The Alaskan Marine Highway
The Inside Passage

The Alaskan Marine Highway exists to serve coastline and island communities, primarily in southeast Alaska, which cannot be reached by road.  Operated by the state of Alaska, the large car-carrying ferries provide inexpensive year-round transportation for people, automobiles, and cargo.  As an example of the cost, it cost Lisa and I $125 U.S. apiece to ride the ferry from Prince Rupert to Skagway, stopping at Ketchican, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines.

After leaving Sandy and John Brett in Gig Harbor, we drove up to Prince Rupert in British Columbia.  While the ferry has a terminal in Bellingham, Washington, near Seattle, we caught it from Prince Rupert because we were driving in that direction anyway.

We rode the Alaskan ferry Kennicott.  This is another Alaska Ferry, the Columbia.  Most of the ferries are similar in design.  The Kennicott is 383 feet long, with a beam of 85 feet.  It has nine decks, and is driven by two 6,690 Wartsila diesel engines.  It was built by Halter Marine in Gulfport, Mississippi, and entered service in 1998.  The chief engineer said that while he had some quarrels with the fit and finish of the boat, it had been reliable and had not missed a voyage in it's first year of service, and many such vessels had not been that reliable.

Passengers have several choices of accomodations.  Many people book only deck passage.  There is a solarium deck, covered from the weather, and an aft lounge where people may spread sleeping bags if they don't wish to pay for a cabin.  There are restrooms with showers, maintained in immaculate conditions, available to all passengers.  However, a two-berth "roomette", which has two pullman berths, cost us $46 dollars from Prince Rupert to Skagway.  More luxurious accomodations are available.

The ferry has cafeteria-style meal service.  The prices are reasonable, and the food is good.  For dinner, there were usually three entrees, and a complete meal with beverage was about $10.00 per person.

Had we wished to transport the truck to Skagway, we would have paid $341 dollars for that service.  Prices are available on the AMH web page, so I won't mention them again.

The Inside Pasage is called that because it lies primarily inside the chain of islands which comprise most of southeast Alaska.  Some of those passages are pretty tight.  The picture above was taken in the Wrangell Narrows, between Wrangell and Petersburg.  The Narrows are usually negotiated by the ferry at high tide, when there is enough water to clear the 16-foot draft of the ferry.  On this run, in a couple of places there were only two feet of clearance on the bottom.  The passage is in a couple of places only about twice the width of the ferry.

Much of the passage has more room.  There is a lot of commercial fishing traffic in the passage.  The mountain in the background are the islands on the "outside" of the passage, and are covered in snow year-around.

There are many lighthouses in the passage because of the predominance of fog and rain.  Most have been converted to fully automatic operation and are untended except for occasional maintenance visits.


There is considerable cruise ship traffic.  Above is one of the Princess cruise ships - yes, the "Love Boats" - in the passage just outside of Haines, Alaska, at sunset.  The scenary is spectacular.  The cruise ships go up into Glacier Bay, which the ferries do not.

This is a small iceberg which calved off one of the glaciers in the coastal mountains.  The dots you see are birds sitting on the 'berg.  Wildlife in the passage is abundant and spectacular.  Bald eagles are nearly as common as seagulls are elsewhere.  We also saw orcas, humpback whales, seals, porpoises, and many bird species I can't identify.  One of the orcas was jumping almost out of the water, then falling back in sideways.  The big humpbacks, though, are the most spectacular show.

This is Petersburg, which is the home of many commercial fishing boats.  Founded by Norweigan immigrants, it now is served by Alaskan Airlines jet service , but lying as it does at the north end of the Wrangell Narrows, the ferry is by far the best way to get there.

Copyright 1999 by Linden B. Sisk
All rights reserved