Alaska on the Go: Living the dream of family travel on the Alaska Marine Highway

With scenery like this, who would ever want to fly over Alaska again?

There's always something fun under a beach rock.

After three full days of sailing Alaska Marine Highway between Juneau and Bellingham, WA, the MV Malispina safely delivered these family travel pros to our terminus early Friday morning. Chugging reliably along the nation’s only water-based scenic byway and All-American Road, the Malispina provided us with views, wildlife, and characters from around the world, as only an AMHS vessel can.

Some folks choose to duct tape tents on the upper deck. We, however, purchased a stateroom.

Unlike our first journey in 2011 during which we spent equal days on and off various AMHS ferries exploring southeast Alaska, this trip was purely for transportation purposes. Rather than fly over the panhandle section, we decided to sail through it instead, traveling the way early visitors would, by boat. This is the essence of our family travel dream, to gain perspective about a place, or method of getting there, and providing options.

The Alaska Marine Highway is a popular way to travel for thousands of Alaska visitors, and a necessary one for residents of southeast communities with no roadways and few options for flying in and out of town. The ferry provides a link to larger cities and services like healthcare, higher education, and resources, available only via a watery road.

AK Dad and Kid trace our route south along the Alaska Marine Highway.


AKontheGO takes a break along a Sitka beach during a ferry trip south.

Juneau to Sitka, then on to Wrangell, Ketchikan, and finally Bellingham, the trip provided our family some needed time to relax and leisurely explore sections of southeast from the Malispina’s ample decks. With other families as travel cohorts, it was a three-day journey of board games and books, photos and naps, and I don’t think I’d trade it for a quick jaunt aboard an airplane if time was on our side. A ‘road trip’ without a terra firma road, the Alaska Marine Highway is all of the adventure with none of the driving, as AK Dad put it.

An artistic capture by AK Kid, who is in charge of a camera more often as he grows up.

Sun on the upper deck, by AK Kid. Not bad!

The ferry also provided us another valuable opportunity for AK Kid, now nine. Nearly a ‘tween and constantly pushing against the boundary of a growing desire for independence, this trip allowed a nice balance between parental hovering and solitary exploration. After this trip, I’ve convinced of AMHS’ value for maturing youngsters; late night card games, movies in the theater, and hot chocolate while whale-watching from an upper bunk. Good stuff, this.

Miles melt away along the AMHS route near Bellingham.

The Alaska Marine Highway is the subject of an upcoming Anchorage Daily News article, and my destination of choice for book number two in the Alaska on the Go series. I think you’ll like them, and I hope you’ll take advantage of this unique way to explore the 49th state.






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