Plane, trains and automobiles. Plus ferries and floatplanes, helicopters, buses and bikes. Here's how to get between Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria.

Share story

Plane, trains and automobiles. Plus ferries and floatplanes, buses and bikes.

Such are the choices for traveling between the Pacific Northwest’s triangle of world-class cities — Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver, B.C.

Here’s how to get between them, for a one-city getaway or a circle trip.



By air: If I had the money, a floatplane is the way I’d always travel around Western Washington and the British Columbia coast.

Seattle-based Kenmore Air has a fleet of floatplanes — most carrying six to 10 passengers — offering frequent flights from Seattle’s Lake Union (and Kenmore on Lake Washington) to coastal cities, resorts and islands in Washington and British Columbia, including Victoria.

My flight to Victoria, a Canadian bastion of British traditions and royalists (and named after the 19th-century Queen Victoria), took about an hour. I snagged a seat next to the pilot and delighted in watching the tapestry of cityscapes and mountains, waterways and forest.

Thanks to an Internet special, my one-way Seattle-Victoria flight cost about $100 (versus a standard fare of roughly $150 each way). That wasn’t bad compared to the time and price of car/ferry transport, which can easily take more than a half-day. Better yet, the floatplane lands in downtown Victoria’s Inner Harbour, an easy walk to major hotels and tourist sights, including the Parliament Buildings and Empress Hotel.

The icing on the cake: Kenmore Air passengers clear Canadian customs/immigration (and U.S. border formalities upon return to Seattle) at the dock with just the handful of other passengers from the plane. No airport-security lines, no body scanners, no hassles.

Info: (for Internet specials, scroll down on the left side for a link).

By sea: I returned to Seattle on the Victoria Clipper, the high-speed passenger-only ferry that has daily roundtrips between Seattle and Victoria. It’s a fine way to go since Victoria is a compact, walkable city and sightseers don’t need a car.

After the intimate scale and speed of a floatplane, the Clipper — its ships hold from 239 to 330 passengers and the trip takes about three hours each way — was a bit of a contrast. However, the Clipper is substantially cheaper than a floatplane and has lovely views of the Olympic Mountains and shorelines. Rates vary widely depending on the time of year, discounts and Web specials. The standard summertime adult fare (as of June 2014) is around $162 round trip, less if you purchase in advance. The Clipper also offers ferry/hotel packages, which can be good deals.

Need a car? Or a cheappassenger-only rate? Sail away with Washington State Ferries from Anacortes (1.5 hours north of Seattle) to Sidney, B.C. (about a 20-minute drive from Victoria). Passenger-only fares are about $19 each way; a car and driver is about $51 each way (as of June 2014): The ride takes two to three hours, depending on its route through the San Juan Islands (plus time for clearing customs/immigration).

Or take the Black Ball Ferry Line’s MV Coho ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It’s a 90-minute crossing.

Vehicle reservations can be made on both ferries (and are strongly recommended on the Anacortes-Sidney route).



By wheels: Once upon a time, there was floatplane service between Seattle’s Lake Union and Vancouver. Alas, it went belly up many years ago, leaving road or rail the main ways to go.

My favorite: the Amtrak Cascades train with two daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. It’s a comfortable and scenic ride, with much of the route hugging the shoreline. Read, use your laptop (there’s basic Wi-Fi) or just gaze out the big windows. (Hint: Sit on the left side of the train northbound and the right southbound for the best views.)

The train is far from high-speed, however. Convoluted and congested tracks, especially in B.C., make the one-way trip take about four hours (versus three hours driving).


Otherwise, drive to Vancouver. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 5 to the Canada-U.S. border at Blaine, Whatcom County, and then onward to Vancouver. The drive takes about three hours, although border-crossing congestion on weekends, especially in summer, can lengthen the trip by an hour or more, especially returning to the U.S.

Info on roads, border crossings (and wait times): Washington State Department of Transportation, and

Want someone else to drive? Greyhound buses have daily trips between Seattle and Vancouver, Quick Shuttle buses serve the airports and downtowns of both cities year-round, and the cruise ship docks in Vancouver in summer.

Or take the Bolt Bus, a budget, book-online-bus service between the two cities (fares sometimes $15 one way or lower),

By air: There are flights from Sea-Tac Airport to Vancouver’s airport, but given the hours needed for check-in/security/customs, it’s not always a time- or cost-effective way to go.


The Strait of Georgia separates Vancouver and Victoria; you’ll need to sail or fly across it.

By sea: BC Ferries has frequent sailings — it’s about a 1 ½-hour ferry ride — every day from Tsawwassen on the mainland (south of Vancouver and about a half-hour drive from the U.S.-Canada border) to Swartz Bay (about a half-hour from Victoria).

Car-less travelers can walk aboard, take bikes or the Pacific Coach Line buses that go aboard the ferries and then carry passengers into downtown Vancouver and Victoria (

For something completely different, the Prince of Whales offers summertime four-hour whale-watching trips/transport from Vancouver to Victoria on a barebones passenger-only vessel:

By air: Floatplanes buzz between Vancouver (B.C.’s commercial powerhouse) and Victoria (its legislative capital). Both Harbour Air Seaplanes ( and Westcoast Air ( offer dozens of flights daily between the cities’ downtown harbors.

You could take conventional flights between the Vancouver and Victoria airports but, as in flying from Seattle, it’s not really time- or cost-effective for a short vacation.

For fast-paced and high-priced style, take a helicopter (fares can top $300 one way but it takes just 35 minutes). Helijet offers more than a dozen flights a day from downtown landing pads in Vancouver and Victoria..

Kristin Jackson: