BC Ferries Review - The Way To Go to Explore Canada's Inside Passage

The Northern Expedition patiently cuts through the narrow passage ways en route to Prince Rupert

It was in the Grenville Channel that I finally lost myself to the majesty of Canada’s Inside Passage. The channel there narrows in places to less than 1500 feet wide with the shore line an endless array of heavily treed mountains. Within such a world the boundaries between land, sky, and water blur and one is left gasping at the beauty of it all.

One of the few coastal villages along the Inside Passage

My family and I were on board the Northern Expedition, a car ferry that is one of many ships making up the BC Ferries fleet. Less than a decade old, the comfortable ship boasts plenty of cabins, dining options, a modest kiddie play area, a snug media center, and multiple areas (both outside and inside) to stare in wonder at the unfolding scenery. In the summer it travels back and forth the 270 nautical miles separating Port Hardy from Prince Rupert. It is an all-day affair with the boat departing at 7:30 AM and arriving just before midnight the same day. It has only one stop along the way; either Bella Bella, where passengers are offered the chance to transfer to another much smaller ferry that ventures more inland, or Klemtu. 

A young passenger contemplates the Inside Passage

Part of a larger road trip from Chicago to Alaska, the ferry allowed us to park the car below deck while we caught up on reading, card games, and writing. All the time the subtly changing scenery and weather distracted us from doing so with the water turning greener as the rain dissipated. Thirty minutes into our voyage we spied some form of marine life, their ambiguous tails playfully slapping the water as they jetted by. Later in the day we were entertained by humpback whales as well as several bald eagles, numerous shore birds, and a large whale we were unable to identify.  Northern Expedition hugged very close to the rugged shore, so close in fact that we scanned the shoreline for bears, moose, and other mammals. Although we saw neither, we did spy countless waterfalls dropping into the sea. Periodically points of interests were called out over the loudspeaker which helped us gain a better insight into the rugged landscape.

As entertaining as the Northern Expedition is, it is not a cruise ship. Tourists from all over the world do make the voyage, but so do many locals for reasons as diverse as life itself. Joining us on our trip were several teenagers who disembarked at Bella Bella as well as passengers visiting relatives and loved ones in Prince Rupert. The route, in fact, serves as a vital link between two distant but very similar and entwined communities. Crew members are friendly and keep the ship spotless, but they do not do much in terms of pampering. Instead they provide a space for people to relax and unwind while traveling within their own self-made adventure. All of this is offered at a fraction of the cost of a typical Alaskan cruise. The two end points themselves echo this self-reliance with Port Hardy offering several reasonably priced accommodations to go with countless guided and self-guided outdoor adventures. Prince Rupert also offers countless chances to fish, hunt, hike, or explore the outdoors. It also is where we continued our journey north via the Alaskan Marine Highway.

We left the boat in a better state of mind that when we arrived. A short time after disembarking my wife and I toasted the next chapter in our great road adventure while our daughter slept soundly. Thoughts of the rolling waves later lulled us asleep as well.

More information about BC Ferries.

Photos by Noel Schecter 

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