“But There Aren’t Any Roads…”

Our Most Photographed Road Sign

Sure there are.

“No road access” is not the same as “no roads.”

The vehicle situation in Southeast Alaska seems to cause a lot of confusion for outsiders.  During my time answering phones for the ferry system I would get some kind of question about it every day.  Even when I was coordinating the tour groups on the ferries and I was working with people with years of travel industry experience (even years of Alaska experience!) I would still occasionally have to explain about the roads.

What A Southeast Road Might Look Like

Locals might get a chuckle out of this post but this really is a concern for people that are unfamiliar with the Panhandle.  It seems to be common knowledge that even though Juneau is on the mainland you can’t drive to it from anywhere else.  Which is why this post will be somewhat Juneau-centric – it’s a lot more obvious that getting to Ketchikan or Sitka is going to involve something more than just driving because they are on islands.

Besides the notoriety of being the only mainland state capitol with no road in or out there’s another reason why people assume there are no roads here: because the sheer size of the state limits what kinds of details can be included on maps.

Let’s use the example of someone that just found out they’re getting transferred to Juneau.  They look at a map of Alaska and they see all of the roads in the Interior and the Yukon and they see the Alaska Highway sort of bypassing Southeast and then they take a closer look at Juneau and all they see is a big dot.  They clearly see a road connecting to the dot for Skagway but no road connecting that dot to the dot for Juneau.

And then their mind starts running…

We Drive Our Cars On Our "Marine Highway"

Will I have to sell my car?  How do people there get around?  I heard that I can ferry my car to Juneau but… if there are no roads why should I even bother?

And so on.

Basically every town that the ferry system services has at least some kind of roads.  The two exceptions are Pelican (population 163) and Tenakee (population 131) – if you really want to ‘get away from it all’ I highly recommend visiting either (or both!) of them.  There are also three towns in Southeast that have road access: Haines, Skagway, and Hyder.  The last one is a bit of an exception as you can drive into Hyder (population 87) but the ferry doesn’t go there anymore so it’s somewhat isolated from the rest of Southeast.

I should quickly mention that you don’t have to drive all the way to Haines or Skagway to use the ferry.  Most people coming up to Alaska by ferry embark at Prince Rupert, BC (Canada), or Bellingham, Washington.

Not The Famous "Bridge To Nowhere"

Not only are there roads within each of the towns but there are also lots of “logging roads” to explore.  There aren’t any in Juneau but most of the other towns have them and in some areas they are quite extensive.  Prince of Wales Island (population ~6,000) is the fourth largest island in the US and it is absolutely littered with roads.  The maintenance level of logging roads varies widely (from ‘used daily’ to ‘trees growing down the middle’) but still… there’s lots of ’em.

Speaking of maps… if you get your hands on a map of Southeast or if you are using an online map program you can zoom in and see that there really are plenty of roads here.

So if you are moving up or just wanting to visit with your vehicle don’t worry – we drive cars, too.

What you’re saying is that you do have roads but they just… end.  Right?

Right.

The End Of The Road

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