18 Scenic Ferry Rides
When traveling, sometimes the best way to get the lay of the land is to get away from the land itself. Dinner cruises and whale watches promise unique experiences, but ferry rides are an equally scenic and more cost-effective way to enjoy panoramic views of the places you visit. Ferries also make hard-to-get-to spots a little more accessible. These 18 ferry rides within the United States and Canada take passengers across rivers, gulfs, sounds, and lakes, and occasionally across borders, whether on vacation or a quick day trip. Pack your bags and a picnic lunch, and make sure to book ahead during busy summer months. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Bon voyage!
Related: 18 Lighthouses to Visit on a Summer Road Trip
History buffs will get a kick out of the short Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry across the Connecticut River. It's the oldest continuously running ferry in the United States (although today's open flatboat barge is a far cry from the original 1655 long-pole-propelled raft that once traversed the river route). It's best for pedestrians and bikers -- it accommodates only three vehicles at a time. Walk-on passengers and cyclists ride for $2, while vehicle fees range from $5 to $6 per trip. While in the area, check out fossilized tracks from the Jurassic period at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill.
Casco Bay Lines out of Portland, Maine, provides transportation to and from eight small islands in Casco Bay. While passengers can take the ferry to and from each island individually, many reviewers on TripAdvisor mention the twice-daily mail boat run as a scenic favorite. It leaves Portland at 10 each morning and again at 2:15 or 2:45 each afternoon, and takes riders on a 2.5- to 3.5-hour cruise of the islands, docking briefly at each one for mail transport. Passengers report stunning views of lighthouses and local wildlife such as seals and eagles along the way. Before boarding, grab croissants at Standard Baking Co. or a bowl of chowder at Gilbert's Chowder House. The passenger-only ferry service costs $16 for adults and $8 for children.
Martha's Vineyard is an easy day trip from Boston during the nicer months of the year. Catch a ferry to the island off Cape Cod about 75 miles outside the city, or about an hour and a half's drive. The 35-minute Island Queen ferry out of Falmouth is $20 round-trip for adults, $10 for kids 5 to 12, and free for kids under 4. Bring a bike for an extra $8. The Island Queen does not accept credit cards, does not transport cars, and does not take reservations, so be sure to arrive 45 minutes prior to sailing. To take a car across, consider the Steamship Authority ferry out of Wood's Hole, but be prepared to pay for the convenience. Round-trip fares for passenger vehicles range from $87 to $157. After arriving, explore the Aquinnah Cliffs or make a grab for the brass ring on the Flying Horses Carousel, built in 1876.
Put-in-Bay doesn't offer historic distinction, but for water sports and nightlife, it may be just the ticket. Located in the middle of Lake Erie on South Bass Island, it's 44 miles east of Toledo. Many people like to get there via Jet Express, a passenger-only water taxi with departure points from Port Clinton, Sandusky, or Cedar Point, Ohio. However, round-trip fares range from $36 to $42.50 for adults. For a cheaper way to get there, try the Miller Ferry leaving from Catawba, Ohio. A round-trip ticket is $14 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 12 (children 5 and under are free). While the Jet Express drops passengers in downtown Put-in-Bay, the Miller Ferry does not, so plan to catch a cab. The Miller Ferry does transport cars for a round-trip fee of $32 a vehicle, but make reservations in advance.
Boston Harbor Cruises operates fast ferry trips from Boston to Salem, Massachusetts, on the passenger-only catamaran Nathanial Bowditch. Weekend and holiday prices for the short trip (just under an hour) can be pricey, at $45 round-trip for adults and $35 round-trip for children 3 to 11. Visitors can save more than 60 percent by taking advantage of weekday commuter rates. Monday through Friday sailings between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. are only $16 round-trip for adults and $8 round-trip for kids 3 to 11. While in Salem, visit Nathanial Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables and tour the Peabody Essex or Salem Witch Museums.
Explore Rhode Island's lower Narragansett Bay via the Jamestown Newport Ferry, with a self-directed water tour out of Newport Harbor. For a round-trip fee of $24 for adults and $10 for children 2 and up, this passenger-only ferry makes seven stops where passengers can hop on or off. Rates for adults are discounted to $14 after 4 p.m. Tour Fort Adams or learn to sail in Newport; take in the area's famed lighthouses from the harbor; or investigate the fully functional Rose Island Lighthouse up close -- it's even available for overnight stays.
No interisland ferry service connects the islands of Hawaii, but visitors to Maui can indulge in a ride on the passenger-only ferry from the port in Lahaina to the island of Lanai. Round-trip tickets for the 45-minute ride run $60 for adults and $40 for children, but many reviewers on TripAdvisor see the trip as an affordable alternative to an official whale-watching tour. Once in Lanai, explore the lava rock formations of the Garden of the Gods or trek to Hulopoe Beach for a day of swimming and snorkeling. Be prepared for rough waters on the afternoon return trip.
The Alaska Marine Highway System offers what's sometimes called a "poor man's cruise" aboard its fleet of coastal ferries. For about $450 each way or $900 round-trip, passengers can book a three-night journey from Bellingham, Washington, to Skagway, Alaska. A cabin with full facilities is extra -- from $417 to $690. Those who enjoy camping can eschew that cost and pitch a small tent on the upper deck, or roll out a sleeping bag. Cafeteria-style food and beverage service is available on board, as well as amenities such as a children's play zone and a movie lounge.
The unspoiled beauty of St. John can be credited to the designation of two-thirds of the island as a national park. To access the lush green hills and pristine beaches, take a short 15- to 20-minute ferry ride from Red Hook, St. Thomas, to Cruz Bay. Reviewers on TripAdvisor rave about the postcard views but warn that some of the older ferries are run down. The people ferries leave every hour, on the hour, and cost $7 each way for adults and $1 each way for children 2 to 11. Luggage is an extra $4 a bag. Those in the know recommend boarding early for the best spots on the upper sun deck.
Take the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry from the city of Vancouver to the quaint British Columbian capital of Victoria, nestled on Vancouver Island. Enjoy the British heritage of this former merchant city with a visit to the famed Butchart Gardens and have tea on site, which costs less than half the price of the extravagant high tea at the nearby Fairmont Empress Hotel. The ferry crossing, which takes about 95 minutes, is just under $35 CAD for adults round-trip and $17.20 CAD for children 5 to 11, round-trip. Car transport is also possible, with fares starting at $56.45 CAD per vehicle.
Hop aboard the ferry from Seattle, Washington, to Bainbridge Island for a spectacular skyline view. The trip through Puget Sound waters takes about 35 minutes each way, and ferries leave every 40 to 60 minutes. Not only is the ride smooth and the cost cheap, at $8.20 round-trip for adults and $4.10 round-trip for children 6 to 18, but if it's clear outside, passengers may catch a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Washington State Ferries also offers vehicle transport, with Bainbridge fares starting at $28.50 round-trip for cars under 14 feet, including a driver. While in Bainbridge, grab a snack at Blackbird Bakery or a pint and a burger at Harbour Public House.
An easy ferry ride away from Anacortes, Washington (about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia) are the San Juan Islands, jewels of the Pacific Northwest. The most populous of these islands is San Juan Island, with most activity centered in the port of Friday Harbor. The ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor takes just under an hour, and costs $13.25 per adult, or $6.60 per child aged 6 to 18, round-trip. Vehicle transport starts at about $50 for cars under 14 feet, including a driver. Reservations are highly recommended during the summer. While on the water, keep an eye out for orcas, which live year-round in the San Juans. After docking, visitors can tour the island on a scooter, visit an alpaca or lavender farm, or peruse Friday Harbor's many shops and restaurants.
Not only is the Staten Island Ferry an inexpensive way to see the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but the commuter ferry gives passengers a great view of the Statue of Liberty from New York Harbor -- for free. Considering that some cruise tickets (which often include a stop at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum) can cost as much as $55 for adults, the Staten Island Ferry is even more of a steal. To get the most out of the experience, plan to leave with just enough daylight to view Lady Liberty before sunset; the Big Apple shines brightest after dark. Ferries leave every 15 to 30 minutes and a snack bar on board sells food and beverages, including beer.
When in San Francisco, jump aboard the Golden Gate Ferry to Sausalito for views of the cityscape, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, up close and personal. Plan to arrive early at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal to enjoy the building's architecture and browse the artisan food shops. The Golden Gate Ferry runs $22.50 round-trip for adults and $11 round-trip for children 5 to 18. It is a passenger-only vessel, but cyclists can bring bikes for no extra charge. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
The Potomac Riverboat Company shuttles visitors among the National Mall in Washington, Alexandria City Marina in Virginia, and National Harbor in Maryland via a passenger-only water taxi service. Cruising down the Potomac, passengers can easily access some of the area's most popular monuments and attractions while escaping the infamous D.C. traffic. Available online (recommended) or at ticket booths in Alexandria or National Harbor, round-trip tickets run $28 for adults and $16 for children. The company also offers boat tours departing from Alexandria and National Harbor.
The ferry from Galveston to Port Bolivar is fun, fast, and free -- ranked No. 1 out of nearly 100 things to do in Galveston on TripAdvisor. Riders can even catch a glimpse of dolphins swimming by. There isn't much to do once you get to Port Bolivar unless you bring a car on board, although doing so is likely to increase wait times significantly in the summer months. Be sure to check out Crystal Beach and the lighthouse in , as well as Fort Travis, an abandoned Spanish-American fort built in 1898. And bring the bug spray -- online reviews warn that the mosquitos can be thick.
Just a short ferry ride across the Mississippi River from New Orleans is Algiers Point, a popular Victorian-tinged hangout for musicians and creatives. The neighborhood includes such attractions as the Jazz Walk of Fame and Mardi Gras World, where the famous parade floats are made. Getting there via the passenger-only ferry takes only a few minutes and costs $2 round-trip (cash only). For the money, passengers also get a sweeping view of the New Orleans cityscape. By contrast, a half-day river cruise aboard a paddle-wheeler costs nearly $30 a person, even without partaking in the buffet lunch or cash bar.
The Quebec City-to-Levis ferry affords travelers spectacular postcard views of the French-Canadian city, the Château Frontenac poised dramatically above the rest. Crossing time is just 12 minutes each way, and the round-trip cost is about $7 CAD for adults, or just under $5 CAD for children 5 to 11. Reviewers on TripAdvisor suggest a sunset sailing, timed to return in time for the city lights. If traveling in winter, watching ice crack against the hull is said to be an unforgettable experience.