Water is one of Washington’s defining features. With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, around 8,000 lakes, countless rivers, and multiple islands, ferries serve as an important (and scenic) way to travel. Most of Washington State’s ferries ply the pristine waters of the Salish Sea, where you can gaze at snowcapped mountains and sculpted shorelines along with the possibility of seeing whales, seabirds, and other wildlife. 

Most of these Salish Sea routes are operated by Washington State Ferries, which boasts the nation’s largest ferry system and serves 19 different ports. Elsewhere in the state, you’ll find small routes that cross the Columbia River and a ferry that cruises the length of Washington’s deepest freshwater body of water, Lake Chelan.

Here’s what to know about Washington’s primary ferry routes.

Guide to Washington Ferry Routes

From booking and payment to the scenery and the vibe onboard, the ferry experience can vary greatly depending on the route. Some ferry rides take several hours, while others last fewer than five minutes. Vehicles are permitted on some routes, while others are passenger-only. To ensure a smooth and safe experience, refer to the guidelines and latest schedules on the official website of each ferry service provider.

A ferry travels to the San Juan Islands at sunset.

Know Before You Go

Here are a few general tips for traveling Washington ferry routes.

Ferry Reservations

You can make online vehicle reservations on a few ferry routes, including the Anacortes–San Juan Islands and Port Townsend–Coupeville crossings with Washington State Ferries. Reservations are also encouraged for the Victoria, BC–Port Angeles with Black Ball Ferry Line, and the Alaska–Bellingham ferries. Be sure to secure a reservation in advance during the busy summer months, although a limited number of standby spaces are usually available. Some of the popular passenger-only ferry crossings—including Lake Chelan, Port Townsend–Friday Harbor, and Victoria, BC–Seattle—also accept reservations.

Travel Tip: A vehicle reservation on Washington State Ferries is not a ticket. You can purchase tickets online or when you arrive at the terminal or toll booth. Plan to be in line at least 20 minutes in advance of your sailing time for most routes. If you don’t show up, you forfeit the reservation fee. Vehicle reservations are one-way. Make sure to secure reservations for your return journey as well. 

Ferry Costs 

The cost of and process for paying ferry fares varies depending on the route. Typically, you can pay for ferry tickets with credit cards either online or at the terminal. Note that for many Washington State Ferries’ routes, the fare is collected only for travel in one direction (for example, only when traveling westbound in the San Juans). 

During peak season, you can save money and boost your odds of securing a space on the ferry by traveling without a vehicle. For example, the fare in high season for travel from Anacortes to Friday Harbor with a standard (under 14-foot-long) vehicle and one passenger is around $80, compared to about $32 for two walk-on passengers. Vehicle fares for shorter crossings (e.g., up to 30 minutes) are considerably lower, usually ranging from around $16 to $20 round-trip. In some towns with walkable villages near the ferry, it’s easy to get by without a car. These include Bremerton, Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and Winslow on Bainbridge Island. 

Peak Travel Times

Peak travel for Washington ferries is generally Memorial Day through Labor Day, and weekends and holiday periods the rest of the year. Many routes add or reduce the number of boats, and thereby the number of available crossings, seasonally. During busy periods, try to book reservations when this option is available. If arriving without a reservation, expect a wait. On the Washington State Ferries terminal page, you can view real-time route maps, estimated stand-by availability, and ferry terminal cams.

Washington State Ferries Salish Sea Routes

With its iconic fleet of white-and-green ships, Washington State Ferries—operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation—has the most extensive service network in the country. Its 10 routes connect both large cities and small island hamlets throughout the Salish Sea, from Tacoma and Vashon Island in southern Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands and the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas farther north. All Washington State Ferries transport vehicles as well as passengers. 

Between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands

Trip Duration: About an hour from Anacortes to Orcas Island or Friday Harbor; about 20 to 45 minutes for inter-island crossings | View Route

Passengers on a ferry from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

One of the most scenic ferry routes in the country, the leisurely crossing from Anacortes to this storied archipelago offers abundant opportunities to watch for whales and birdlife. Washington State Ferries serves the four most populous of the San Juan Islands: Orcas, San Juan Island, Lopez, and Shaw. Some routes are direct between Anacortes and the largest two islands, Orcas and San Juan, but most stop at multiple islands. 

Reservations are highly advised for vehicles (necessary for travel both to and from the islands). A portion of online reservations are released in three tiers: two months before the start of the season, two weeks before the date of sailing, and two days before the date of sailing. For inter-island ferry crossings, walk-on passengers ride free in either direction, while vehicles are charged a fee only for westbound crossings (for example, Lopez to Orcas Island). Inter-island ferries accept cars and passengers on a first-come basis. Note that Washington State Ferries has suspended service between San Juan Island and Sidney, BC until at least 2030.

While you wait: Anacortes Ferry Terminal is a 10-minute drive from the town’s lively commercial center. At the terminal itself you’ll find one casual dining option. On your way to the terminal, consider picking up food from one of the popular takeout spots downtown, such as the Harbin Dumplings or Dockside Dogs. There are numerous restaurants, shops, and attractions within walking distance of the Friday Harbor terminal on San Juan Island, including Salty Fox Coffee for a quick snack. On the other islands, the terminals are in quieter areas, but near the ferry on Orcas Island, the Orcas Village Store has a deli and groceries and the Orcas Hotel Cafe has good pub fare. On Lopez, the nearest restaurants to the ferry are in the main village, about a 10-minute drive south.

Between Port Townsend and Coupeville

Trip Duration: 35 minutes | View Route

Connecting the charming Victorian city of Port Townsend near scenic Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island, this is a convenient way to get between the Olympic Peninsula and the northern shore of mainland Washington. Without taking the ferry, for example, the drive from Anacortes to Port Townsend takes about three hours longer. It’s a very popular route, and vehicle reservations can be made two months before the season start date.

While you wait: By the terminal in Coupeville, Callen’s is great for hearty diner-style fare, and it’s just a 10-minute drive north to the enchanting village of Coupeville, with its many shops and eateries. You’ll find lots of great dining options within a few minutes’ walk of the Port Townsend terminal, including Quench Waterfront Kitchen.

Between Mukilteo and Clinton

Trip Duration: 20 minutes | View Route

Esther from Local Adventurer taking the ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton, WA.
Photo Credit: Local Adventurer

This quick hop connects the northern Seattle suburb of Mukilteo with tiny Clinton on the southern tip of Whidbey Island. Although you can drive to Whidbey Island by crossing the Deception Pass Bridge, this route takes about 90 minutes longer coming from metro Seattle. You can also take this ferry in combination with the one between Port Townsend and Coupeville to get between Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula.

While you wait: There are a couple of cool aviation-related attractions—Boeing Future of Flight and Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, near the Mukilteo ferry landing, which is just steps from beloved Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing seafood restaurant. Near the terminal in Clinton, the Shrimp Shack at Cozy’s is lovely for a bite to eat. 

Between Edmonds and Kingston

Trip Duration: 30 minutes | View Route

If you’re traveling to the upper Kitsap Peninsula, including to Poulsbo, take this short trip from Edmonds, an attractive coastal town just north of Seattle. This is another great way to get from northern metro Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula, which is connected to the Kitsap Peninsula via the Hood Canal Floating Bridge near Port Gamble.

While you wait: Edmonds has a gorgeous, lively waterfront near the terminal, with beaches, parks, the excellent Cascadia Art Museum, and terrific eateries like Demitris Woodstone Taverna for Mediterranean fare and Shore Pine Coffee & Gelato for lighter bites. On the Kitsap Peninsula side, enjoy drinks and pub grub at the Kingston Ale House, and check out superb exhibits at the tribally operated Suquamish Museum.

Between Seattle and Bainbridge Island

Trip Duration: 35 minutes | View Route

A passenger rides on the ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island.
Photo Credit: Mark Downey – Lucid Images Gallery

Charming Bainbridge Island lies just 7 miles across Elliott Bay from Seattle’s newly redeveloped waterfront. The bustling main village, Winslow, is steps from the ferry, and you can get to many other attractions on the island—including several wineries and the stunning Bloedel Reserve—via Bus 390. Bainbridge Island is also connected by bridge to the upper Kitsap Peninsula, but the ferry shaves at least an hour off making the trip entirely by land.

While you wait: Colman Dock in Seattle is a short walk from Pike Place Market and downtown hotels. The dock is steps from Ivar’s Acres of Clams along the waterfront and downtown’s Top Pot Doughnuts. On Bainbridge, it’s a lovely stroll from the terminal to HiLife poke bar and Streamliner Diner, as well as the engaging Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

Between Seattle and Bremerton

Trip Duration: 1 hour | View Route

Ferries to the small but lively city of Bremerton leave from downtown Seattle’s Colman Dock. Bremerton is in the center of the Kitsap Peninsula.

While you wait: There’s enough to keep you busy for the better part of the day within walking distance of the ferry terminal in Bremerton. Savor seafood overlooking the water at Anthony’s at Sinclair Inlet, and explore Washington’s vibrant maritime and military history at the Puget Sound Navy Museum and touring the decks of the historic USS Turner Joy battleship museum.

Between Fauntleroy and Vashon (and optionally to Southworth)

Trip Duration: 20 minutes from Fauntleroy to Vashon, 30 minutes from Fauntleroy to Southworth | View Route

Located between Seattle and Tacoma, Vashon Island is known for its unhurried pace and natural beauty. Ferries depart from southwestern Seattle’s Fauntleroy terminal, a 20-minute drive from downtown Seattle. Some ferries travel only between Fauntleroy and Vashon Island, while others continue another 10 minutes to the central Kitsap Peninsula town of Southworth. Additional routes in the area include direct service between Fauntleroy and Southworth and direct service  between Vashon Island and Southworth.

While you wait: Fauntleroy is in a mostly residential neighborhood on Seattle’s southwest side, but there are some appealing diversions nearby, including the trails of 135-acre Lincoln Park, the well-crafted American comfort food at Endolyne Joe’s, and the overstuffed burritos at El Camion food truck. Next to the ferry dock on the north end of Vashon Island, Wild Mermaid serves tasty breakfast and lunch fare.

Between Point Defiance and Tahlequah

Trip Duration: 15 minutes | View Route

A ferry travels between Point Defiance and Tahlequah.
Photo Credit: Ian Dewar Photography – Adobe Stock

This quick crossing connects the northern tip of Tacoma, by Point Defiance Park, with Tahlequah, at the southern tip of Vashon Island. For a scenic way to get from Seattle to Tacoma that avoids busy interstate highways, take the ferry from Fauntleroy to northern Vashon Island and explore the island before continuing to Tacoma via the Tahlequah ferry. It’s about a 40-minute drive or ride on Bus 118 between Vashon Island’s two ferry terminals.

While you wait: In Tacoma, you’ll find myriad attractions by the terminal throughout leafy 760-acre Point Defiance Park, and it’s a short and pretty walk over Wilson Way Pedestrian Bridge to the colorful shops and eateries—including WildFin American Grill and Ice Cream Social—at the mixed-use Point Ruston waterfront

Kitsap Fast Ferries and Foot Ferry Routes

Based in Bremerton, Kitsap Transit operates three fast ferry routes that connect the Kitsap Peninsula with Seattle’s Colman Dock, as well as two foot-ferry routes between Bremerton and Port Orchard (duration 12 minutes) and Annapolis (duration 5 minutes). All of these routes are passenger-only. Primarily used by commuters, the fast ferries provide a quicker crossing than the conventional car ferries operated by Washington State Ferries, cutting the travel time from Bremerton to Seattle in half, and connecting Kingston and Southworth directly to Seattle’s downtown.

Port Orchard has a walkable waterfront that’s home to the colorful Port Orchard Public Market and popular eateries like Peninsula BevCo and The Dock Bar & Eatery. Smaller Annapolis is mostly residential, but you can have an espresso drink, a beer, or a snack at Whiskey Gulch CoffeePub or a more substantial meal at Damn Fine Pizza.

Other Washington Ferry Routes

Several ferries make the trip to other parts of Washington, including some smaller and less-populous islands in the Salish Sea, spectacular Chelan Lake in the eastern Cascades, and a handful of rural areas along the Columbia River.

Between Downtown Seattle and West Seattle

Trip Duration: 10–15 minutes | View Route

Two boats provide a quick and picturesque water taxi ride between Colman Dock and inviting West Seattle, famous for its gorgeous Alki Beach waterfront and myriad independent shops and restaurants. Although you can drive between these two neighborhoods, the water taxi is great if you’re visiting Seattle without a car.

While you wait: By the water taxi pier in West Seattle, dine on delicious Hawaiian Korean–fusion fare at Marination Ma Kai, with its sweeping water and skyline views.

Between Downtown Seattle and Vashon Island

Trip Duration: 22 minutes | View Route

Seattle’s other water taxi route from downtown’s Colman Dock makes the trip to northern Vashon Island, which you can then easily explore using Buses 118 or 119, or by bike.

Between Steilacoom and Anderson Island

Trip Duration: 30 minutes | View Route

Pierce County Ferry provides vehicle service from the small town of Steilacoom, southwest of Tacoma, to laid-back Anderson Island, in southern Puget Sound (along with residential Ketron Island). You’ll find a couple of B&Bs and several vacation rentals on this relaxing island that’s laced with hiking trails, and there’s dining at picturesque Riviera Lakeshore restaurant.

While you wait: A few blocks from the dock in Steilacoom, Topside Bar & Grill serves pub fare, and Steilacoom Tribal Cultural Center contains exhibits about this Indigenous community.

Everett’s Jetty Island Ferry

Trip Duration: 3 minutes | View Route

Small ferry traveling from the Port of Everett to Jetty Island.
Photo courtesy of the Port of Everett

Take the quick passenger ferry from the Port of Everett to the alluring dunes and beaches of man-made Jetty Island. Service is offered seasonally, Wednesday–Sunday, from early July to early September, and reservations are required. There’s no camping or accommodations, nor is there running water or concessions, so bring whatever you need to enjoy your day of swimming and sunning.

While you wait: Great spots for a bite to eat near the ferry dock include Bluewater Organic Distilling and Scuttlebutt Brewing Restaurant and Pub.

Between Anacortes and Guemes Island

Trip Duration: 5 minutes | View Route

This vehicle ferry makes the just over half-mile trip between this small island and downtown Anacortes. With 600 residents, Guemes is primarily residential but does have some vacation rentals and Guemes Island Resort, a family- and pet-friendly collection of cabins and yurts from the 1940s.

While you wait: The terminal in downtown Anacortes is a short walk from many restaurants.

Between Bellingham and Lummi Island

Trip Duration: 5 minutes | View Route

Ferry traveling between Bellingham, WA and Lummi Island.
Photo courtesy of Visit Bellingham

Another relaxing Salish Sea island with breathtaking natural scenery, Lummi has around 850 year-round residents, along with plenty of vacation rentals. This nearly 10-square-mile island is reached by a quick ride from a northwest Bellingham peninsula that’s home to the Lummi Nation. You’ll find great hiking and a few lovely stretches of coastline on Lummi Island, along with awesome views of Orcas Island.

While you wait: Near Lummi Island’s ferry landing, eat in the leafy garden of the cheerful Beach Store Cafe, or order fish and chips and clam chowder at the cute Legoe Bay Reefnetter food truck. On the mainland, the nearest restaurants are a 20-minute drive to downtown Bellingham.

Between Port Townsend and Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Trip Duration: 3 to 3½ hours | View Route

From late April through late September, Puget Sound Express offers a whale-watching cruise that departs Port Townsend in the morning, stops in Friday Harbor for a couple of hours for lunch and sightseeing, and returns to Port Townsend in the late afternoon. Most who go on this adventure, which includes narration by a naturalist, book a round-trip experience, but you can also use this tour as a ferry service by booking a one-way trip—and there’s a good chance you’ll spy orca, humpback, gray, and minke whales along with other wildlife. Note that boats depart from slightly different areas of each town than the Washington State Ferry docks; in Port Townsend, the dock is at Point Hudson Marina, and in Friday Harbor, boats tie up at Spring Street Landing.

Between Chelan and Stehekin

Trip Duration: 1½ to 4 hours, depending on the boat | View Route

Offering the longest ferry ride in the state since 1889, the Lake Chelan Boat Co. has three different boats that chug nearly 55 miles along narrow and fjord-like Lake Chelan. This crystal-clear, nearly 1,500-foot-deep body of water snakes through evergreen-dotted shores. Other than flying, these Instagram-worthy boat rides are the only way to get to the tiny (population 100) village of Stehekin, which anchors Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, at the remote southeastern edge of North Cascades National Park

Boats depart each morning from Chelan at the southeast tip of the lake. The fastest, the 40-passenger Lady Liberty, makes the trip in as little as 70 minutes. The Lady Express takes about 2½ hours, while the 285-passenger Lady of the Lake takes four hours and can stop at any point along the lakeshore, including trailheads. You can book a same-day trip and treat this as a sightseeing excursion, perhaps taking one boat to Stehekin and a different one back. Or overnight in Stehekin at North Cascades Lodge, in a cabin rental, or at a campground. There’s great hiking and fishing here, and in winter, Stehekin draws cross-country skiing and snowshoeing enthusiasts. 

While you wait: In Chelan, grab breakfast at downtown’s Lake Chelan Artisan Bakery, a five-minute drive from the boat landing. By Stehekin’s dock, North Cascades Lodge has a rustically inviting restaurant and general store. And Stehekin Shuttle Bus can take you a couple of miles farther north to beloved Stehekin Pastry Company

Columbia River Ferries, Eastern Washington

Trip Duration: 10 minutes

In Eastern Washington, you’ll find two free, vehicle ferry routes crossing the Columbia River. The Keller Ferry connects both sides of Highway 21 between Keller and Wilbur, upriver from the Grand Coulee Dam. This ferry can shave time off a drive from Republic toward Davenport or Spokane. From Highway 25, a ferry between Inchelium and Gifford operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation provides access to the reservation’s small town of Inchelium.

Washington Ferry Routes from Other States and Provinces

Ferries provide a memorable way to visit Washington from Alaska, Oregon, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. 

Between Victoria, BC, and Port Angeles

Trip Duration: 90 minutes | View Route

Black Ball Ferry Line’s sleek and swift MV Coho offers one of the most dramatic ways to get to Washington from Vancouver Island. Vehicle ferries depart from the scenic Inner Harbour of BC’s capital city, Victoria, from two to four times daily, arriving in the welcoming small city of Port Angeles, a perfect gateway for exploring Olympic National Park. On this relaxing cruise, enjoy dazzling vistas of the Olympic Range and, to the east, Whidbey Island and the Cascades.

While you wait: You’ll find dozens of restaurants, shops, and attractions near Black Ball’s terminal in Victoria. In Port Angeles, the terminal is steps from great restaurants, including Downriggers on the Water for seafood and Kokopelli Grill for Southwestern-inspired fare. You can also walk around Hollywood Beach and the Port Angeles City Pier, and check out the touch tanks and exhibits at the small but excellent Feiro Marine Life Center.

Between Westport, Oregon, and Cathlamet

Trip Duration: 12 minutes | View Route

Offering the only Columbia River crossing between the Astoria-Megler Bridge (near Long Beach Peninsula) and Longview, the Oscar B car ferry provides a memorable way to enter southwestern Washington from Oregon. This ferry on the Lower Columbia, which began back in 1925, is cash only.

While you wait: From the terminal on the Washington side it’s just a 7-minute drive to the village of Cathlamet, home to the convivial craft brewery River Mile 38 and a Pizza Mill

Between Alaska and Bellingham

Trip Duration: About 38 hours from Ketchikan | View Route

Other than driving for a few days along the infamous Alaska-Canadian Highway, the only way to travel with a car from Alaska to the Lower 48 states is by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway System. This long but incredibly picturesque journey can take anywhere from three to several days, depending on where you start in Alaska. From the nearest large port, Ketchikan, the ferry chugs down through western Canada’s Inside Passage and ends in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven district. 

While you wait: It’s a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal to the dozens of shops, galleries, and eateries in Bellingham’s Fairhaven neighborhood, among them the Black Cat Cafe and—inside famed Village Books—the cheerful Colophon Cafe.