Alaska Marine Highway – An Unusual Roadway of the North

Alaska Marine Highway ferry in a storm by Prince of Wales Island June 2016Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Near Prince of Wales Island

With no road system connecting many coastal communities in the Last Frontier, the Alaska Marine Highway is the unusual roadway of the North. This fleet of ferries begins in Bellingham, Washington, and serves 30 communities between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and the Aleutian Chain. The marine road stretches 3,500 miles, traveling through the Inside Passage and Prince Williams Sound and reaching as far out as Unalaska. It’s even considered part of the national highway system.

Malaspina Ferry sign on side of the vessel
Malaspina Ferry

The Ships

The Alaska Marine Highway has nine vessels—four mainline ferries and five day boats or shuttles. Mainline ships cruise the extended voyages and have cabins with full bathrooms, recliner lounges, and solariums. The day boats or shuttles run shorter routes. Each mainline ferry and most of the day ferries include cafeterias, viewing rooms, and movie areas.

Alaska glaciers inspired the names of all the ships. During our 20 years in Alaska, we traveled on the Malaspina, Columbia, Matanuska, Kennicott, Aurora, and Taku

Vessels also include a car deck to haul cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycles, and freight. Ferry workers direct traffic entering and exiting the vessel. Periodically, the car deck is open for a short time on the mainline voyages for passengers to retrieve items from their vehicles and care for pets.

Cook family entertains themselves on a mainline ferry ride on the Malaspina
Cook Family Entertains Themselves on the Malaspina
Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Car Deck
Malaspina Car Deck

Now, for the rest of the Alaskan story.

I write stories for Alaska Bush Life based on my experiences living in remote Alaska. To read my entire story, check out my memoir, The Call of the Last Frontier: The True Story of a Woman’s Twenty-Year Alaska Adventure. Autographed copies are available on my author website at

“This book helped me live adventures I’ll never have but desperately want.” —Aaron Linsdau, Polar Explorer, best-selling author of Antarctic Tears

“A well-written and accurate description of the raw edge of Alaska… A phenomenal read with a goosebump ending.” —Larry Kaniut, best-selling author of the Alaska Bear Tales Series

“An inspiring story of strength and grit” —Ann Parker, best-selling author of Follow Me to Alaska

Amazon reviewers said, “Wonderful read for anyone who doesn’t want the Chamber of Commerce version of living in Alaska,” FJ Lover. “I hated to see it end,” Tennessee Rose. “I recommend this book to anyone who has ever dared to follow their dreams and persevered to see them become a reality,” Adrienne Hyman. “I was scared, excited, happy and sad right beside her,” Kallye said.

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