North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part 3

This past summer we visited Alaska, Yukon and BC with our standard poodle Toby. We traveled with a travel trailer and took the Black Ball Ferry, BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry up to Alaska and then drove back on the Alaska Highway. So can you take your dog on these ferries, which travel hundreds of miles between ports at times and can transport you and your vehicles thousands of miles on a trip between the lower 48 or BC and Alaska? You can, but there are many restrictions and that can make it difficult. Here is a summary of the rules and operations as it relates to pets on the Black Ball Ferry, the BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry System. The first part was about the Black Ball Ferry and the second part was about the BC Ferry. This part covers the Alaska Ferry.

The Alaska Ferry

We took the Alaska Ferry from Prince Rupert, BC to Juneau, AK. We took the M/V Taku, which is not the most advanced ship in the Alaska Ferry Fleet. The boat stopped in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake and Juneau. The trip took a total of 32 hours, including stops in port. Later, we took the M/V Matanuska, a larger ship, from Juneau to Haines, AK. This was a 4 1/2 hour trip. The Alaska Ferry has many other routes, such as from Bellingham, WA to Juneau with many of the above stops, shorter trips from Juneau to outlying areas such as Sitka, The long cross gulf trip from Juneau to Whittier and various other Alaska routes. There are currently 11 ships in the fleet.

The M/V Taku, although reasonably comfortable, was not even close to the quality of the BC Ferry ship that we took. It was considerably smaller, had far less room in the car deck for vehicles and crammed vehicles very tightly together and was clearly a much older vessel. There was a restaurant with limited hours, a number of lounges and a small bar. There were state rooms, but they were small and we were told by the crew that we had to keep our kids quieter since the crew was in state rooms nearby. However, the scenery is beautiful and there are a number of outside decks where you can view it. Also, there is a sundeck where some people slept and even tented. Again, dogs must remain on the car deck and people are not allowed on the car deck during sailings, only in port. For sailings with no port calls for over 8 hours they have a scheduled short pet call on the car deck where your dog can do their business and be fed. People who took the 2 day sailing from Bellingham to Juneau with their dogs said that they had 4 pet visits per 24 hours. On our cruise, the longest segments at sea were 7 hours, with others around 3 hours, 5 hours, and 6 hours. At each port we could go to the RV, take the dog out to the shore, and have between 30 minutes and 1 hour to walk on shore. Then it was back to the RV for the next segment. Unlike the BC Ferry, there was no separate room for kennels on the car deck so dogs with walk-on passengers would be in a kennel directly on the car deck. Some things to keep in mind on the Alaska Ferry for people traveling with dogs are:
– The cars, trucks and RVs are very tightly packed. You need to make sure, by staying with your vehicle until nearby cars are parked, that the doors will open to allow you to take your dog out. If you assume that this will be the case you may be surprised. Also, new vehicles come and go at each stop.
– There are a number of cargo trucks, some with powered refrigeration units. These create heat around them and it may get hot on the car deck near these trucks.
– If you are on a longer trip where your dog must do his business on the ferry there is not much room compared to the BC Ferry.
– Kenneled dogs are kept directly in the center of the car deck.
– You will not be able to see your dog except in port or, if very long segments of over 8 hours, a short pet call. We had two segments of 7 hours. Our dog did better on the first segments, but clearly appeared to be getting tired of the drill by the last segment. You may consider breaking the trip into the shortest possible ferry rides and stay overnight in a few of the stops so that you can all recover.
– The Alaska Ferry is very serious about the “No Access’ to the car deck while the ship is at sea. These is unlike the BC Ferry, which may possibly take you down if necessary. (See the sign in the photo). They blame “Coast Guard Regulation” but we asked a Coast Guard Person who told us that the only regulation is that a crew member must be on the car deck with passenger visits at sea and the Alaska Ferry itself allows visits at sea on the longer routes. If it was illegal, they couldn’t do that.

As on the BC Ferry, our dog did ok, but we did hear about and see some dogs who clearly took the trip hard, and were shaking or clearly upset at some of the ports. The shorter trips, such as the Juneau to Haines trip (4 1/2 hours) are ok, but clearly consider avoiding either the long trip from Bellingham to Southeast Alaska or the Cross Gulf Ferry to Whittier in central Alaska near Anchorage. Also, as you make stop after stop, the longer trip takes it’s toll on the dogs. Keep it as short as possible is the best advise that we can give.

If you do plan to make the trip from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska by ferry with a dog then the way we did the trip is probably the best way. Drive to Port Hardy, take the 15 hour BC Ferry to Prince Rupert and take the Alaska Ferry to Juneau. If we did it again, we would probably stop overnight in Ketchikan or Wrangell (a really small town that is very scenic) to break up the trip. Also, carefully choose your scheduled ferry as some of these trips take up to 45 hours, others as low as 30. To your dog that makes a difference.

Suggested Improvements for The Alaska Ferry

The Alaska Ferry could significantly improve the experience of travelers with dogs by some or all of the following suggested improvements:
– Have a number of cabins (say 2 – 4) with kennels in them and a dog can be allowed in the kennel in the cabin. Other than the walk to the nearest stairs they can be forbidden access to the rest of the ship. They could easily charge a significant premium for this service.
– Allow dogs on the outside decks or some of them. There is plenty of room. Many people would stay outside with a dog if it was required, at least on some segments.
– Have an on-board kennel on the passenger decks such as the Queen Mary has where you can visit with your dog during the trip.
– For dogs on the car deck the Alaska Ferry crew could be more understanding of the issues of pet owners. They could put something on each car that has a dog so that the loading crew keeps the doors clear and keeps them away from refrigeration trucks.
– Allow visits every 2 – 3 hours like the BC Ferry. Or allow you to buy access more often for something like $10 per visit to pay their crewmember to attend with you.

If these improvements were made, we would be happy to take the Alaska Ferry with our dogs.

More information on the Alaska Ferry and a link to the Alaska Ferry Website

17 Responses to “North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part 3”

  1. arizonatoalaska says:

    These rules are in place because of so many bad dog owners and lawyers. Plain and simple.

  2. Peggy says:

    I am a frequent traveler on the Alaska State Ferry and have no problems with my dogs and cat when traveling. They have been trained to travel with me, and plenty of room in the vehicle. The crew of the State ferry takes good care of them and I have never had a problem with their comfort. Even during a trip from Bellingham to Haines the dog did fine and wasn’t distressed. One thing to bear in mind is that the weather that the ALASKA State ferry travels through can be rough at times, therefore it can cause your animal some distress, so you need to keep that in mind. For many of us, this is the only way in or out of the villages during the year so don’t judge our highway system by your standards.

  3. Ann says:

    Thank you all for your info. We had planned on driving to AK in our motor home, then taking the ferries throughout the panhandle. But, after doing our own research, decided that AK is not in the cards for us. My husband spent a lot of time in Alaska, and I always wanted to go. Our English Cocker is part of the family and would be terrified on the car deck. He’s ten years old and very gentle and loving. He’d never treat us that way. Afraid Alaska is out of the question for us. Don’t know why they don’t allow people to sit in their vehicles during travel. The State of Washington ferries do. Anyway, thank you for all of the information. BTW, Oregon is VERY dog friendly. We have lived in Calif, WA. Oregon and Florida. Oregon is by far the most dog friendly.

  4. lollie says:

    What you are suggesting will never happen for the Alaska Hwy. Main reason they don’t want passengers down (even with a purser which is what they tell you on the phone) is the crew doesn’t want to clean up the urine and feces, much less accidents on the way to the car deck. Am sure there is a liability issue as well with other passengers.

    BC Ferry is a whole other ball game. # 1 it’s not nearly as crowded; it’s not the main highway for freight as well as passengers as it is in southeast Alaska. #2 after the ferry was grounded a few years ago BC built a beautiful new boat. The Alaskan ferries go back to the 60’s. This is the first year for the renovated Columbia…but bet it still won’t be as nice and modern as the BC Ferry.

    I’ve taken all of the ferries you mention many times for 35 years. Other problem now with the AK ferry is they allow people to sleep in the lounges. So unfortunately they snag areas of 5-6 seats…makes it very difficult for people to find a place to sit. They should be relegated to the sun deck like in the old days where we pitched tents, then came in and sat, not slept.

  5. Jonna Austin says:

    We have traveled numerous times on the Alaska Marine Highway System (ferries) and our two dogs, a cocker spaniel and a tibetan terrier. We have found the state employees who work on the ferries to be helpful and pleasant when dealing with the issue of pet travel. Our dogs travel a LOT, so they are accustomed to being in our vehicle. I think they view it as their second home. Therefore, as long as their food and water is there, and as long as they get an occasional pee/poop break, they are just fine with it. It would be nice if they could be with us, but it’s just no big deal. Our biggest problem is getting them to poop on deck…they know better. But if push comes to shove (on long segments) they will do what’s necessary. We love the ferries. I would prefer the ferries, where I do have some control, to the airlines, where I do not.

  6. tina says:

    I have taken my pet on the fast ferry from haines to skagway and back,so far no issues and it was free, just have to sit on the upper outside deck, no biggie.. And we did the short hop from skagway to haines on the alaska ferry and no fee ,and yes my dog had to stay in the car,the ferry ride was 1hr,but longer since the car had to be parked earlier,while they get the cars ready and packed.. cars are usually parked by cars and capmer/rv/fifth wheels are usually next or side by side,also depending which one is getting off at each port,will determine where you are parked on the car deck?

  7. Monica says:

    I will bring my English cocker spaniel for the 5th holiday around Usa and Canada: this summer will be Alaska and Yukon; thanks to Dogfriendly,we won’t take Alaska ferry but a flight with pet friendly United to Anchorage…
    In Europe and finally in Italy too, we have ferries where we can bring pets on board, of course on outside deck, and in special petfriendly cabins: we are leaving soon for a week to Corse, our dog is well accepted everywhere on Corsica Ferries, there is a part of the deck where dogs can do thier businesses and people can wash with water, we also can take him to tables close to restaurant; there are lots of well behavied dogs , better than children, and the ship is always clean (it should be impossible for an european, especially german or swiss, to leave the dog among cars and Rv, here you can take pets also on trains and restaurants, for an european is hard sometimes to understand all the American laws about pets..)

  8. AKPets says:

    This article about the pet situation is far overblown. I travel twice a year with pets on the marine highway with out any problems what so ever, also if you have concerns about your pet you are able to go at any time if accompanied by a crew member. And they do NOT charge you a fee as the author claimed. Also if you simply mention that you have a pet they will accommodate a parking spot so you have plenty of room to check on and let your pet out during car deck calls for them to do their business. Granted this is not as ideal as staying at home with your pets but with frequent access to the car deck, every 2-4 hours (which has been the policy for the last decade) the trip is not taxing on any pets except those who are so poorly adjusted that they cant spend a small amount of time away from their owners. Contrary to popular belief the car deck is climate controlled and the air is completely replaced at least every 10 minutes so that is not a concern that should be held.

    For anyone traveling through alaska I would definitely recommend travel on the ferry over flying as flying is often far and away more stressful. The other option would be to avoid the panhandle and just take the alaska highway and have the pets with you in the car or just stay home.

    That being said despite some negative attitudes towards the ferry system it is a great way to travel with and without pets and the crew are always willing to go out of their way to accommodate travelers and their pets.

  9. I found your reviews by searching for boarding kennels in Port Hardy and after talking to a travel agent and reading the Ferry info about pets. So very glad I did as it confirmed all my fears. I had never thought of “not being able to get the doors of our RV open” to let our 75 pound German Shep out for the 15 to 20 minute break when and if the stewards called for the time. I was considering the short Ferry trips( 5 or less hours) and maybe even the Port Hardy to Prince Rupert one ( 7:30 AM to 10:30 PM) which is out now. Considering only the short hops from town to town. This certainly helps us redo our trip plans. I was a Humane Society director and this does sound like no one is dog friendly on these Water Taxi travels and it is the money/space that counts and not the animals. I even asked about a dog friendly deck or state room and got a “no can do” answer. So all my concerns were real and this is very comforting to know. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to post this site and I hope all pet owners will read it and not hope for results they surely won’t receive.

  10. Dachshund says:


    When I was seeking Dachshund infomation I found your post on North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part …, thanks….

  11. It is good to see so many people bringing light to cruelty to animals and making things more dog friendly!

  12. Disgusted says:

    Thanks for a great article. I will never travel on the Alaska Ferry. I spoke to their management office about possibly changing the rules about animals and, simply put, they never will. Packing the cars in allows them to get more fees (which are charged by the foot) and they resent pet owners who ask for more room around their vehicle. After the man stopped laughing, he hung up on me. They consider themselves “the only game in town,” serving so many of the small towns in roadless southeast Alaska. They have a stranglehold on the market. But they also do not realize that if you are traveling from Alaska to the Lower 48, an economical driving trip can be done for about the same amount of money as their astronomical fees. So, I’d encourage all pet owners to avoid the Alaska Ferry at all costs. I would even encourage PETA, the ASPCA, and animal groups to investigate their “rules” which are unnecessarily cruel. For a transportation entity that receives state and federal money, the Alaska Ferry System should be investigated.

  13. Jan says:

    Very informative. We would like to travel with our Dachshund but having read your article, we’ll probably drive to Alaska…..Thanks for a great article….jan

  14. Karen Vitulano says:

    Thank you for this very useful information – this is a great service for those of us who can’t imagine having fun on a vacation without our best friend. The Alaska Ferry sounds too extreme and unpleasant an experience for me to impose on my dog. But reading about the Black Ball ferry was hopeful and we are likely to try this out next summer. I hope the Alaska Ferry will take your suggestions for improvement.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Hey, Thanks for your great information. Your site and blog really helped with Mr.Brown’s transition into NYC from CA. Keep up the good work 🙂

  16. We are planning a trip to Alaska next summer and have looked for informative sources on using the ferries. Thanks for an excellent series. As a result, we’ve decided to drive both ways and not subject our “puppy” to the vagaries of the Alaska Ferry.

  17. nancy stohl says:

    Excellent – Thank you.

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