The Inside Passage is the water route between Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, on the Canadian west coast just south of the southern tip of Alaska. It is called the “Inside” Passage because only a small part of it faces the open ocean; most of it is sheltered by a complicated network of islands and channels. This is the route taken by cruise ships to Alaska.
I’ve wanted to see it ever since I moved to Vancouver in 2000. Each year until now, however, I needed a “do-nothing” vacation instead, the sort where you wake up, have breakfast and coffee, go for a walk on the beach, read a book on the patio, have lunch, continue likewise for the rest of the day, and go to sleep early unless there’s live music downstairs. This year was the first time I felt like having a more active vacation where I would actually travel from place to place. So, Inside Passage it was.
I opted for a week-long itinerary driving to Port Hardy first (starting with a ferry to Nanaimo), taking the ferry to Prince Rupert, staying there for a couple of days, then returning the same way. Another option would have been to drive from Prince Rupert back to Vancouver, via Prince George and Williams Lake (the car travels with you on the ferry). I might still do it sometime, but since I’ve done a part of that route already and it was the Inside Passage that I was most interested in, I took the ferry both ways.
You should be warned that it’s a long day. The ferry leaves at 7:30 am and arrives at 10:30 pm, in both directions, and you should arrive at the terminal at 5:30 am for boarding (if you come after 6 am, you risk losing your reservation). That’s an 18-19 hour day minimum, if you add driving between the hotels and the ferry terminals.
The first couple of hours out of Port Hardy are… somewhat uneventful. Much like the ferry ride to Nanaimo, only longer. Then it starts getting more scenic. Then it keeps getting better, until you reach the Grenville Channel, which is one of the most scenic water routes anywhere in the world. If you’ve driven the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, this is the water equivalent of it, with steep cliffs and snowcapped mountain peaks rising over a thousand feet on both sides.
Here are a few teaser photos. I will be posting more on Google+ as I go through the images (about 600 of them, but that includes duplicates and throwaways). In addition to the scenery, there will be eagles and grizzly bears.