Cheap travel to Alaska
August 17, 2011 8:16 PM   Subscribe

What is the cheapest way to get from the Pacific Northwest to Skagway, Alaska?

I'll be reaching the west coast in a few weeks (cross-country bike trip!) and I'm thinking about visiting my friend in Skagway after I get to the coast. The ferry is about $400, though. Is there a way I could take a freighter, as a passenger or crew? Any other ideas that would get me there for, say, $200 or less? I've never hitchhiked long distance, so I don't know how feasible that would be. My priorities are, in decreasing order of importance, cost, fun, convenience, speed.
posted by domnit to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (5 answers total)
The ferry is probably worth it. You can buy a round trip and hop off and then hop back on the next time one is going down there. I have taken the ferry up to Skagway three times with varying levels of fancy. Once where I just brought a tent and slept wherever. Once where I had a bunk room with two other people [sister and friend] and once where I got an actual room with a few beds and a bathroom. It's sort of nice to have a room even if it's a bunk because you have an outlet and you can heat water for tea or ramen or oatmeal or whatever. There's a cafeteria on deck and we'd have one cafeteria meal toegther at night and then just snack during the day. There are a ton of interesting people on the ferry and you can be as social or unsocial as you like. Don't know much about other options but just wanted to say that for several days lodging, the $363 starts looking not too spendy.
posted by jessamyn at 9:31 PM on August 17, 2011

The Inside Passage ferry voyage from Bellingham to Skagway is a wonderful, scenic trip and probably your cheapest, most practical bet. One alternative would be to make your way to Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island then take the BC Ferry to Prince Rupert. You can catch the Alaska ferry to Skagway in Prince Rupert. Port Hardy though is about 300 hilly miles from Victoria, the closest city to Washington state. Wouldn't save you much money either. When I lived in the Yukon I travelled by ferry to and from Skagway several times and would heartily recommend the trip if you can swing it.
The main coastal freight service between Seattle and Skagway is Lynden Transport which runs a container barge weekly but they certainly don't take passengers, thanks in part to the Jones Act. If you were planning your trip in the spring you might be able to get on a fishing boat on its way from Seattle to Alaska for the summer salmon season but you'd probably be expected to work as a deckhand when you arrived in Alaska and there's lots of competition for those jobs.
posted by islander at 9:34 PM on August 17, 2011

You could halve your transportation cost by flying round trip from Seattle to Juneau and catching the ferry from Juneau to Skagway.

I've heard of empty commercial pleasure boats looking for last-minute deckhands, but don't know how you'd hook up with that kind of gig. Maybe spend a week networking on the docks in Bellingham with the hope that it all works out? If you are adventurous enough and can accept that level of risk, you might just as well hitchhike or ride your bike up the Alcan.

Also, used four wheel drive vehicles, esp. subarus, seem to sell quickly and at a premium in Alaska. If you have some money stashed away, it might not be a bad plan to buy something down south and drive it one way (though you might have to take it to Fairbanks or Anchorage to find a large enough market). If you were lucky (and skillful), you could probably make money on the deal, which sort of satisfies the cost requirement. But it wouldn't be fast or convenient. Fun would be highly perspective-dependent.
posted by L'oeuvre Child at 9:38 PM on August 17, 2011

i'm just going to throw this out there, but the last (and only) time i took the ferry prince rupert -> skagway via juneau it was as a walk-on... and they didn't check to see when we got off. if you are seriously tight on cash and game for a risk, buy a walk-on ticket to the next stop on the ferry and just take your chances.
posted by tamarack at 10:24 PM on August 17, 2011

Sign up for the Alaska Airlines newsletter, and hope for an awesome sale.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:24 PM on August 17, 2011

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