Roughing It Out on the Alaskan State Ferry

Alaska, US – 2009

“We arrived in Juneau onboard the Matanuska”

Our ship to Alaska
Our vessel, Matanuska

*grinz* I’ve always wanted to say that I’ve arrived somewhere onboard a ship. Any ship it doesn’t matter. But to be able to say that I’ve arrived on a ship with a name as cool as ‘Matanuska’? How lucky is that (I honestly don’t know what Matanuska means, hopefully it’s nothing bad).

At $300 per person for the 3 day journey, getting to Alaska by the state ferry is not the cheapest, nor the fastest way to get from the mainland US to the 49th state.

But for those with the extra time and a sense of adventure, it’s an option worth considering.

Camping on The Deck

When the time came to choose our mode of accommodation, instead of splurging on a cabin we decided to sleep in many of the available public places onboard the ship.

But rumor has it, the best public spot to sleep on an Alaska State Ferry is in the heated solarium on the deck.

Armed with that information, we got to the terminal early and eager to be the first in line.

Tip: If you were one of the first ones to get to the terminal, place your backpack in front of the gate to mark your spot in line.

When we first arrived on the deck

I believe that the solarium was meant to be used as a heated outdoor lounge for ship passengers who would like that feeling of being outdoor, but minus the inconveniences that the outdoor brings.

Inconveniences such as the cold. Thus the rows of overhead heaters above the lounge chairs.

But we, and the rest of the other budget-minded folks overtook the solarium completely, occupying all the lounge chairs and using all the available floor space to put our stuff.

Jack and I managed to get the most primo lounge chairs. They were close enough to the entrance so we could see the view but off the side so we didn’t have people walking all around us.

Tip: Don’t get the deck chairs closest to the entrance.

Can you spot Jack?

The slow folks not-so lucky ones ended up sleeping in the movie theatre (also another highly coveted space), in the public lounge, or were forced to set up tent on the deck floor.

Duct tape was the hottest commodity for the tent people because there were no other ways to secure the tent from being blown away by the wind.

Tip: Bring your stakes and extra duct tape to spare if you’re thinking of pitching up a tent.

Staying Warm on The Ship

Staying warm on the ship was not a problem. The opposite was quite true, in fact. The overhead heaters were blazing in full force as if they were trying to heat the whole ship. I believe we ended up sleeping outside our sleeping bag some nights because it was so bloody warm.

As for the poor folks in the tents…. well, it rained one night with heavy gusts of wind (this is where the extra duct tape would come in handy).

We symphatize with them from the comfort and warmth of our deck chairs. Usually in the form of making bets with fellow deck-chair loungers which tent was going to be blown off the deck next (fortunately, only one tent got blown off but they managed to capture it).

Tip: This is why you don’t want to get the chairs closest to the entrance. You will get rained on.

Life Onboard The Matanuska

As you can imagine, there was very little privacy on the deck but it was all part of the attraction for us. People were cooking food, playing guitar, reading, and striking up conversations left and right.

When we wanted peace and quiet, all we had to was go to the onboard movie theatre where a cheesey romantic comedy movie was inevitably playing.

But you’ll be missing out on the view. To see these before nodding off to sleep was…


It never got completely dark there, it pretty much stayed like this throughout the night.

The View

Views from the ship near Wrangell

Most of the journey, we saw nothing but vast expanse of water. It didn’t get interesting until the second day or so.

Then we started seeing snow-capped mountains, wildlife (bald eagles, dolphins, and whales), and ginormous cruise ships.

On the morning of the 4th day, we arrived in Juneau and were picked up by our Couchsurfing host. Our Alaskan adventure officially begun and it just kept getting better and better.

Don’t believe us? Check out some of the related posts below.

Related posts:
Up Close and Personal With Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau
Backpacking Denali: What NOT to Do
Why Did the Grizzly Cross the Road?

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

This site contains affiliate links that give me a tiny commission at no cost to you (say, if you buy items from the shop, for example). Thanks, guys!

28 Replies to “Roughing It Out on the Alaskan State Ferry”

  1. I know this is an old post, but reading it brought back memories of my time riding the ferry and camping out on the deck. You offer up some great tips for picking out just the right spot to plop down your sleeping bag. I lived in SE so spent several trips camping out up top. It was mostly fun, except for the guy who played bagpipes…all night long. Help.

  2. I was suggested this blog by way of my cousin. I’m no longer certain whether this publish is written by him as nobody else recognize such designated approximately my problem. You are amazing! Thanks!

  3. Getting ready to groom up for a Bike trip to Alaska. Which Port in Washington does the Alaskan State Ferry pull into?
    Anyone here Bike through the Canada and Alaska? Give me a ring! Thanks, Randy

  4. Excellent beat ! I wish to apprentice whilst you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a weblog website? The account helped me a appropriate deal. I have been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered vibrant transparent concept

  5. Awesome! I had no idea you could camp on the Alaskan ferries. How cool! (Or… warm? Haha.)

    I arrived in Alaska on a ship, too – one of those ginormous cruise ships you saw. Last summer, I went on an Alaskan cruise with my family. It was fantastic! The scenery up there is so amazing.

  6. I have never heard of camping on a boat – what a juxtaposition! i would def chalk this up to a cool off the beaten track (or beaten boat for that matter) experience! enjoy alaska!

  7. That looks like fun! We took a few big ferries like that in Greece. There were no tents, but bodies wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags sprawled all over the decks. You could sleep inside the ferry on the floors too, but it was so smokey and there were blaring televisions on all night.

  8. I didn't know they had ferries to Alaska like this where you camp. I'm not sure I would be able to sleep, but I guess if you are taking in those views you probably don't really care.

  9. I drove to Alaska from Seattle, and took the Ferry all the way back from Homer to Washington State. For me, it is the best way to travel, as you get to meet the local people, and have uniterrupted scenery and time to ones self. Great post!

  10. This sounds like SO. MUCH. FUN!

    I never knew you could travel to Alaska by ferry, or that you could pitch a freakin' tent on the deck. I imagine some aspects to the journey are less than ideal, but I'd still want to give it a try. 🙂

    1. Lol, yeah — definitely one of those thing you have to try. We'll do it again for sure. The only time I'd advise against doing it is when you have limited time in Alaska. The state is freaking huge enough as it is and the 3 days spent on the ferry could be better spent on exploring.

  11. Oooh, very interesting! I went on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago, but I didn't realize there was a state ferry! I'm not a great sleeper and have trouble falling asleep in anything other than a bed, so I would probably be a sleep-deprived zombie if I went on that journey! But wow, it looks like you guys had some incredible views.

    1. @emily @erica Yup. I call it the poor people's cruise. It departs Bellingham and it goes to all the main cities in Alaska. You can also take your car with you onto the ferry.

  12. I've always wanted to take the ferry up to Alaska! I even almost planned to do it this year, but decided to do a road trip from Chicago to Maine instead. Maybe next year. I'll be coming back to this post when I do finally make the plan because you have some great tips. Thanks!

  13. Camping on a ship!?!! Man… my bucket list just increased a line. Really cool article! I love the personality of your writing. ^-^
    Interestingly, a photographer friend of mine works aboard an Alaskan cruise-liner. I ran an article about being "Paid to Cruise". It's linked to my name on this comment if you're interested. If not, no hard feelings.
    What would you say was the most challenging part of the trip? The lack of night? No privacy?


    1. Sure, I'll check it out it sounds interesting.
      The most challenging part of the trip? Hmm… I'd say that the first 1-2 days were tough because there was no thing to see but water everywhere. Bring tons of books or a gameboard to play with fellow passengers 🙂

    1. Juneau is lovely. We had an awesome couchsurfing host that let us borrow his car so we got a chance to explore Juneau pretty thoroughly. For a small city, it has so much to offer.

  14. This is great! I was looking at some variations on doing this as a post-TBEX trip. Glad to hear it's a good experience! How was the food?

    1. Your standard cafeterian fare. Nothing too special, I'm afraid 🙂 We had our camping gear with us so we ended up cooking half the time.

Comments are closed.