Alaska Community

September 5, 2009 12:51 PM | Alaskan Photo Tours

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Seeing Alaska Ferry – The Alaska Marine Highway

The Alaska Marine Highway is without doubt the most unique highway in the world. The landscape is certainly fascinating.

How many roads can drive along and see, often at the same time, the snow-capped mountains, glaciers of the ice age, slopes covered with pine and fir, tranquil fjords, beaches and streams?

Where else can see otters feeding on kelp beds, sea lions seals, orcas violating almost touching distance, sea birds and bald eagles in their nests gazing into the distance?

The Alaska Marine Highway System has transported cars and passengers to some 32 communities in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state for almost 50 years. The 11 ferries are a lifeline for isolated fishing communities logging along the coast of Southeast Alaska. Other popular destinations visited by many travelers include Alaska Marine Highway Anchorage, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and the valley Matanuska-Susitna.

But the path is more than that. It is a cheaper alternative to expensive cruises in these waters. The passenger ferry service provides a more freedom than they would on a cruise. The Matanuska carries 499 passengers and has 4 four berths, three berths 21, 80 and two-berth cabins. The cabins may not be as luxurious as a cruise, but it is much cheaper, although meals are extra.

The ferry's car deck can accommodate 88 vehicles (These numbers vary from ferry to transport). Drivers can plan their own itinerary and connect with other ferries to explore off the beaten track. Bring your car to Skagway, Alaska, for example, and take it home via the Alaska Highway.

So come aboard the "Matanuska", named after a glacier in Alaska, in Bellingham, Wash., about 80 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, for the return of eight days during the trip ticket Interior, which runs 1,700 kilometers and wending their way along the coast through more than 1,000 islands.

The first voyage of discovery is the ferry itself: a cocktail lounge, gift shop, a cafeteria and a large forward observation room.

The upper deck has a solarium and a conservatory reclining seats used by passengers who do not want to spend money on a cab, or by those who make a short run. The airline-style chairs are sufficiently comfortable to sleep a night. and there are showers in the bathrooms. (Public showers are available on all ships except the Lituya, Chenega and Fairweather.) In the summer, campers, even their tents on the upper deck.

The Matanuska no canteen, but the alignment of the cafeteria self-service moves quickly (the M / Columbia V Tustumena rooms and full service dining). The menu is extensive and reasonably priced, portions are also large (by size, try the tortillas for breakfast). There are at least three main meals every lunch and dinner, often the freshest of locally caught salmon, halibut or red snapper and salad fresh sandwiches, soups and fast food orders as hamburgers and french fries.

We are at sea for 36 hours before playing the first port of call – In Ketchikan, the southernmost city in Alaska. Strung for miles along a coastline, the majority supported on stilts above Tongass Narrows. Streets cross of wood, often just steps up the steep hillside.

If the ferries are running a little late, you may not have more than one ar hour or two each stop. Keep this in mind. The ferry does not wait for passengers Slowpoke.

Ketchikan attractions include wonderful shopping, home Dolly's on Creek Street, the home and workplace of the last of the city "lady" and a museum. Along the coast are seaplanes and boats serving logging camps and other settlements.

Most of Sunday is spent at sea relaxing and tourism – often with calls from the bridge to alert the whale occasional murder or other places of interest.

The next stop is Wrangell, the only community that has the flag of the three nations flying over it. Wrangell began as a stockade built by the Russians in 1834, was hired six years later the British Hudson's Bay Company, and finally bought by the U.S. in 1867. The gold seekers headed from there to the Klondike and Cassiars. One stop worth making is at the beach to see the petroglyphs carved by Indians prehistoric.

Later the ferry stops in St. Petersburg, home of the largest halibut fleet in Alaska and proud of its Scandinavian heritage. Early day Following is Juneau, capital of Alaska – and you can see the Mendenhall Glacier as the ferry approaches the terminal.

The terminal is 22 miles north of Juneau, but there is a good and minibus taxis to the city, a bustling community long before gold was discovered in 1881. A walking tour will take you to many places of historical interest, you can stock up on gold nuggets and jewelry from fossilized walrus tusk. The world's largest concentration of brown bears living in the Admiralty Island located 10 minutes from Juneau.

Later in the morning the shuttle goes to Haines, originally a trading post. From there, it's just an hour for Skagway, beautifully preserved and restored, today still resembles the gold rush town was at the turn of the century – the main gateway to the Klondike, 800 miles north.

From Skagway, the ferry rescues route to Haines and Juneau, then detours Sitka, once the capital of Russia from Alaska. Mount Edgecombe, an extinct volcano, towers in the background. The Russian influence can be seen everywhere in Sitka: Visit the onion-domed St. Michael's Cathedral, for example, a good example rural Russian church architecture.

Many of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries have areas of theater that shows films and documentaries interest in Alaska and the outdoors and often provide special educational programs and entertainment.

As if there is not enough to see and do on the road.

About the Author

Extensive news freelancers for many years, Ursula and Eldrid Retief are now Editors-in-Chief of several travel web sites, including Travel Tidings Alaska at

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