Kittleson Law Office

The Alaska Marine Highway System (Alaska Ferry)

About the best way to see the beauty of Southeast Alaska is to take a boat through the inside package.  The Alaska Ferries are huge and the calm protected waters of the straits and fjords keep one from ever feeling he or she is on  a boat.  Cruise ships that travel the same route are becoming some of the most popular in the world as people have come to find that traveling along waterways surrounded by mountains are a heck of a lot more interesting that just seeing open water while traveling from island to island.  If you can do without the luxury, the Alaska Ferries offer the same view as the floating hotels at a fraction of the cost.  Mountains rise straight up out of the water.  Waterfalls cascade down from snow capped peaks and glaciers.  Eagles fly along the waterline.

The Alaska Ferry System has terminals in a number of Southeast Alaska communities including Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell and Petersburg.  The ferries have toilets and public use showers.  There is a heated solarium where many travelers pitch their tents and camp out for multi-day passages.  There are also cabins available for those who prefer more privacy.  The vehicle deck is large enough to accommodate fleets of tour busses and RVs.  There are lounge areas and a gift shop as well as a purser to provide information about adventure opportunities in the ports of call.  In the front of the boat there is a large seating area for viewing the beautiful scenery.  A national park ranger accompanies each ferry and gives talks about the areas through which the boats pass.

We think that the Alaska Ferry is an ideal way to hop from port to port in Southeast Alaska to explore all that the area has to offer.  Just about any type of vehicle can be brought aboard the ferry.  Backpackers do not pay much to use the ferry, but the price gets more and more expensive depending on what one wishes to bring aboard.  Hikers and bicyclers can always find room, but it is recommended to have reservations for vehicles.  Prices vary depending on the length of trip and what you plan to bring aboard.  Click here for contact information you can use to view schedules and prices.

In 1994 I used the ferry to connect Haines to Bellingham, Washington on a bicycle trip from Anchorage to Salem, Oregon.  I met so many interesting adventurers while camped out on the solarium.  Adventurers share a certain bond and have a great time sharing stories and information about the roads ahead.  It becomes part of the culture of adventure.  

Last Visited: July 2000

The Tustumena

Southwest Alaska has its own ferry, affectionately known by the locals as "The Tusty," which carries people and vehicles between Seward, Homer, Kodiak, and Port Lions.  Once per month the trip extends even further west and includes stops along communities out in the Aleutian Island Chain.

The Tustumena's route crosses the Gulf of Alaska.  Those who get seasick easily should take plenty of dramamine before getting underway.  Despite the large size of the ship, the waves took us up and down for virtually the entire trip.  We drove to Homer to the ferry terminal at the end of the Homer spit.  Both of our crossings occurred at night, so after we loaded the vehicle, we grabbed our sleeping mat, bag and pillows and camped out on the deck.  On the way back we encountered a lot of rain, so we camped in the solarium.  One guy even pitched his tent on the deck.  Its amazing what a little duct tape can accomplish when there is no place to drive tent stakes.

The Tusty has men's and women's showers open to all passengers.  The showers are located on either side of the solarium.  After spending so many days camping, it was great to take a nice hot shower, even though it meant we learned that the tan we thought we had was only an accumulation of grime.

One of the best parts of the trip was loading the car into the ferry.  Since the Tusty is smaller, cars must drive onto a bridge that is then lowered into the hull.  The bridge locks into a huge lazy susan that spins to direct vehicles into six different lanes.  Since space is limited, it is a good idea to make reservations early.  We called a few weeks in advance, and had to be wait-listed.  But we made sure we were early and once we checked in they were able to tell us that we had a place on the ferry.

Last Visited: June 2002

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