The Alaska Marine Highway

There are a couple of things that really stand out about Alaska. First of all, it’s really, really far away. That’s where the Al-Can Highway comes in, helping you cover 1,400 of those miles through some incredible scenery.

Second, it’s huge. Texas is big. Depending on which Interstate you’re on, you can drive for up to 14 hours and still be in Texas. But if you think Texas is big, consider that Alaska is 2.3 times the size of Texas.

Third, the roads you can drive are beautiful, but as far as accessibility goes, roads won’t get you very far into Alaska. Roads will only take you about 40% of the way towards Alaska’s western reaches. While there’s a single road that runs north from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay at Alaska’s northern bank, there’s not much up there beyond a pipeline and oil fields.

Nope, to really explore Alaska, you have a couple of options, neither of which involve driving. You can take a plane (bush plane or float plane) or you can take the Alaska Marine Highway. While a plane can get you most anywhere in the Alaskan bush, the Alaska Marine Highway can only get you to coastal areas and only along the southern coast of Alaska (including the eastern Aleutian islands) and south as far as Bellingham, WA.

Shipping Out To Juneau

Going back to that little bit about the lack of roads making access to much of Alaska difficult, you can’t even get to Alaska’s capital city of Juneau by road. There are roads in Juneau, but there are no roads to Juneau. And that’s why we found ourselves in Haines, AK for a night, catching a ferry to Juneau.

Prices & Voyages

Unlike most of our favorite scenic drives, this one probably isn’t one to take just for the heck of it. First, it’s expensive. A 4.5 hour journey from Haines to Juneau and a slightly longer cruise to Skagway from Juneau cost us (two adults and a truck) $428. It’s one thing to go out for a drive through the mountains and use a 1/2 a tank of gas. Even at current gas prices, that’s maybe $40 worth of gas. This is transportation though, not a joyride cruise.

Our cruises were on the short end of trips too. Some of the cruises take days to reach their destination and the price goes up commensurately. For those trips, there are cabins for rent. You can pitch a tent or sleep in some areas of the ship without renting a cabin. The boats also have cafeterias and bars where you can eat and enjoy some adult beverages.

For those of you traveling with pets, there are a few things to keep in mind. Pets are allowed, but only on the car deck, either in a pet carrier or in the vehicle. We had to leave Knox in the truck for the cruises, though they can be taken ashore at ports for bathroom breaks. Nonetheless, it was definitely not an experience he enjoyed, being stuck down below with the noise of the ship for several hours alone. That is the primary reason that we chose the shortest cruises we could to get to Juneau.

Check the AMHS website to price up any trip you’re considering taking.

Sunsets, Lighthouses, & Such

Now for the good news. Seeing Alaska from the water is an amazing sight! Glaciers and islands, lighthouses and cabins, sunrises and sunsets over the mountains. It’s really quite incredible and should you find yourself in need of getting around Alaska to places unserved by roads or just wanting to take a different route, the Alaska Marine Highway gets the job done quite well.