Journey to Alaska on the Marine Highway

Enjoying the view of Bellingham as we leave the harbor

On Wednesday, August 4, 2021, we set sail for Alaska to celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary. We wanted to go somewhere that we have never traveled to together, and Alaska was the perfect destination. Marguerite Shepherd drove us to the Ferry Terminal, in Bellingham’s Fairhaven Village. The Alaska Ferry officially called the Alaska Marine Highway System departs from Bellingham, WA to access America’s remote north through the awe-inspiring Inside Passage. We departed at 6 PM and went to our cabin, not too lavish, but comfortable, with a bunkbed and a private bathroom. Rooms are not required on the ferry, many passengers choose to sleep on the deck, with or without a tent. Our Ferry was the MV Matanuska, launched in 1962, 408 feet long, with one vehicle deck and three passenger decks. We spent the evening on the top deck enjoying the sunset and views of Bellingham and the islands.

Our first stop was Ketchikan where we got off the ferry and went out for breakfast. We enjoyed the day on the deck of the Matanuska viewing the dramatic fjords, pristine islands, several lighthouses and forests of tall hemlock and spruce. The highlight of the voyage was going through the Wrangell Narrows during daylight. The Wrangell Narrows is a winding, 22 mile channel that is only 300 feet wide and 19 feet deep in places, connecting the southeast side of Frederick Sound to Sumner Strait, a deep narrow waterway that is part of the Inside Passage. There are about 60 lights and buoys to mark it because of its winding nature and navigation hazards. The pilot navigated the Ferry through the channel with no problems and we arrived in Petersburg, at the northern terminus of the Narrows. Petersburg was founded by Peter Buschmann, a Norwegian immigrant, building a cannery, sawmill, docks and early structures. Petersburg, the center for Norwegian culture in Alaska, is nicknamed Alaska’s “Little Norway”. Click on thumbnail to view images

Our next stop was Haines, but we didn’t get off because the port was too far from the town, and we were almost to our destination. Skagway, “Gateway to the Klondike” is located in a narrow glaciated valley at the head of the Taiya Inlet, the north end of the Lynn Canal, which is the most northern fjord on the Inside Passage. We arrived in Skagway when there were no cruise ships, up to 5 ships a day stop here and on the busiest days, more than 8,000 visitors walk along historic Broadway Avenue. We headed to our BnB to check in before exploring this quiet, beautiful town.