Ferry travel to and within Alaska is via the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), which provides year-round transport to over 33 Alaska communities from the southern gateway cities of Bellingham, WA, to ports across Alaska. Many Alaska communities are inaccessible to road systems, making the sea travel option essential. This waterway route is so extraordinary it has been designated a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road; it is the only marine route with this designation.
This waterway route covers more than 3,500 miles through Southeast Alaska, across the Gulf of Alaska, to Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian Chain (see maps). The ferry system connects with the highway system in Bellingham, WA, and the Alaska communities of Haines, Skagway, Valdez, Whittier and Homer. Motorists often combine a ferry trip with their driving itinerary, which can save you hundreds of miles of driving, depending on your itinerary.
The state ferry fleet provides passenger/vehicle ferry service in 3 regions: Southeast, Southcentral/Prince William Sound and Southcentral/Southwest. There is also Cross-Gulf service in summer connecting Juneau in Southeast and Whittier in Southcentral.
The Alaska state ferry system has 2 seasons: May 1 to September 30 (summer), when sailings are most frequent; and October 1 to April 30 (fall/winter/spring), when service is less often. For trip planning and scheduling, please go to the AMHS website at www.ferryalaska.com. Email questions to AMHS at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the central reservations office in Juneau at 1-800-642-0066.
Prince Rupert, BC, was a southern port for Alaska state ferries serving Southeast Alaska until late 2019, pending. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s approval of AMHS terminal facility modifications to meet federal standards. Service to Prince Rupert is expected to resume in summer 2022. For an update Alaska state ferries service to Prince Rupert, phone 1-800-642-0066 or visit www.ferryalaska.com.
Alaska state ferry travel is very popular in the summer. Walk-on passenger traffic is usually possible, even last-minute, but reservations are strongly recommended for travelers with a vehicle or wanting a cabin. Make reservations online at www.ferryalaska.com or by calling 1-800-642-0066. Reservations for cabin space and for vehicles should be made as far in advance as possible to get the sailing dates you prefer. However, don’t assume a sailing is sold out if you suddenly decide to include the ferry in your itinerary; phone or check online to see if there is space available.
Vehicle fares depend on the size of your vehicle and the distance you travel. You are charged by how much space you take up, so a truck with trailer is measured from the front of the bumper to the end of the trailer, including hitch space. Charges are also applied to motorcycles, bikes and kayaks. Do not attempt to estimate your vehicle length; you must accurately measure your vehicle to avoid additional charges and the potential for being moved to a later sailing due to size restrictions. Maximum length allowed is 48 feet for a single unit. Some exceptions and/or restrictions apply to certain ports and vessels. Please visit www.ferryalaska.com or phone 1-800-642-0066 for more information. U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations prohibit travel on the car deck; passengers are not allowed to sleep or dine in their vehicles.
If you are traveling on one of the longer ferry runs, such as the 38-hour trip between Bellingham, WA and Ketchikan, AK, you should reserve a cabin well in advance. Cabin fares are charged per unit, not by the number of people using the cabin. Cabins are outfitted with single or double bunk bed-style berths and vary in size and availability. Some cabins have a toilet, shower and linens (towel, sheets, blankets). Pick up keys from the purser’s office when you board. You can also rent blankets, pillows, and towels for a fee from the Purser on mainline vessels.
Other Sleep Options
If cabin space is sold out or you wish to save a few dollars and travel without a cabin, the inside recliner lounges and the covered solarium located on the upper deck serve as sleeping areas. Just bring your own sleeping bag and find yourself the perfect spot to relax for the evening. Small, free-standing tents are also permitted on the solarium deck (but not under the heated covered area) and on the stern of the cabin deck. Be sure to bring duct tape to secure your tent to the deck as strong winds can pick up while the ferry is underway.
Food & Beverage Service
Food service varies from vessel to vessel. Hot meals, snacks, and beverages are available in cafeterias or snack bars on all vessels, except the Lituya. Food service hours vary based on sailing departure times. You can bring your own food and beverages, but keep in mind that refrigeration is not available onboard. For guest convenience, there are microwaves (in the dining area) and coin-op ice and soft drink/snack vending machines.
You are responsible for your own luggage. Foot passengers may bring up to 100 lbs. of hand luggage. There is no limit on weight carried in a vehicle. Baggage carts for carry-on luggage are driven between the terminals and the car deck. Baggage handling is NOT provided and the Alaska Marine Highway System is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage.
For a pet to be transported via ferry between Bellingham, WA, and Alaska ports, they must have a valid rabies certificate and it must clearly identify your animal and be presented at check-in.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed in cabins and must be transported on the vehicle deck only. When prior approval has been obtained, there may an exception made for a certified service animal. Pets are to be transported inside a vehicle or in kennels (on the car deck) furnished by the passenger. Pets must be cared for by the owner. On long sailings, you may feed, water and/or walk your pet on the car deck during one of the 15-minute announced car deck calls. You may also walk your pet at port stops. Keep in mind that some port stops are very brief and that sailing time between some ports will be as long as 38 hours (Bellingham to Ketchikan). Car deck calls are dependent on weather conditions and other variables.
Each vessel has a few cabins equipped to accommodate passengers with disabilities and every vessel has elevator access to cabin decks.
Hazardous materials may not be transported on the ferries. The valves on propane or similar type tanks must be turned off and sealed by an AMHS employee. Portable containers of fuel are permitted but must be stored with vessel personnel while en route.
All AMHS customers are required to show proper valid government ID, meaning photo identification issued by a government authority such as a state or provincial driver’s license, passport, official government issued ID, or military ID. Passengers who plan on driving through Canada, are required to show their passport. Passengers onboard AMHS vessels between Bellingham, WA, and Ketchikan, AK, are not required to show a passport as the ship does not stop in a Canadian port along the way. If service is reinstated to Prince Rupert, BC, passengers traveling to this port are required to have a passport.