Car ferry trips
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You CAN take it with you!

By Robin Cherry

Sometimes a car ferry is the only way to get there, and sometimes it’s just the most fun way: You can soak up the view from the comfort and convenience of your Traverse (while listening to your favorite CDs). Regardless, it’s always an opportunity to pack more stuff: Since the midsize Traverse has more room (with 116.3 cubic feet of cargo space*) than some large SUVs, you can take everything—and we mean everything—you want. Full-sized toiletries? Check. Beach umbrella? Why not? Great Dane? Hop in, Duke. This really is a fairy tale come true: How else could you transport all your vacation must-haves on a trip over water without paying checking fees or worrying about traffic or other drivers?

Here are four fabulous itineraries:

Don’t miss the playful porpoises that love to glide alongside the ferry from Cedar Island, North Carolina to Ocracoke, the most low-key of the Outer Banks islands. There are no bridges to Ocracoke—and you’ll want to have a car to see the barrier island’s attractions, many of which are free. Its wide, sandy beaches, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, were declared some of the best in the nation by Dr. Beach. The picturesque lighthouse, built in 1823, is the oldest in North Carolina and the second oldest in the country. And don’t forget your surfboard: Ocracoke has some of the best boarding there is.

The ferry that departs from Narragansett, Rhode Island to Block Island takes you past rocky bluffs and the octagonal Port Judith lighthouse, built in 1857. After your one-hour, 10-mile trip, you arrive at the island’s lively waterfront. The small island, just 10 square miles, packs a walloping 17 miles of stunning shoreline, 365 freshwater ponds and 25 miles of hiking trails into its postage stamp-sized borders. Check out the spectacular sunset from the wraparound veranda at The Atlantic Hotel, a Victorian inn built in 1897, and you’ll see why people call Block Island the “Bermuda of the North.” Hike through the grassy meadows and vistas of the Greenway Trails that crisscross the island and you’ll learn why the Nature Conservancy called it “One of the Last Twelve Great Places in the Western Hemisphere.”

From Seattle, drive roughly two hours north to Anacortes, Washington, the gateway to the San Juan Islands. The one-hour-and-45-minute ride is usually smooth sailing, as the waters are protected by the neighboring islands of the archipelago, whose shores are lined with fir trees. Up on the ferry’s deck, people leave uncompleted jigsaw puzzles—which you’re free to finish—but don’t forget the view. The ride to Friday Harbor is one of the best vantage points in the world from which to see magnificent Orcas. As you pull into the harbor, you’ll see moored antique boats and seals sunning themselves on the rocks. As the islands are set in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains, your chance of rain is much lower here than in Seattle.

The S.S. Badger has been ferrying travelers (and their cars) across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan for 60 years. The only coal-powered steamship still in operation in the United States, its unique propulsion system has been designated a national mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. And the relaxing four-hour, 60-mile crossing has amenities for the entire family: There’s an on-board gift shop, a museum, a video arcade, a children’s playroom, two free TV lounges and a free movie lounge. Manitowoc is home to the scenic Mariner’s Trail, a paved seven-mile foot and bike trail that runs along the shores of Lake Michigan. Ludington is home to Stearns Park, which has a beach, a skate park, mini-golf and free parking. Fishermen, make sure you load your rods and tackle into the Traverse: Hamlin Lake, four miles north of Ludington, is Michigan’s best salmon port.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

Robin Cherry is a travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications.

*Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.

 

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