The cutest little nubbin of a ferry boat chortles happily back and forth across the Salish Sea from Steilacoom to two lovely islands year-round.  It is a fun 30-minute journey to Anderson Island and only a 10-minute journey to Ketron Island. The best time to go may be early in the morning, to avoid the crowds.

Steilacoom Ferry
Passengers enjoy a spectacular view while vehicles line up to board the ferry. Photo credit: Anne Paxton Hammond

“It’s pretty dead in the morning, but around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. it starts picking up,” says ship’s mate, Ismael Roman. “We have contractors, trucks, cable; everyone going to provide services on the island. Once it gets to be 11:00 a.m. or 2:20 p.m., now that’s crowded. All three lanes are pretty full.”

Things To Do

If you come early or stay after your ride, you can enjoy amazing views of Puget Sound, including the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Try your hand at fishing or crabbing on the pier adjacent to the ferry dock. Relax under mottled shade at a picnic table across the street and read the historical marker. Grab a cappuccino or snack in nearby cafes.

Ride the ferry round trip or get off and explore. The views are spectacular, so bring your camera. Bring your bike at no additional cost and explore the islands. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are welcome, but you will need to pay the slightly higher motorcycle rate.

You Are In Good Hands

Steilacoom Ferry
Friendly Ticket Agent Alyce Warren assists passengers in getting on the ferry while Ship’s Mate Ismael Roman guides vehicles and serves on the ferry as well. Photo credit: Anne Paxton Hammond

While the sea is unpredictable and untamable, you are in safe hands with the Steilacoom crew. The ferry Christine Anderson has 219 adult and 22 child life jackets on board, according to Captain Bruce Nelson. The Steilacoom II has a slightly larger capacity and more jackets. If you have a young child, you might want to carry your own life jacket for a secure fit.

Waves might get a little rough in January through March but even then, the ride is smooth and enjoyable, says Nelson.

Off the ferry, be sure to watch your step as you walk across railroad tracks near the ferry dock, and do not sprint through downed crossing guard arms. Trains come fast and regularly. They are also fun to watch, especially with little ones.

Planning Your Trip

Ketron is a private island, so pickups and drop-offs are by reservation only and infrequent. Be sure to check the online schedule and make reservations. Pocket-sized paper booklets also list schedules, fares and other important information that is also available online.

Steilacoom Ferry Station
Passengers comfortably wait in the spacious ferry station or stop in to purchase tickets and use the restrooms. Photo credit: Anne Paxton Hammond

Signs at the ferry terminal inform passengers of changes in schedule or additional runs. Passengers can also sign up online for a ferry alert if there are any delays, but this ferry is on time approximately 97% of the time and busiest in the summer. So be in line at least 20 minutes before departure.

“The biggest thing I see is that people haven’t given themselves enough time,” says ticket agent, Alyce Warren. “They’ll need to come down to the bottom of the hill, buy the ticket, then go back up to get in the lane. If there’s a line, the ticketing system only goes at a certain pace, so I’ll enter the information but then it has to process.”

Check in advance if you tow anything or have a vehicle more than 22 feet long (rates vary with length) or 14’ 6” high (too tall). Read the fare notes prior to your trip so you know if you need to schedule in advance or if there are special considerations regarding your vehicle or situation.

Every person needs a ticket; even children under six years old who ride for free, says Warren. The ferry crew accounts for every passenger on each trip per Coast Guard regulations.

Schedule and Fares

Steilacoom Ferry
Families enjoy taking their dogs for an extra special outing. Photo credit: Anne Paxton Hammond

The Steilacoom ferry runs from 4:45 a.m. to 8:40 p.m. weekdays, roughly every hour, with two large gaps between 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. (depending on the day) and noon, and between noon and 2:20 p.m. Extended night hours are available on weekends, holidays and in July and August.

  • Walk-ons are just $5.45 for adults, $3.25 for youth and $2.70 for seniors with ID or a disability permit.
  • Vehicles are welcome and are charged one of two rates depending on the time of year, as specified.
  • Purchase tickets online, at the terminal or through their mobile app, “Pierce County Ferry Tickets”. The ferry accepts credit/debit cards (VISA/MC only) or cash at the terminal and online or mobile. Consider purchasing the Value Pass to save money on five trips (special restrictions apply).
  • Free, two-hour parking is available on the street, allowing enough time to enjoy a ride to Anderson Island and back. Paid parking ($8.00 for 12 hours, cash only) is right next to the ferry dock.

This is a perfect activity for the family, a couple packing a picnic, or a single adventurer wanting to soak in the view. Take a ferry ride to create memories. And remember, family pets ride free.

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