Alaska Marine Highway
- DesignationAll-American Road (2002/2005)
- Intrinsic QualitiesScenic, Cultural, Natural
- Length3100 miles
Alaska's Marine Highway is best seen by ferry along over 3,500 miles of scenic coastal routes. Off load your auto at many off the ferry stops and explore the 33 communities served by the byway, each with a different flavor of Alaskan indigenous and modern culture, fascinating history and great scenery. See whales, glaciers, rare birds, and sea lions from the deck.
Story of the Byway
Alaska’s Marine Highway traverses the coastal landscape... Snowcapped mountains rise-up to 18,000 feet above the ocean surrounded by a lush temperate rainforest. Glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls add to this visual experience. Fjords created by the last ice age may be seen along the route. The Marine Highway passes by some of the most active ice fields in the world. Best views of them are along the Inside Passage, Prince William Sound and the Cross Gulf Routes. (Note: All AMHS ships are named after glaciers in Alaska!) The Marine Highway also follows along the 'Ring of Fire' providing the opportunity to see 81 of America’s 86 active volcanoes along the route. The majority are located along the Kodiak and Aleutians route. From the Marine Highway ships, views of the 400 species of Whales, birds, sealions, otters, and other marine and terrestrial creatures that inhabit the coastline can be seen.
The Marine Highway provides Alaska’s most thrilling chance to view marine wildlife. This is the number one activity on the ships and the US Forest Service provides interpretive services on the ships, making your experience even richer. Alaska is the only state which has three bear species: brown (which includes grizzlies), black and polar. Admiralty Island, reached by the Alaska Marine Highway, is said to have the densest bear population on Earth at almost one per square mile. The Alaska brown bears can be found in all three segments of the Highway, including in and around many port communities served by the Marine Highway. The Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Parks all provide safe viewing opportunities with interpretive services to watch a variety of wildlife near many port communities.
Alaska also has a rich cultural heritage and one of its premier sites is in Kodiak, the first capital of Russian America and established in 1792. The Baranov Museum Building, a National Historic Landmark in Kodiak on the Alaska Marine Highway, is the oldest of only 4 Russian structures remaining in the U.S. Built in 1808, it is the oldest building in Alaska.
Starting from the western-most section at Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, the route travels northeast along the southern coast of Alaska, including Kodiak Island. One route continues along the coast and another heads north to Anchorage before turning back to the coast and heads southward to the cities of Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Parts of the route are accessible only by ferry, but does include auto travel once off-loaded.
Points of Interest
Great location for viewing icebergs
The island’s best-known park is the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The 2,812-square-mile refuge encompasses two-thirds of Kodiak Island and includes a diverse habitat that ranges from rugged mountains and alpine meadows to wetlands, spruce forest and grassland. The refuge has outstanding fishing but the most popular activity is bear viewing. The refuge is home to 3,500 bears with males that normally weigh in at more than 800 pounds but have been known to exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than 10 feet tall.
Misty Fjords National Monument
17,000 years ago Misty Fjords National Monument would have been covered with only one thing, massive bodies of ice. As the ice disbanded, it carved away gloriously long, deep fiords with cliffs that rise for thousands of feet. They are considered the skyscrapers of this wilderness wonderland.
The western-most port community on the Marine highway is located on the igneous island of Unalaska. It has a rich cultural background which includes its Russian Heritage.
The peninsula and Aleutian Islands were born of the “Pacific Ring of Fire” upon lava flows and volcanoes. These young landforms contrast dramatically to the energy of the Pacific Ocean. On a calm day, the grassy vegetation and irregular geology of the lava flows lend itself to a peaceful and tranquil setting.
As the “Gateway to Alaska”, Ketchikan was founded on fishing and lumber businesses and fishing fleets still dominate the waterfront as the community rises above the Tongass Narrows
Experience a little bit of Scandinavia as Petersburg celebrates its Norwegian Heritage during their annual “Little Norway Festival” which attracts residents and visitors from throughout the state. This multi-day festival in mid-May celebrates. Norwegian Independence Day. Enjoy the Norwegian tolepainting on the buildings.
Is known for its multi-cultural heritage which includes the Tlingit (native) people, Russians and Americans. It was part of Russia until 1867.
Mount Juneau rises above Alaska’s capital city
An historic town and the gateway to the famed Chilkat Trail to the Klondike Goldfields. Enjoy its historic architecture.
Located on the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula on the beautiful Kachemak Bay. Recreation trails allow for scenic viewing from a higher vantage point
The Seward Visitor Center, located in an historic Alaska Railway coach, helps accommodate he visitors at Seward’s newest attraction, the Sealife Center.
The Alaska Railroad connects with Alaska’s Marine Highway in Seward and Whittier making access to the interior of Alaska including Denali National Park and outstanding method to view all the wonders of the state.
Thousands of bald eagles converge on Haines and line the Chilkat River in the fall to enjoy the last run of salmon for the year. Haines is the home to the Bald Eagle Preserve, Bald Eagle Festival and the world's largest gathering of eagles.
Placid waters and inspiring scenery provides for a tranquil recreation opportunity for kayakers. Kodiak, was the first capital of Russian America, established in 1792. The Baranov Museum Building, a National Historic Landmark in Kodiak on the Alaska Marine Highway, is the oldest of only 4 Russian structures remaining in the U.S. Built in 1808, it is the oldest building in Alaska.
8 Days in Southern Alaska
Start your journey in Ketchikan and spend your day exploring the town’s famous totem poles and Totem Bight State Park or journey to Saxman to watch Master Carvers at work. Stop for lunch before enjoying a stroll down the town’s Main Street in the early afternoon.
Ketchikan has a number of opportunities for outdoor adventures, which you should be sure to explore. Options include fishing, kayaking, hiking, ziplining, snorking, or site seeing. Wander along the history of Creek Street. Try to get dinner somewhere with a view of the water before you take off tomorrow.
Take a six hour ferry to Wrangell. Depending on when you leave, you might have the chance to shop for souvenirs, as Ketchikan offers some of the best shopping in the Southeast. Settle into your lodgings in Wrangell and take some time to explore the town.
For your first day, rise early and head to the city docks for a boat ride to the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory. Watch out for black and brown bears as well as thousands of salmon. When you return to Wrangell, be sure to catch an early dinner as the restaurants close early.
Take a 1 mile hike from downtown Wrangell to Petroglyph state Park to see ancient rock petroglyphs on the water. If you plan in advance, be sure to make a stop at the Chief Shakes Tribal House. In the afternoon, take a three hour ferry ride to Petersburg.
Explore the waters of Alaska on your sixth day of your journey. Go whale watching on Frederick Sound and watching humpback whales feed and play or go hiking and kayaking in the area. Alternatively, check out tidewater LeConte Glacier, a half-day trip from the Petersburg harbor, or explore the local museums.
Take the eight hour ferry ride to Juneau and keep an eye out for more humpback whales. Juneau has many excellent local gift shops so take the time to browse some of the shops downtown.
While in Juneau, be sure to take a day trip to explore the Alaskan Wilderness. There are many opportunities for excursions to places such as Admiralty Island or the Mendenhall Glacier before you head home.
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