Inside Passage: Ketchikan to Petersburg

Petersburg, nicknamed “Little Norway,” is the next stop on my journey through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Founded by a Norwegian, Peter Buschmann, back in 1910, the streets today are still filled with Nordic flags and decorative paintings called rosemaling. Imagine an island with snow-capped peaks, glaciers, inlets, bald eagles, longliners, seiners, trollers, gillnetters, crabbers, harbors, seaplanes, friendly people, and a road that ends just outside of town. It easily makes my top five list of best isolated towns in America.

With a stopover in Wrangell, it’s an all-day ferry ride from Ketchikan to Petersburg. I was able to book another daytime sailing (because who wants to look out at total darkness) on the larger M/V Columbia. The crew clearly had different loading methods, because this time they made me back in to my parking stall. With a line of cars waiting to board, I managed to squeeze in between a wall, some motorcycles, and a cargo container. I didn’t realize it before, but the ferry terminal in Ketchikan is right near the famed “Bridge to Nowhere,” Alaska’s failed attempt to build a bridge from downtown to the airport/seaplane base. So, as we were waiting in port, dozens of seaplanes were taking off, landing, and circling overhead.

For everyone on board, it’s all about the view. And with a couple hundred eyeballs, it’s pretty easy to know when someone finds something worth looking at. It’s just hard to capture that quick moment on camera. I saw lots of mountains, some rain, several humpback whales, some porpoises, but no bears. The ferries are in much of the same waters that the cruise lines take, and get to see the same sights. In fact, because the ferries are much smaller, they get to take a special shortcut through the Wrangell Narrows. Without question, that was the highlight of the day. The locals call this narrow passage of shallow waters “Christmas Tree Lane.” Why? For a little more than an hour, we “slalomed” through the 70 red and green navigational markers. For this part of the sailing, I hung out in the heated solarium outside, running like a dog back and forth, checking out the sights on both port and starboard sides. Dotted along the shore were makeshift shacks, cabins, homes, and hunting lodges–some with the orange-colored glow of light and smoky chimneys as we passed by in the foggy dusk. It was something I will always remember.

Just before the end of Wrangell Narrows we passed by my eventual campground and successfully docked in Petersburg. I backtracked a couple of miles on the highway, found a campsite right on the water, and quickly went to bed after a pretty long travel day.

Alaska Marine Highway System
Alaska Marine Highway System
M/V Columbia
M/V Columbia
Backed in to spot on M/V Columbia
Backed in to spot on M/V Columbia
Solarium on M/V Columbia
Solarium on M/V Columbia
Snack Bar on M/V Columbia
Snack Bar on M/V Columbia
Dining Room on M/V Columbia
Dining Room on M/V Columbia
Tenting on M/V Columbia
Tenting on M/V Columbia
Waiting in Wrangell
Waiting in Wrangell
Bar lights on M/V Columbia
Bar lights on M/V Columbia
Inside Passage sunset
Inside Passage sunset
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Foggy ferry terminal in Petersburg
Foggy ferry terminal in Petersburg
Campsite at Frog's RV
Campsite at Frog's RV
View from my campsite at Frog's RV
View from my campsite at Frog's RV
South Harbor
South Harbor
South Harbor
South Harbor
South Harbor
South Harbor
Petersbug,
Petersbug, "Little Norway"
Boat yard
Boat yard
M/V Matanuska
M/V Matanuska
Petersburg Harbor
Petersburg Harbor
Petersburg Harbor
Petersburg Harbor
Coast Guard
Coast Guard
Petersbug Harbor
Petersbug Harbor
  • Ericm

    Awesome…..great post….sooooooooo jealous!

  • The picture of where you parked does look like a tight spot like you described, was the ferry completely filled that they needed to use every spare space or they were just being safe in case?

    I never considered a ferry for my Alaska trip, not as much luxury as a cruise, but you save a bunch of money and the views are just as amazing which is basically the whole point. Looks like you can have a pretty awesome view from the dining room which is nice also.

  • Syed

    The kids loved the plane pics – thanks!