exposed to the elements. Fortunately, I had sunshine for my whole trip from Haines to Bellingham this August. It is wise to bring your own tie downs for the bike, as they had run out by the time I boarded. No worries tho' as the trip is all in the Inside Passage, hardly entering open water.
Bring some food as the boat grub is pretty bad and overpriced. The stop offs are great, particularly Sitka. They show movies and give wildlife/history talks and have a bar on board, so the time does not lag.
I also ferried from Whittier to Valdez (about 6 hours) which was great. Both ferry rides prevented me from having to retrace many steps on my trip.
You gotta camp...cabins are for fairies :evil
Weather, as always in Alaska, makes a big difference...
just learned about this...
Has anyone done this journey in recent years? I just learned about it and am wondering if pricing has remained as reasonable as listed in this thread.
What would be a realistic time frame to set aside for this journey - would 2 weeks be enough?
Can anyone direct me to a newer thread with a recent perspective/story/photos?
I will try this next trip up that way,we rode the whole distance and its a long,long straightaway through trees going the Alaska highway,from nor cal to Anchorage its a haul and required buying tires of course just to get home.
It was fun though,rained from Anchorage to Weed CA on the way home,nice hard driving rain for about 3000 miles.............
Very memorable trip,I would ferry the DR up and do gravel roads for days this time.
My sig line below has a link to a thread a few of us locals wrote about riding out ferry system.
And in that thread there's another link to the ferry system's website.
Remember, if you book r/t the vehicle operator goes for free.
Good luck and have fun, Mark H.
Also if you take the ferry between Oct 1 and April 31, the driver goes free. I came down on the ferrry this last Oct, and it was nice. Slept in the movie theater, and stayed warm. Quite a few stayed up on the solarium, but only one tent was pitched. Beats riding in the snow.:D
I used the ferry to bypass most of the interior last spring when I moved up here and I highly recommend it. Sailed march 30 out of Bellingham to Haines on April 2nd, camped on the solarium deck on a deck chair.
It was snowy and rainy the whole time, but I slept great up there. Cost was $450 I think. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, particularly after 25 days in the saddle. Thre are lockers for your stuff if you're paranoid.
The only problem I see is having only 2 weeks. The ferry took 4 days, plus another 3 to get to Fairbanks due to weather. You might get to the circle and back in a day... But really, what are you coming up for if all the time you've got means you've gotta rush?
AK Marine Ferry System
Just came off the ferry system last week with my car....you can periodically go down below to your car/ motorcycle to make sure its OK. These are the times when people go let out their 4 legged friends :)
Its is slow going...I would go crazy during the summer knowing I could have taken the highway instead.
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