Exploring Alaska’s inside passage

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By Carol Ann Quibbel

The joy of exploring the world can sometimes include an oceanic adventure where you weave your way through a series of islands with spectacular scenery like you have never seen before.

The Inside Passage, with it’s rugged coastline and natural beauty can take RVers from the State of Washington, along the west coast of British Columbia to the south east portion of Alaska.

Many RVers don’t look forward to driving both going and returning from Alaska and so traveling the Inside Passage for one portion of the trip is ideal. Whether you travel the whole route on one of the many available ferries or drive portions of the trip in your RV the scenery and things you will see are astounding.

The rugged coastal mountains reaching skyward from the waters edge are home to bears, wolves, cougars, moose and deer often seen from the deck of the ship as you cruise past. It’s not impossible to see a bear at the edge of the water in search of a tasty fish for his dinner.

The waters are filled with marine life so keep your eyes open and watch for the large population of whales, sea lions and seals that will have you in awe. The pristine natural beauty of the forests, sandy beaches, and interesting rock formations carved from the many years of waves pounding against them will have you reaching for your camera at almost every moment of the day.

British Columbia’s coastline

This portion of the trip takes you through 25,000 miles of coastline that includes the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait between British Columbia’s mainland and Vancouver Island, both fairly narrow and quite well protected.

The next part of the journey is wider and more exposed to the sea and takes you near Haida Gwaii Islands. It’s only for a short distance though and the ferry quickly enters Fitz Hugh Sound where once again it’s sheltered as you travel past various islands and fishing communities.

 Haida Gwaii

 This very remote area is home to a First Nation population with a strong sense of tradition and for their arts and distinctive culture. In the past the 150 islands were known as the Queen Charlotte Islands but the name was changed to Haida Gwaii Islands, meaning “Islands of the People.” The only way to reach the islands are by boat or plane and are serviced by BC Ferries.

One of the very last authentic examples of a west coast First Nations Village is SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is a destination worth targeting because of it’s natural rare beauty and abundant wildlife.


Extending from British Columbia into Alaska are 15,000 miles of shoreline filled with coves and bays with less protection than the more southern area in Canada’s waters. The distance north and south is 500 miles and 100 miles across going from the east to the west. Because of the unusual high and low tides this area can be tricky to maneuver around obstructions in the water.

Hubbard Glacier

Definitely popular with everyone who sees it is the Hubbard Glacier, where you get really close to an actual active glacier. Sheets of ice separate themselves from the main ice field and crash into the sea with a loud cracking sound known as “calving” and can be heard as it echoes for miles.

Ferry service

There are many choices of companies and routes that travel the Inside Passage so do your research and decide whether you want to travel the full distance from Bellingham, Wash., right through to Alaska or load your RV onto a ferry in one of the ports that they stop at. A very popular route includes driving and sightseeing on beautiful Vancouver Island to Port Hardy and departing from there.

Make a reservation. RVers have discovered the beauty of traveling through the Inside Passage and to avoid disappointment make your reservation at least three to six months in advance. Cabin space can be limited as well so make your plans early.

Unfortunately, you can’t use your RV when on the ferry and check with the ferry company whether pets are allowed. So why would you take your RV on the ferry if you can’t actually use it during the voyage? Because when you arrive at your destination it’s so much nicer exploring in the comfort of your RV – your home away from home.

Most ferries can accommodate RVs up to 70 feet long and 13 feet high, but if your rig is quite large be extra early on arranging your reservations because space may be limited.

For safety reasons propane tanks must be turned off when traveling on any ferry and bottled gas containers will be sealed before boarding by ferry staff. It will depend on the length of your voyage but it might be a good idea not to fill your fridge with foods that may spoil.

Cost of Ferry Travel

Traveling by ferry is definitely not cheap. However, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime-trip so may be worth the expense. Fares are determined by the length and width of the unit so if your RV is a motorhome pulling a car it might be cheaper if you make reservations for two vehicles and disconnect them before embarking on the boat.


Pets traveling into Alaska from another state or province must have a health certificate no more than 30 days old. There may be a charge for each pet and they must stay on the vehicle deck with controlled access by the ships purser for feeding and visiting.

Passports  and firearms

Traveling between the United States and Canada requires that you have a passport and if you have a criminal record such as a DUI you may be refused entry.

Firearms must be declared, unloaded and securely locked in the vehicle. Check with Canada Customs before you reach the border because not all weapons are permitted. It will ruin your trip if you reach the border only to find that your special gun is not allowed into the country.

Yes, RVers have discovered the Inside Passage and the popularity is due to the natural beauty of the scenery as they travel along the coastline whether they get on a ferry in Washington or British Columbia or embark in Alaska to head south. It’s time to put your RV on a ferry and enjoy a unique and comfortable way of traveling while you explore the Inside Passage.


Carol Ann Quibell

Carol Ann Quibell

A freelance writer/photographer and columnist, Carol Ann Quibell has traveled extensively throughout Canada, USA, Mexico, Central America and China. She was a contributing author to the award-winning book RV Traveling Tales – Women’s Journey of the Open Road. Most memorable trip was backpacking and documenting a 3-month journey with her adult children throughout Central America. Read more about her travels at www.roamingrv.com and www.writefortravel.com.

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