Open main menu
A map of the Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage.

The Inside Passage (French: Passage Intérieur) is a coastal route for ships and boats along a network of passages which weave through the islands on the Pacific NW coast of North America. The route extends from southeastern Alaska, in the United States, through western British Columbia, in Canada, to northwestern Washington state, in the United States. Ships using the route can avoid some of the bad weather in the open ocean and may visit some of the many isolated communities along the route. The Inside Passage is heavily travelled by cruise ships, freighters, tugs with tows, fishing craft and ships of the Alaska Marine Highway, BC Ferries, and Washington State Ferries systems.

The term "Inside Passage" is also often used to refer to the ocean and islands around the passage itself.



It is generally accepted that the southernmost point of the Inside Passage is Olympia, Washington, which is also the southernmost point of Puget Sound. Moving north, the passage continues into the waters of the greater Salish Sea. It then passes through the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait, between northeastern Vancouver Island and the coast of mainland British Columbia. From there it continues further northwest into the Alaska Panhandle.[1][2]

During the Klondike Gold Rush the passage was one of the sea routes from Seattle and California, carrying American prospectors northward.

Today, approximately 36,000 recreational cruising boats utilize portions of the Inside Passage route. [3]

British Columbia portionEdit

British Columbia's portion of the route has up to 25,000 miles (40,000 km) of coastline. It includes the narrow, protected Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, the Johnstone Strait and Discovery Passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland, as well as a short stretch along the wider and more exposed Hecate Strait near the Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). From Fitz Hugh Sound northwards, the route is sheltered from Pacific winds and waves by the various large islands in the area such as Princess Royal Island and Pitt Island. This section includes a series of channels and straits, from south to north: Fisher Channel, Lama Passage, Seaforth Channel, Milbanke Sound, Finlayson Channel, Sarah Passage, Tolmie Channel, Princess Royal Channel (includes Graham Reach and Fraser Reach), McKay Reach, Wright Sound, Grenville Channel, Arthur Passage, and Chatham Sound.

Alaska portionEdit

The Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage extends 500 miles (800 km) from north to south and 100 miles (160 km) from east to west. The area encompasses 1,000 islands, 15,000 miles (24,000 km) of shoreline and thousands of coves and bays. While the Alexander Archipelago in Alaska provides some protection from the Pacific Ocean weather, much of the area experiences strong semi-diurnal tides which can create extreme 30-foot (9 m) differences between high and low tide, so careful piloting is necessary in many places to avoid grounding.


The Inside Passage is a popular tourism destination. The coastal mountain ranges and islands offer wildlife viewing and opportunities for boating, fishing, kayaking, camping and hiking. Wildlife viewing in the region ranges from birding to whale watching and bear viewing. Designated bear viewing is available at Anan Creek near Wrangell and at Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary on Admiralty Island near Juneau.

The most popular way to explore the Inside Passage during summer is by cruise ship. Over 2 million people take cruises each year in this region, impacting the local economy significantly. Because there are no restrictions on ship size, all of the large main line cruise ships offer Inside Passage itineraries. Some of the major players include Norwegian, Disney, Princess, Celebrity Cunard etc. Most of these cruises offer round-trips from either Vancouver or Seattle.

Although a smaller industry, there are also a handful of expedition cruises that explore the Inside Passage. These ships tend to be smaller than main line cruises and focus more on wildlife watching. National Geographic operate several expedition boats here.

Cultural referencesEdit

British author Jonathan Raban described his journey by boat through the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau in his 1999 travelogue Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster, Richard (2000). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia. Merriam-Webster. p. 808. ISBN 978-0-87779-017-4.
  2. ^ Manning, Richard (2001). Inside Passage: A Journey Beyond Borders. Island Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-55963-655-1.
  3. ^ [Brant Thornton/Mark Bunzel/Wagooneer.

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit