Road Scholar : Home
The Best of Alaska’s Inside Passage

Program Number: 1017RJ
Start and End Dates:
10/16/2015 - 10/23/2015; 4/15/2016 - 4/22/2016; 4/22/2016 - 4/29/2016; 9/30/2016 - 10/7/2016; 10/7/2016 - 10/14/2016; 10/14/2016 - 10/21/2016; 10/21/2016 - 10/28/2016;
Duration: 7 nights
Location: Bellingham, Washington
Price starting at: $2,249.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: On the Road
Meals: 20; 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 7 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian; Gluten Free; Low Fat; Low Salt    

Board the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry in Bellingham, Washington, to explore Alaska’s famed Inside Passage the up-close Alaskan way. The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry serves as public transportation in Southeast Alaska and therefore you'll have the opportunity to interact with the people and culture along your journey. As with all public transportation, the schedule for the ferry requires participants to be flexible with the itinerary and ports of call. Because this is how real Alaskans travel, the politics, industry and lifestyle of Alaskans come to light on this eight-day voyage. From Bellingham to Skagway and back, glide past mountains, deep fjords and verdant forests, and take advantage of opportunities for whale watching and eagle viewing.


• Absorb Alaska’s natural wonders including glaciers and the bald eagles that populate the coastal islands.
• Study the culture of the Tlingit people and life in the fishing villages of Alaska’s panhandle.
• The ports of call along your journey include Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Haines, Juneau and Skagway.

Activity Particulars

Walking up to 1.5 miles, uneven terrain.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Bellingham, embark Alaska Marine Highway Ferry, 7 nights; disembark Bellingham, departure.

Coordinated by Road Scholar.


Perched on hills overlooking a busy harbor, Bellingham faces the southern end of Georgia Strait, dotted with islands in the distance. This relaxed university town is 50 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia., and near North Cascades National Park.


Alaska’s southernmost city, Ketchikan is a major port on the Inside Passage, a protected route that ships can use to sail up and down the Pacific coast of North America. Home to a major fishing industry, Ketchikan is known as “Salmon Capital of the World.” Ketchikan also boasts the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.


The native tribes of southeastern Alaska once thrived in this unique and diverse area where the wet, temperate forest meets the dry, boreal forest. Today, Juneau is a destination for those seeking the region’s rich history and amazing environment.


The Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 took Skagway by storm as prospectors poured in seeking riches. Today, this seaside town in the southwest Alaskan corner retains much of its mining era charms, including a historic downtown and narrow-gauge railroad.


This community, nestled on the west side of Baranof Island, is one of the most beautiful Alaskan seaside towns. Flanked by the Pacific and snowcapped mountains, it boasts a heritage of Native culture, Russian history and Alaskan wilderness. Sitka also lies at the heart of the largest temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest.

Double-occupancy ferry cabins, private baths, upper and lower berths with ladder. Elevator to decks. The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry is public transportation; therefore the cabins are small and basic in nature with limited storage space.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Karen Christner

Karen Christner has made Alaska her home since journeying there with her husband, Jere, and their three children more than 30 years ago. After pursuing careers as an entrepreneur and substitute teacher, Karen became a Road Scholar coordinator through the University of Alaska. Soon, she embraced a role as a Road Scholar instructor and has shared her love for Alaska’s natural beauty, culture and local cuisine with lifelong learners.
Jere Christner

Jere Christner loves to share the joys of living in Alaska during his role as a Road Scholar group leader, instructor, and coordinator. Jere moved to Alaska after accepting a position with the U.S. Forest Service, and specialized in ecology, wildlife management, watershed, and subsistence. Since retiring, Jere and his wife, Karen, have shared their expertise of the sciences, natural resources and government of Alaska with lifelong learners.
Meals and Lodgings
   Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
  Inside Passage, Alaska and Washington 7 nights
 Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Type: Other
  Description: The Alaska Marine Highway provides an opportunity to experience coastal Alaska at an unhurried pace and in close-up detail. As your vessel glides through the waters of the Inside Passage or along Alaska's rugged coastline, you may see whales, dolphins, sea otters, eagles, and perhaps even bears. In addition to interesting ports of call, you will pass fishing outposts, small villages, and see Alaska's bustling maritime activity from the decks of the ferry. The Alaska Marine Highway has been named an All-American Road, a rare national designation that recognizes the spectacular and unique experiences it offers travellers.
  Ship Information: The M/V Columbia is the largest vessel of the Marine Highway fleet. Launched by Lockheed Shipbuilding in Seattle in 1974, the Columbia is 418 feet long, with capacity for 499 passengers and 134 vehicles (20' lengths). Its 103 total cabins include 44 four-berth units, and 56 two-berth units. The Columbia boasts a fine dining room. Alternative ferries are the Matanuska and the Malaspina. The M/V Matanuska was built by Puget Sound Bridge & Dry Dock Company of Seattle and began service in 1963. In 1968 the vessel was lengthened and renovated. It now carries 499 passengers, and provides 4 four-berth, 21 three-berth, and 80 two-berth cabins. The Matanuska is 408 feet long, with capacity for 88 vehicles (20' lengths), and has a service speed of 16.5 knots. The M/V Malaspina was designed by Nickum & Spaulding Associates of Seattle, WA; and was built in 1963 at the Lockheed Shipbuilding Yards in Seattle. She sailed Alaskan waters proudly and well for nine years, then underwent lengthening and renovation which was completed June 6, 1972. When she left the Willamette Iron and Steel Co. shipyard in Portland, OR., she was indeed a “new ship”—she had been cut in two , and had 56 ft. added to her middle. The additions included the new solarium, and remodeling of the dining area, cocktail lounge, cafeteria, and all other public areas. Stateroom capacity was increased from 100 to 284 berthing accommodations. The Malaspina is 408 ft. long and 74 ft. wide, and her gross tonnage is 2,928. She has a service speed of 16.5 knots, and is driven by two V12-cylinder, 4000 HP Enterprise Diesel engines.
  Contact info: N/A
Juneau, AK 99801 USA
phone: 800-642-0066
  Room amenities: All rooms are double occupancy. If you have not specified a roommate, we will assign one for you. The berths are upper and lower bunk beds. The upper bunk is accessed by a ladder. Cabins are small and basic in nature with limited storage space. Cabins are made up with fresh linen at start of the trip, but daily housekeeping service does not exist. Fresh towels and sheets are available upon request. Linen exchange halfway through the trip will be arranged by the Group Leader.
  Facility amenities: A cafeteria, gift shop, cocktail lounge, solarium, and forward observation lounge round out the passenger amenities.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Check in time: 4:00 AM
  Check out time: 8:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Meet at Alaska Marine Highway Terminal (Bellingham Cruise Terminal) at 4:00 PM for an introductory program. You will be staying at Alaska Marine Highway Ferry that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends at the Alaska Marine Highway Terminal (Bellingham Cruise Terminal). Expected arrival time is 8:00 AM. You will be staying at Alaska Marine Highway Ferry the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. A photo ID (drivers license or passport) is required each time you board the vessel. The Coast Guard requires some basic information about who will be onboard the ferry. We ask that you complete the enclosed "Required information for ferry boarding" form and return it to the program provider in advance of the program. It is important to include your full legal name (first, middle and last) on this form.
  Parking availability:
Parking is available at the ferry terminal in a locked facility. Payment for parking is by cash or check. A self-pay station is located at the entrance (currently $30 per week). For additional information, call the Port of Bellingham at 360-676-2500.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Inside Passage, Alaska and Washington
  Nearest city or town:  Seattle
  Nearest highway: I-5
  Nearest airport:  Bellingham International Airport
  From End of Program
  Location: Inside Passage, Alaska and Washington
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details



From Airport




Yellow Cab
phone: 360-734-8294


Per Person/One Way:


Approximately $25.00 per car load
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


20 minutes 




10 miles


When booking your flights for Bellingham, be sure to include additional time for unexpected travel delays. We encourage you to arrive early the day the program begins. We recommend that your flight arrives in Bellingham by 2:30 PM the first day of the program. Lockers are available on Fridays for ferry passengers for $1 per day (plus a $5 deposit). Lockers are roller bag sized. If you arrive early, we suggest walking to the community of Fairhaven to explore the cafés and shops.




From Train Station






The Amtrak and bus station is within 0.25 miles from the ferry depot.


SeaTac Airport


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Bellair Airporter Shuttle
phone: 866-235-5247
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Adult: $37 one way, $68 roundtrip; Senior (60+) $35 one way, $65 roundtrip
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


2.5 hours (could be longer with traffic) 


Bellingham drop off points are: Airport, McDonald's and Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT). Pickups/drop offs at BCT are only on days the Alaska Ferry arrives / departs so bookings must be made in advance. Meet the Bellair shuttle outside of the baggage claim, door #00. Visit for additional information. Shuttle schedule is contingent on ferry schedule. Please plan your flights accordingly.

Driving Directions
  Bellingham (from Seattle) Travel I-5 North to Bellingham. Take exit 250. Follow the signs to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (approximately 1.5 miles). It is easy to find, and the route is well marked. The Port of Bellingham has a number of convenient parking areas near the Alaska Marine Highway Terminal (Bellingham Cruise Terminal) and Fairhaven Transportation Station. Payment for parking is by cash or check (made out to the Port of Bellingham) in US funds. The long term parking lot is located across from the Fairhaven Transportation Station on Harris Avenue. The parking lot gate is locked in the evenings between 10:45 and 11:00 PM and is reopened each morning between 6:30 and 7:30 AM. A self-pay station is located at the entrance. Pay slots correspond to parking stall numbers. Current rates are $6 daily and $30 weekly. For additional information, contact the Port of Bellingham at 360-676-2500.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Arrive, Check-In, Board Ferry, Orientation
(Friday, October 16)
 Arrive To: *Please note: typically check in at the ferry terminal begins at 4:00 PM, however, the ferry schedule has not yet been released for this date. We will correspond with participants as soon as the ferry schedule is confirmed.* Group will meet in the upstairs portion of the terminal which is accessible by elevator or stairs. The group will walk onto the ferry from this location.
 Afternoon: Board vessel, locate your room and orient yourself to the vessel.
 Dinner: Meals are taken in the ferry cafeteria. There isn't dedicated eating space for our group. Instead will take our meals with the general ridership. Food is ample and good and there are several choices, often including seafood.
 Evening: Program orientation and introductions
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: British Columbia / Inside Passage
(Saturday, October 17)

Note: Outdoor walks of 1/2 mi in each town

 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: Introduction to Alaska terminology will start off our morning. An overview of the State of Alaska will help orient you to Alaska's Inside Passage and the areas we will visit. This day is spent enjoying the scenery of British Columbia, and we will not be making a port of call. Watching for orca and humpback whales, as well as bald eagles, will be high on the agenda. Several programs will be offered for you to attend, but programs stop for wildlife sightings. Two open water crossings, Queen Charlotte Sound and Milbanke Sound are negotiated today.
 Lunch: In the ferry cafeteria
 Afternoon: Pre-port lecture for the city of Ketchikan. Meet and greet reception in the bar.
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Ketchikan / Wrangell
(Sunday, October 18)
 Breakfast: In ferry cafeteria
 Morning: During the night we crossed into Alaskan waters. An orientation talk will prepare us for the first port of call, Ketchikan. We will take an excursion through Ketchikan and learn about its history and lifestyle with an emphasis on the native culture.
 Lunch: In ferry cafeteria
 Afternoon: Back aboard, we make our way through the Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage toward Wrangell. The port talk will cover interesting items of Wrangell's history, including the John Muir connection. If time allows, we will take a brief walking tour in Wrangell, a logging community.
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
 Evening: Free time--the observation lounge is a great place to spend an evening watching the lights as the ferry sails along. If you want to read a book, the best location is the cafeteria area as the observation lounge lights turn off at night so as not to obstruct the navigation of the ferry.
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Juneau / Skagway
(Monday, October 19)

Note: Walking into Skagway from ferry 1 mile roundtrip. Walking tour of Skagway 1 mile

 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: We'll pass Juneau during the night. In Haines we'll take a bus tour of Old Fort Seward; this is the site of the Chilkoot Barracks, the only U.S. military base in Alaska until WWII. During the tour we'll visit the Alaska Indian Arts, which preserves traditional native cultural artifacts and crafts of the tribes of the Northwest Coast. If time permits, we may have the opportunity to see a native carver or artist at work. After the tour we'll continue on our way to Skagway.
 Lunch: In the ferry cafeteria
 Afternoon: This afternoon we continue northward up the Lynn Canal, one of the most stunning fjords in the world. Instructors offer educational programming along the way on our journey to Skagway and Haines.This is the route of the goldminers seeking gold in the Yukon. There will be a short stop in Haines and a longer stop in Skagway where we will disembark and walk the gold-mining era town.
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Excursion in Sitka
(Tuesday, October 20)

Note: Walking of up to 1/2 mi in town. Standing for 1/2 hour for Bishop's House tour

 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: We will stop again in Juneau during the night and the ferry will then head to Sitka arriving early in the afternoon.
 Lunch: In the ferry cafeteria--if departure for a port visit is scheduled close to the start of lunch, it is possible to get a sandwich to take with you from the cafeteria.
 Afternoon: The Russian Colonial town of Sitka is characterized by the onion-domed spires of St Michael's Orthodox Cathedral in the center of town. We will have a guided tour of the Russian Bishop's House. It is one of 4 original Russian Colonial Era buildings in North America, and the best preserved. There may be some time for you to look around Sitka on your own before returning to the ferry for our transit back through the Sergius Narrows where we hug the shoreline for excellent wildlife viewing.

We retrace our route southward to Petersburg and Wrangell. The Wrangell Narrows is another passage where we are very close to the shore and where the ship makes numerous course corrections that are interesting to watch.
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
 Evening: Free Time
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Ketchikan / Cross into British Columbia in the evening
(Wednesday, October 21)

Note: 1/2 mile walk around the town of Ketchikan

 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: Return to Ketchikan and have another chance to learn about this community. After we depart, we will continue our educational programs and cross into British Columbian waters during the night.
 Lunch: In the ferry cafeteria
 Afternoon: On board
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Classes and viewing scenery and wildlife
(Thursday, October 22)
 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: No stops scheduled for today. We will be on the lookout for wildlife and the red-roofed Canadian lighthouses.
 Lunch: In the ferry cafeteria
 Afternoon: Instructors continue with presentations along the way
 Dinner: In the ferry cafeteria
 Evening: After dinner participants join together one last time for some departure information, closing thoughts and farewells to our sailing companions.
Accommodations: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Program Concludes in Bellingham
(Friday, October 23)
 Depart From: *Please note: typically the ferry arrives at 8:00 AM, however, the ferry schedule has not yet been released for this date. We will correspond with participants as soon as the ferry schedule is confirmed.*
 Breakfast: In the ferry cafeteria
 Morning: This concludes our program. We hope you enjoyed your Road Scholar learning adventure. We look forward to having you join us on future Road Scholar programs. Please be in touch via the Road Scholar Social Network to share memories, pictures and comments. Best wishes and safe travels.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Inside Passage, Alaska and Washington Alaska State Chamber of Commerce
For additional information, visit
  Bellingham/Whatcom County Convention & Visitor's Bureau
For additional information, visit
  Fairhaven in Bellingham, WA
The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Terminal has luggage lockers that can be rented for a small fee from the terminal's front desk. If you arrive early, you may rent a locker for your luggage and walk to this area of Bellingham which is about 4 blocks from the ferry building. This area has many restaurants and shops. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List


Author: James Michner

Alaska Trees and Shrubs

Author: Leslie Viereck and Elbert Little

Best Tales of the Yukon

Author: Robert Service

Description: Robert W. Service, a bank clerk, began writing about the Yukon after he was transferred to the Whitehorse Branch of a Canadian bank six years after the Klondike Gold Rush. Inspired by the beauty of the Yukon wilderness, Robert Service wrote some of the most expressive poetry of his age. Many favorites from Service's poetry, which depicts the trials and tribulations of the Yukon gold mining life, are included in "Tales from the Yukon"-including such memorable poems as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," "The Law of the Yukon," and "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

Guide to the Birds of Alaska

Author: Robert H. Armstrong

Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast

Author: Hilary Stewart

Roadside Geology of Alaska

Author: Cathy Conner and Daniel O'Haire

The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush

Author: Pierre Berton

Description: In 1897 a grimy steamer docked in Seattle and set into epic motion the incredible succession of events that Pierre Berton's exhilarating The Klondike Fever chronicles in all its splendid and astonishing folly. For the steamer Portland bore two tons of pure Klondike gold. And immediately, the stampede north to Alaska began.

The Nature of Southeast Alaska

Author: Robert H. Armstrong, Rita M O'Clair & Richard Carstensen

The Sea Runners

Author: Ivan Doig

Description: In this timeless survival story, four indentured servants escape their Russian Alaska work camp in a stolen canoe, only to face a harrowing journey down the Pacific Northwest coast. Battling unrelenting high seas and fierce weather from New Archangel, Alaska, to Astoria, Oregon, the men struggle to avoid hostile Tlingit Indians, to fend off starvation and exhaustion, and to endure their own doubt and distrust. Although fictional it is based on an actual incident in 1853.

The Thousand Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians

Author: Brian Garfield

Description: The Thousand-Mile War, a powerful story of the battles of the United States and Japan on the bitter rim of the North Pacific, has been acclaimed as one of the great accounts of World War II.

Travels in Alaska

Author: John Muir

Description: Take a trip to last century's Alaska through Muir's clean, easy-going, enthusiastic prose. He wrote the way he took pictures, with insight, attention, care and genuine feeling.

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