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From Seattle to Anchorage: Ferry or Drive?

The ultimate guide when you want to travel from Seattle to Anchorage in Alaska. Not a short ride, as you need to cover a distance of at least 2200 miles (3500 km) to bring you to Anchorage in Alaska from Seattle. This guide is written for people who want to travel there in their own car.

First Step: Getting to Bellingham from Seattle

If you want to take the ferry or if you want to drive there is one thing you must do: You have to start at Bellingham. That's where the Alaska Marine Highway System (the Ferry) starts and also where the road moves more inward if you decide to drive all the way. Bellingham is only one and a half hours away from Seattle. So this is a relatively short drive. In Bellingham you can do two things:

  1. Drive all the way up to Anchorage.
  2. Pick a Ferry toward Whittier.
  3. Pick a Ferry toward Haines.

1. Driving all the way from Seattle to Anchorage

Sleep is your biggest enemy if you want to travel fast and safely to Anchorage since you simply have to sleep well if you make those very long drives. In northern British Columbia and Yukon Canada, there are free campgrounds at reasonable intervals you can use. Sleeping in your car would also help get you there earlier.

Important: Don’t pass a fueling station, and don't count on fueling stations being open between 5 pm and 8 am, this is especially the case north of central BC. (And don’t count on the fueling stations being open at all in February/March.)

If you have two serious drivers and your aim is to get there fast, you can do the trip to Anchorage by car in about 52 hours. With one driver it would probably take 72 to 84 hours as you have to sleep more. In a normal trip, this would mean you would be traveling for 4 days and 3 nights.

A nice place to take a second break on your trip is the Liard Hot Springs (if you take the Cassiar route). This is a spot 21 hours from Bellingham. The first stop could also be a hotel in Prince George which is a 9-hour drive from Bellingham.

Liard Hot Springs
Liard Hot Springs on the route from Seattle to Anchorage

When you take this drive: Prepare well, you are traveling through sparsely populated areas.

2. The Ferry from Bellingham to Whittier

The Ferry to Whittier would make your total travel time to Anchorage about 100 hours.

The car ferry from Bellingham to Whittier is a ferry that would cost $3000 to $5000. This ferry might stop in between and this is also a ferry you need to book in advance.

You can only do this in summer when the ferry is running from Juneau to Homer/Whittier/Valdez.

The total travel time on the ferry would be 97 hours.

Bellingham to Ketchikan: 38 hours
Ketchikan to Juneau: 20 hours
Juneau to Yakutat: 17 hours
Yakutat to Whittier: 22 hours

You wouldn't have to drive far anymore though. Whittier to Anchorage would only take another 1 hour. So you would end up at your destination in more or less 100 hours.

3. The ferry from Bellingham to Ketchikan

After reaching Ketchikan from Bellingham continue the Alaska Highway inside passage to other cities like Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, and finally Haines. That is where you need to disembark to take the final drive to Anchorage.

Driving from Haines to Anchorage is still a 14-hour drive. But you should be well rested and up for this drive after leaving the ferry.

The Ferry is about to leave Haines. Be sure to disembark for your final drive if you take the third option.

The total travel time on the ferry would be 60 hours.

Bellingham to Ketchikan: 38 hours
Ketchikan to Wrangell: 6 hours
Wrangell to Petersburg: 3 hrs 30 mins
Petersburg to Juneau: 8 hours
Juneau to Haines: 4 hrs 30 mins

When you add the 1.5 hours to get to Bellingham and the check-in time (2 hours) and the final drive of 14 hours and one or two stops: You would reach Anchorage from Seattle in about 79 hours.

Conclusion to Anchorage: Drive or Ferry?

When you have two experienced drivers and you are happy to miss something as nice as a ferry experience (amazing views!) we would personally simply go for a drive. As it's also a lot cheaper than taking the ferry.

When you have only one experienced driver and you really want to go for an adventure we would take the ferry to Haines. You'll be in about 80 hours in Anchorage and you would combine a few long drives with the ferry experience. The 100-hour option all the way to Whittier we would only go for if you really want to get to Anchorage in the most relaxed way possible.

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