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Need Help planning trip on the Marine Highway in Southeastern Alaska

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Nov 11th, 2016, 02:22 AM
  #1
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Need Help planning trip on the Marine Highway in Southeastern Alaska

We are a couple in our mid 60's with some family in Anchorage. We live in Israel and visit Alaska about once a year, so this vacation is far from our first trip to this lovely state. However, this time we are taking a little mini-vacation in the middle of our 6-week babysitting and daughter visiting trip to see some of the inland waterway of Southeast Alaska.

We have been to Juneau and ferried to Skagway, where we rented a car and drove to Whitehorse and back, so there is no need to repeat that fantastic route.

We know we would like to spend a couple of days in Sitka, but haven't got a clue what other places to add to the trip. We are thinking of making it a "ferry cruise" getting on and off at the stops we plan and then hiking or biking in the places we stop.

We would really appreciate any help in planning this vacation. It is due to take place in August, 2017, so we have plenty of time, but time seems to race so we'd like to get started now.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
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Nov 11th, 2016, 03:31 AM
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For starters, put Alaska ferry into the search box at the top of the page. Look for trip reports from folks who have taken that kind of trip.
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Nov 11th, 2016, 04:04 AM
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Start with going to this excellent website, North to Alaska:

http://www.northtoalaska.com/
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Nov 11th, 2016, 05:36 AM
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I think you should start by reading up on the various communities the ferry serves, and look at the schedules for their service. The summer 2017 timetable isn't out yet, and things are complicated by the fact that the state budget has been in trouble with falling oil revenues and ferry services have been sharply curtailed. But it's unlikely any towns will be dropped, but some certainly may have frequency reductions.

http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/where_we_go.shtml

How would you be getting to/from SE Alaska? And it sounds like this would be starting from Anchorage and ending back there, too - "in the middle of our 6-week visit" - so how long would you have for this experience?

Basically there are two kinds of towns in SE Alaska as far as the ferry is concerned, "main line" and local or "feeder" communities. The main line ones include the likes of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Skagway and Haines; the others are (generally) served through local or "feeder" service from one of those towns, usually Ketchikan or Juneau.

Service to the smaller "feeder" towns can be scenic but slow; on some routes it's a "milk run" where the ferry stops in one village before continuing on to the next. In some places it can be days before the next boat, and these are really small places, often with minimal or no tourist facilities.

So to answer your question, where would I be looking? Well, Sitka is an obvious choice; it's scenic and big enough to have things going on, some local roads and plenty of accommodation and food options.

Beyond that I'd look at Tenakee (aka Tenakee Springs) and maybe Pelican, both served out of Juneau. Tenakee is quite picturesque (IMO pretty much the cliche image of a coastal Alaska village) with a reputation of being full of hippies and hot tubs. Pelican is a (very) small fishing community similar to Tenakee, which is dominated by sport fishers all summer long.

But you can do this research on your own, look at online videos etc.

Two last things: If time permits you might consider traveling to Juneau via the ferry from Whittier, which crosses the Gulf of Alaska and stops at Yakutat. This is big water, so if seasickness is a possibility think twice, but Yakutat Bay, with the astonishing Hubbard Glacier at its head, is quite magical.

The other is even more "out there," but a real eye-opener. Several times each summer the ferry system runs boats out to the Aleutian chain ("southwest Alaska" on the ferry schedules.) This is also big water, but this part of Alaska is seldom visited by outsiders, and it's one of the most historic and (to me) beautiful parts of the state. Consider flying to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and taking the ferry back, or v.v. - Unalaska is a fascinating little town, with a stunning Russian Orthodox church, relics and mementos of its role in World War II all around, and the buzz of a very dynamic and important fishing port (one of the busiest in the US.) Native history, remote and wild scenery; you'll pass active volcanoes en route... magical stuff, but requires you to be a bit intrepid.
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Nov 12th, 2016, 01:17 AM
  #5
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Thanks so much for your replies. Since I wrote the original post I have also been looking at Vancouver and surroundings. Since I have only a week to 10 days maximum, I realize that I must make a choice and not try to include everything. Also, budget is an issue.

Vancouver is looking pretty attractive to me on further reading and watching. I have been trying to define for myself what exactly I want to be doing during this "vacation", and it pretty much boils down to lots of opportunities for not too difficult, 2 - 3 hour walks in nature, some on the water experiences such as kayaking or ferry rides or sea safari. and a little site seeing such as interesting markets or pretty cityscapes. This makes me think that we might be better served flying from Anchorage to Vancouver and spending our time in that area rather than trying to put together a Marine Highway trip in the allotted time.

Any opinions will be appreciated.
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Nov 12th, 2016, 05:37 AM
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Vancouver is obviously a major change of pace, but could be a very rewarding one.

A couple of notes: Air service between Anchorage and Vancouver is very limited; usually only one flight a day, and an expensive one at that. Seattle, on the other hand, being in the US, is very well served by flights to/from ANC, and because of the frequency, they're usually much cheaper than those to/from Vancouver.

There are several ways to get between Seattle and Vancouver - you can drive in 3 or 4 hours (or longer if you want to take a scenic route) or there are buses or two daily trains. Logistics need to be worked out, but it's not difficult.

Both Seattle and Vancouver tend to be very expensive during the Alaska cruise season; hotels can have New York prices. Both have fantastic countryside nearby - islands, mountains... and vibrant downtown cores, farmers markets, you name it.

As you do your due diligence on deciding where to go, have a look at a couple of areas and see if something appeals.

Look at the BC "Sunshine Coast," an area on the mainland north of Vancouver served by ferry from Horseshoe Bay. The Sunshine Coast is under a lot of people's radar, but it's a lovely area with attractive small towns, lots of hikes and experiences available, and far more affordable than Vancouver itself.

Also look at Olympic National Park and Whidbey Island in Washington State. Whidbey is a marvelous rural island with some marvelous state parks, farm stands, and two adorable little towns in Langley and Coupeville.

From Coupeville you can take a ferry to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Port Townsend is a gorgeous little town full of Victorian architecture; you can go kayaking or whale watching or numerous other water-based activities.

But the real highlight is Olympic National Park, which occupies the central and Pacific coastal areas of the Olympic Peninsula. Google these places: Hurricane Ridge, Hoh rain forest "Hall of Mosses" trail, and Rialto Beach, and you'll see what I mean.

With a week, you could spend a couple of days in Seattle, a couple on Whidbey, and visit Olympic NP - incredible variety and beauty.
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Nov 12th, 2016, 05:43 PM
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Vancouver is a beautiful city with lots to see and excellent connections to adventures in nature.

We did a great camping trip last summer from Seattle where we live, up the Sunshine Coast and back down on Vancouver Island. This involved several ferry rides---Horseshoe Bay to the Sunshine Coast; Powell River at the north end of the Coast over to Vancouver Island, and Nanaimo to Tsawassen on the Bcc mainland.

On Vancouver Island we camped at Little Qualicum falls and then drove out to the coast at Tofino. Lots possibilities there, but especially kayaking. But you can also kayak from many other places on the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.

For markets, Saltspring Island is a favorite. You can take. Ferry from there back to Tsawassen as well.

If flying to Vancouver from ANC does not work, fly to Seattle and take the train to Vancouver. Spend 3-4 nights there Nd then pick up a car and head out to the Sunshine Coast and/or Vancouver Island.

We are planning a return trip next summer.
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Nov 13th, 2016, 12:45 AM
  #8
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Thank you both so much. I am glad I am planning plenty in advance. There is so much I still need to read about and consider before making up my mind. It does sound like the flight to Seattle is a better idea, no matter what.
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