Ever heard about the Inside Passage? What it is? Even better, where it is? Over 510 km of Pacific Ocean along the British Columbian coast on a ship with a view of wild marine life from dawn to dust, that’s the Inside Passage.
A stretch of over 1500 km that starts from Seattle, USA, passes by Vancouver Island from the right, straight up to northern British Columbia and the last stretch to Alaska (US).
As I booked our road trip from Calgary around BC and back, I happened upon the Inside Passage when I tried to decide how and where to leave Vancouver Island, in time to fly home after 2.5 weeks.
Choosing what to do on the Island was difficult enough, plus there’s so much to see in BC. When I thus read about the BC ferries trip between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, I had to try and incorporate it.
Traveling is never cheap. Especially not when traveling as a family. But if you can see a third of the Inside Passage and bring your car to continue your trip from Prince Rupert, this ferry ride is so worth it.
Make sure to book at least 6 months in advance to secure a spot for yourself and your car (approx. cost CA$ 1,100 for a family of 5 and a car). Huts are available for the journey too, if you’d like to lie down or take a shower or just feel like reading a book (that would be a waste, but hey…;0) in the peaceful confines of your hut.
Book well in advance
Of course, you can also go as a bike or foot passenger! To not miss out on this fantastically fun and breathtakingly beautiful boat trip, still, make sure to book early enough!
Local commute on the Inside Passage
Geologically speaking the coast is much like Norway’s coast, with steep mountains, fjords, and many deep indentations into the mainland. Beautiful and jagged but hard to travel.
The 16-hour ferry ride, therefore, is not just scenic, to those in the area, this simply is the easiest way to make it to other communities along the coast. To go see family, transport goods and modes of transport like a car, or do some sightseeing on Vancouver Island.
Dawn to Dusk in summer
So, you’ve booked your passage well in advance, and tomorrow is the day. If you’ve been early enough, you’ve managed to secure a room to stay the night in Port Hardy. If not, you may need to get up a tat earlier. The ferry leaves at 7.30 am and you need to be there at 6 am. Get cleared, park your car and/or make it up to one of the many viewing areas or drop your bags off in the hut you booked.
Before you know it, it’s time to sail with daylight skimming the mountains and the water.
Wild marine life in the Inside Passage
From here on in, sit back and relax. Let the stunning surroundings glide by. See this seaway between the mainland and islands that shelter it from the direct onslaught of the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way, look for porpoises, humpback and fin whales play, and sea lions and salmon sharks hunt, playing in the shallower bays closer to shore, sometimes swimming with the ship. The captain and crew help point out any of the marine wildlife with directions over the intercom.
Go for a stroll over and around the deck levels and enjoy the food aboard as both the scenery and the day pass by.
Embarkation and disembarkation puzzle
Since this is a form of public transport, halfway along the way in Bella-Bella, cars, passengers, and lorries will (dis)embark the ferry. It is an interesting puzzle to watch unfold, balancing the cargo leaving the ship with those getting on. Some cars and lorries have to get off, await instructions on land and then follow directions to their new placement in the ferry’s innards for the remainder of the trip.
Sunset and destination
As sunset approaches, so does Prince Rupert, the most northern stop on this stretch of the passage. For about two hours the colours change from bright, clear blues, green, white and happy yellow, to tinges of orange, pink, reds, purples all the way to indigo and black. It’s like a curtain to this incredible landscape. In fact, much like a theater curtain, it changes the mood from excitement about the performance to a wish to settle for the night as the curtain comes down.
Once in Prince Rupert, disembarkation is swift, and most accommodation is within a 5km radius. Time for a nightcap, flicking through the many mental and digital photographs and a good night’s sleep.
Tip: For breakfast make it to the cozy Cowpuccino’s Coffee.
Need to know
- When: June 1- September 30th, 2020, every other day, alternating even/odd-numbered days (In winter months twice a month on average)
- Where: departures from Port Hardy (Vancouver Island) and Prince Rupert (Canada mainland). Some mid-way stops/departures along the coast
- 12 y/o and up CA$175,
- 5-11 y/o CA$87.50
- Kids under 5 are free
Regular car: CA$400,
- bike CA$5,
- motorcycle CA$199.25
- Food: Aboard the ship, 2 restaurants, and a coffee bar
- Travel time: 11 hours total – 07:30h departure from Prince Rupert and/or Port Hardy – arrival 23.30h
Options to extend your stay in and around Prince Rupert
- Take the Alaskan Ferry for the next leg of the Inside Passage
- Stay a couple of days and explore the surroundings through hikes
- Make it over to Haida Gwaii for a few days
- Visit the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary just north of Prince Rupert
This route – Highway 16 – in the northern part of British Columbia takes you through nature in its truest form. From the rugged coast around Prince Rupert, through Nordic Cordilleran Volcanic Province, past fur-trade centers of the past to the Rockies.
The road winds through the landscapes, sometimes curving languidly, sudden steep climbs and descents, and flanked by forests and clear and cold streams or rivers. Here, you encounter a mother bear and her two cubs foraging right next to the road. No sightseeing tours, no guides…just there.
The Ferry Trail
After a few hours’ drive, you’ll want to stretch your legs. Alongside the Highway follow the sign for on the Ferry trail which starts from the campground on the island in the river Skeena. The trail is just shy of 3 km long and makes for an easy walk with views of the river.
Halfway between the coast and the Rockies lies Prince George, the connecting town. It is by far the biggest city which makes sense considering it is the meeting point of two rivers and two intersecting highways. Highway 97 (now) traveling up north through Prince George is the former gold route to the Yukon with towns with illustrious names like 100-Mile House along it. Over this road, they traveled north, after securing their mining licenses in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
The town at first was a fur trading post for the North West Company and it stayed isolated until early last century when plans for the railway to be built here, started to attract farmers, businesses and thus people.
To get a sense of what this development meant for the area, and to see what sorts of carriages have traveled between the coast and the rest of Canada, visit the Central BC Railway and Forestry Museum.
Each class and type
The carriages displayed are in different stages of restoration, some of them looking brand new, others not so much. Not only is there a wide variety of trains from different eras and with vastly different functions. Locomotives, passenger carriages ranging from first-class to no class, and functional trains like the immense snow plows.
What is this?
Mesmerized is the word, I have for this carriage. That’s what I am… mesmerized by it and utterly curious to find out what it was used for. Is it part of a train used in forestation, removing logs from around a track? What are the massive ‘arms’ on the side for and what was in the tank? Fuel?
If you know, please let me know in the comments!
Cottonwood Island trail with wood carvings
Want to go for an easy stroll? If you’re in Prince George and feel like a nice and flat walk try the trail on Cottonwood Island. On the short (2.2 km) loop over the island, look for the wood carvings in the bark of the trees. Birds, a bear, a people’s face, the outside of turret along a long stairwell or a dragon-like below.
The carvings were made by local man Elmer Gunderson who helped built the trails. There are around 17 carvings altogether now.
The quieter part of British Columbia
The area between Prince Rupert and the Canadian Rockies is most definitely the quieter part of this province. A vast difference from the busy-ness of the southern half. Just the sounds of wind through the trees and the absence of human sounds, the forests overwhelm; the vastly green that is everywhere.
Here you see marine wildlife on a ferry trip and happen upon bears by the roadside. This is where they live and we visit. You feel it. In every fiber in and around you.