5 Ferry and Boat Tours to Sail for a Scenic Summer Escape

by  Darren Murph | Jun 16, 2014
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Dry Tortugas, Florida / demerzel21/iStock

It's been said that boating is best enjoyed on a vessel that you aren’t responsible for. The good news is that there's probably a marine ride with your name on it this summer, whether you're in Maine or California or North Carolina. All aboard!

Maine to Nova Scotia: A few years back, ferry service between Bar Harbor, Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada was halted, forcing folks who wanted to travel between the two destinations drive approximately 12 hours. Now, the luxurious Nova Star has restored a link with much fanfare, from the far more populated hub of Portland in Maine. The journey still takes a good 10 hours, but guests can forget about highway merges and instead enjoy the onboard casino, three restaurants, spas, and 162 cabins (recommended especially for those departing from Maine, since that's an overnight itinerary). For those who want to get active at the destination, there’s plenty of room for bringing bicycles, automobiles, and even tractor-trailers aboard. The service runs daily through November 2, from $79 all the way up to $139 per person in the height of summer. Onboard cabins accommodate up to four and cost $79-$249.

Key West, FL to Dry Tortugas National Park: The weather’s always fine in the Florida Keys, but the summer means fewer crowds and better views for those angling to see one of America’s most remote National Parks. Dry Tortugas sits roughly 70 miles west of Key West, and the only way to get there without a private vessel is to hop onboard the high-speed Yankee Freedom ferry ($170 per person). It departs from Key West every morning at 8 a.m., with the exception of Christmas Day, taking just two over hours to journey to Fort Jefferson. Once there, nature lovers can spend the day enjoying an astonishingly preserved fort, turquoise waters, pristine beaches, and a true sense of secluded peace. If a single day isn’t long enough to explore, you can register for a camping spot and shack up for a weekend. Don’t bother bringing your smartphone -- there’s no mobile service to speak of on the island.

Ventura, CA to Channel Islands National Park: There’s a boat ride in Southern California that’ll get you far, far away from the traffic on Highway 101. Island Packers operates weekly ferry excursions to Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and Cueva Valdez, all members of Channel Islands National Park. These pristine islands sit just off the coast of the city of Ventura, offering hikes, snorkeling, and camping to those who venture over. The ride itself is only an hour or so, and most sailings cost under $60 per person -- making an affordable day trip if you’re already in the Los Angeles area.

Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, B.C.: Best known as the home to Bella Italia -- the eatery featured in the "Twilight" film series -- Port Angeles is one of the most beautiful parts of the U.S. mainland. It's a quaint, waterside town, perfect for a lunch stopover for those heading to Canada's Olympic National Park from Seattle. From here, $124 gets you and your vehicle onto a 90-minute ferry that lands in Victoria, British Columbia. You’ll need your passport to board, but once you’ve arrived, you’ll be able to take a road trip up the coast of Vancouver Island. A litany of provincial parks await, and there’s no better time to go than in the summer -- you’ll have blissful weather and long days to enjoy the sights.

Hatteras Island, NC to Ocracoke Island: North Carolina’s Outer Banks are growing in popularity each year, and while they’re stunning all year round, the surrounding waters are too chilly to enjoy outside of the summer months. Those seeking an all-American road trip should head south down Highway 12 to Hatteras Island. Drive onto a free (yes, free!) ferry for a 40-minute sail to Ocracoke Island, which comprises over 80 percent of federally protected seashore. Sterling beaches and unfiltered sunsets aside, the township offers some of the most hospitable and uniquely decorated B&Bs anywhere -- and, as you’d expect, the seafood is well worth writing home about.

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