9 Knockout North American Ferry Routes

A Washington State Ferries boat passes by mountains on a clear day
A Washington State Ferries boat passes by the snow-capped Cascade Mountains.

SteveDF / Getty Images


Ferry systems across North America’s coastal regions shuttle passengers, and often cargo, across stretches of water that are otherwise difficult to traverse. Some ferries serve as crucial lifelines to remote coastal and island communities, where the only way in or out is by boat. Others, like Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry in Michigan, offer tourists an enjoyable passage to resort getaways. Often times, these ferry routes give passengers incredible views of local landmarks and up-close looks at marine life.

Here are nine of North America's most stunning ferry routes.

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Alaska Marine Highway System

A ferry boat passes a small mountain along the Alaska Marine Highway System

Jay Galvin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The federally funded Alaska Marine Highway System (it’s part of the National Highway System and a designated Scenic National Byway) isn't just an attraction geared toward glacier tourism. The ferry system serves as a vital transport link for coastal communities spanning from the fjord-heavy Alaskan Panhandle to the far-flung Aleutian Islands. Stretching over 3,500 miles of rugged coastline with 32 terminals, including some in Washington and British Columbia, the AMHS functions as a scenic way in and way out. The AMHS has five mainline ferries and five day boat and shuttle ferries in service.

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Staten Island Ferry

A Staten Island Ferry boat passes the Statue of Liberty

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The bright orange, nine-vessel fleet of the Staten Island Ferry shuttles passengers back and forth across Upper New York Bay, from the tip of Lower Manhattan to St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island in New York City. In operation 24/7 and 365 days a year, it is the busiest ferry route in the United States by passenger volume—carrying 22 million people annually with an average weekday ridership of 70,000. The fare-free Staten Island Ferry provides folks with stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline that can’t be beat.

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Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry

A Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry boat takes passengers to the island

Russ / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

One of three ferry services between the Michigan mainland and the carless, resort-oriented Mackinac Island, the family-owned Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry has been shuttling the passengers (and their bikes) to the island since 1945. The pleasant ride over from Mackinaw City (Lower Peninsula) or St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula) across the Straits of Mackinac only takes a short 16 minutes. Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry also offers leisurely, three-hour evening lighthouse cruises and night sky cruises with narration.

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Cape May-Lewes Ferry

A Cape May-Lewes Ferry boat on the water

Alan Kotok / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cutting across the mouth of the Delaware Bay along a roughly 85-minute (17-mile) journey, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry links the Victorian resort town of Cape May, New Jersey, and other Jersey Shore communities, with coastal Delaware, including historic Lewes. The ferry is part of U.S. Route 9, one of only two highways in the United States with a ferry connection. Established in 1964, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry is more tourism-oriented than in its early years and is a must for Mid-Atlantic day trippers. Bikes ride for free (cars, however, cost extra), and frequent dolphin sightings are included in the base fare.

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Washington State Ferries (Seattle to Bremerton)

Washington State Ferry boat with mountains in the background

urbanglimpses / Getty Images

Legally designated as part of the state highway system, Washington State Ferries is the most extensive ferry network in the United States with a fleet of 24 passenger and vehicle ferries. Although the ferry system offers 10 distinct routes, the Seattle-Bremerton route—which floats past sweeping cityscapes and the rugged, forested coastline of Puget Sound—cannot be beat. The hour-long journey is most dramatic going west to east, from the maritime hub of Bremerton to the foot of downtown Seattle.

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New Orleans Ferry (Canal Street Ferry to Algiers Point)

A Canal street Ferry takes passengers under a bridge on the Mississippi River

John Coletti / Getty Images

A unique and oft-overlooked way to experience New Orleans, the Canal Street Ferry, sometimes called Algiers Ferry, is one of the oldest continually operating ferry services in the United States. The five-minute ferry has been crossing the Mississippi River between the foot of bustling Canal Street to the artsy neighborhood of Algiers since 1827. The pedestrian-only ferry boasts the fourth-highest ridership of any ferry system in the United States with more than two million passengers each year.

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BC Ferries (Vancouver to Victoria)

BC Ferries boat on a bright blue day

Pete Spiro / Shutterstock

With a fleet of more than 35 vehicle-carrying vessels, 24 routes, and 47 ports of call, British Columbia Ferry Services is the largest passenger ferry system in North America. Established in 1960, Route 1 sails from Swartz Bay to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in the Vancouver suburb of Delta and offers 90 minutes of unparalleled scenic bliss. While many passengers spend the trip whale watching or taking in the stunning coastal scenery, there are plenty of other ways to pass the time. On select sailings, BC Ferries offers an amenity-filled experience with buffet-style dining rooms and the all-inclusive cafe, Seawest Lounge.

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Golden Gate Ferry (San Francisco to Sausalito)

The Golden Gate Ferry passes Alcatraz Island

bluejayphoto / Getty Images

Launching from the historic San Francisco Ferry Building, a roundtrip passage along the Golden Gate Ferry's San Francisco to Sausalito route is a breathtaking way to experience the “City by the Bay.” The half hour voyage offers sweeping views of two of San Francisco's most photogenic landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

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Northumberland Ferries Limited (Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island)

A Northumberland Ferries Limited boat passes a lighthouse on a cloudy day

Martin Cathrae / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Serving as the final stretch along the Maritime Ferry Trail, the Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island route aboard Northumberland Ferries' M/V Holiday Island or M/V Confederation has been in operation since 1941. The 75-minute journey, which carries roughly 475,000 passengers annually, offers guests plenty of fresh sea air and sightseeing, local cuisine, like poutine, and even a movie lounge.