From Downtown Seattle, it's simple riding the bus to Vashon Island. Take King County Metro Transit route #54 or #116 to Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. Walk on board Washington State Ferry and meet up with route #118 or #119 at the other end at Vashon Ferry Terminal. During rush hour some trips on route #118 & #119 will operate directly from Downtown Seattle to Vashon Island (with the bus driving on board the ferry). For more information, check out the Metro Transit website or phone them.
There are two ferry terminals on Vashon Island that serve as the only connection the island has to the outside world. The Vashon ferry terminal is at the north end of the island. From here, it is possible to get the passenger only ferry to downtown Seattle, or one of the full-size auto traffic plus passenger ferries that operate between Vashon, Southworth (on the Kitsap Peninsula on the west side of Puget Sound) and Fauntleroy (on the very southwest edge of Seattle and really part of the Alki area).
Facilities for passengers at the ferry terminal are not extensive, but they do at least feature a waiting room building with chairs and some vending machines.
For the passenger only ferry to Seattle, the passengers are loaded after the boat is unloaded. For the larger ships to Fauntleroy and to Southworth, there are no separate walkways for the passengers. Therefore, walk-on passengers are boarded first and then the auto traffic is loaded. This means that it pays to be here a bit earlier than the ship departure time, as once the auto traffic starts to load there is little opportunity to board as there is no ability to board both auto traffic and passengers at the same time.
Photo 1: This is the only photo I have that shows the entire ferry terminal. At the far left you can see the pier for the passenger only ferry to downtown Seattle. The traffic congestion is fairly typical of what you see at the ferry terminals. If you can figure out how to get around with public transit and ride the ferry as a walk-on passenger, you could easily save yourself quite a lot of time.
Photo 2: Central part of Ferry Terimal. Note that there are separate traffic lines for Fauntleroy and for Southworth. Also note the walkway for walk-up passengers on the left side of the roadway. There is no such walkway on the right side. The passenger waiting room and terminal office are on the left side. Note that the bus stop (with a bus waiting for passengers) is right next to the waiting room.
Photo 3: Passenger waiting room (left) at the end of the walkway, though the doorways face the ferry boarding area and not the walkway to the island. There are two ferry boarding areas, and the ferry you can see is waiting to board for Fauntleroy.
Photo 4: Note that there is no room on the ferry for walk-on passengers and for auto traffic at the same time. Therefore, walk-on passengers must board first, and once auto traffic has started to board walk-on passengers are not allowed to board.
Photo 5: This is a photo of the ferry terminal as seen from the water side. The right side is the walk-on passenger only ferry pier to Seattle.
Running from the north end to the south end of Vashon Island, and connecting the ferry terminals at the north (Vashon Terminal) and south (Tahlequah Ferry Terminal) ends of the island, is King County Metro bus route 118. Parts of this route (some three runs per day) also operate into Seattle, but as those operations parallel many other bus routes through West Seattle, they are not entirely relevant to this discussion, except that they make the schedule very confusing to figure out.
You will find the schedules for this bus route to be quite a tangle. This is because the schedule is broken down into several sections: downtown Seattle to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, an unstated empty period on some of the bus runs which I assume is the bus being taken from Fauntleroy to Vashon Island on the ferry, and then service from the Vashon Island Ferry Terminal on the north end of the Island to the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal on the south end of the island (connecting to Point Defiance in Tacoma). Another section of the timetable features only bus service between Vashon Island Ferry Terminal and the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal in a separate section of the timetable, but is combined with bus route 119, which serves a peninsula of Vashon Island.
Bus service operates Monday through Friday on an eccentric irregular schedule, with some operations being only 10 minutes apart, and others being well over an hour apart. Unfortunately, ridership is at the mercy of the connecting Washington State Ferries and King County Water Taxi, so schedules can be very strange on the island. This bus also operates on Saturdays, but the schedule is much reduced over weekday service. There is no service on Sundays.
The route passes through a considerable portion of rural Vashon Island, and through the several small community centers on the island. For a short distance, the bus route runs along Quartermaster Harbor and the views are reasonably good through there. In other places, the only thing visible from the bus are the forests and small farms of the island.
Please see my Visions of Vashon Island tip for some photos of a trip on August 13, 2010.
On the Vashon Island Ferry Terminal, the buses have a stop and lay over right next to the passenger boarding area for the ferries to Seattle (passenger only), Southworth and Fauntleroy. The Tahlequah ferry terminal is not large enough to accomodate any sort of bus turn around, and therefore the bus stop is found on the north side of the road leading crosswise to the ferry terminal.
In September of 2009, the Washington State Ferries exited the passenger only ferry business by order of the state legislature, and operation of the Seattle to Vashion Island Ferry route was taken over by the King County Water Taxi.
Currently, the route operates several more times a day than what was provided by the Washington State Ferries. The boats are somewhat new to the area: they are catamaran craft registered in Alaska. It isn't clear to me that these will be permanent resident craft of Puget Sound, or if they are just visiting.
The craft formerly used by Washington State Ferries on the Seattle to Vashon Island route are for sale.
Therefore, there may very well be additional changes coming for the Seattle to Vashon Island ferry route, and what I have written here about 2010 operations may or may not reflect what you find when you visit.
Seattle-Vashon Island service departs from Pier 50, which is just south of the large Washington State Ferries terminal in downtown Seattle. Unlike the large ferry terminal, there is very little here in terms of services for passengers. Restrooms consist of several portable toilets, the former "waiting room" building is now employees only, and passengers must now wait in a tent-like structure that is semi-outdoors.
The boats have more interior and exterior space, and there is a much larger and comfortable outdoor deck seating on the upper level. Interior seats are padded and there are some tables scattered through the lower cabin. Unlike the Washington State Ferries operation, there is no refreshment or snack sales. The lower cabin also features somewhat of a bow view, but seating is so much lower than the wall, and accumulated water grime so severe, that really there isn't that much to see out the front of the boat. The upper deck features no view out the bow, but it does have a nice stern outdoor deck with several benches.
The current vessels are marked with signs in various locations that state "For Your Safety Please Remain Seated While Vessel is Underway" but this does not seem to be rigorously enforced. Most likely, this would change if the water was more rough.
When it is a clear day, you will be able to see the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and a host of other scenic features from the boat. Even on a not-so-clear day, the scenery is still pretty good.
See Travelogue of Photos from August 13, 2010, when the weather was hot and clear.
A Travelogue from August of 2009 shows the route in much less clear westher, as well as the hazards of assuming that August will be a clear, hot month. The photos from this travelogue were also taken during the final months of operation as a Washington State Ferries operation, with much different craft.
Located on the far southern tip of Vashon Island, the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal connects Vashon Island with Point Defiance in Tacoma. Current service on the ferry is approximately once every hour (see my Point Defiance to Tahlequah Ferry tip).
The Tahlequah Ferry Terminal is located on SW Tahlequah Road, just slightly south of the end of the Vashon Island Highway.
As the ferry terminal lacks a passenger-only boarding ramp, passengers must be loaded first, then the auto traffic is allowed to load.
Passenger facilities here amount to a single transparent shelter that is basically just a bus stop shelter. To get to the shelter, you must walk down the walkway on the east (left) side of the ramp connecting the ferry terminal to the island. A walk/don't walk sign as well as verbal commands from the ferry terminal personell are used to inform passengers when they are able to board. (That is, they yell "Alright, let's move it everyone!" at the waiting passengers.)
Road Traffic Facilities
If you are arriving at the ferry terminal by car, you need to approach the ferry from the Vashon Highway. This is because the line in which to wait your place on the ferry extends up this highway. The painted stripe areas in the line are places where you are not allowed to put your car as it obstructs driveways or otherwise interferes with various traffic.
The line for loading autos and other road traffic can go back a very long ways. You may want to check the Washington State Ferries web site, as it features web cams of many of the terminals (including Tahlequah) and estimated wait times.
Large vehicles, such as trucks and motorhomes, may be required to load down the middle of the lane in order to help balance the ship.
Loading and unloading may be shifted from one side of the ship to the other in order to balance the weight and keep the ship from listing too far to one side or the other.
Bus route 118 stops at the bus stop on the north side of Tahlequah Road, and connects the ferry terminal with much of the main segments of Vashon Island as well as the Vashon Ferry Terminal on the north side of the island.
Photo 1: Tahlequah Ferry Terminal: note the walkway for passengers along the left side of the ramp leading to the ferry
Photo 2: Tahlequah Ferry Terminal: this is how the ferry terminal appears from Tahlequah Road. The southern end of Vashon Highway is to the right of this photo.
Photo 3: This is the walk-on passenger shelter for those waiting for the ferry.
Photo 4: Waiting for the ferry, this is what controls the walk-on passengers.
Photo 5: Loading the auto traffic onto the ferry.
PLEASE NOTE: Please see the new Seattle to Vashon Island tip for better information. This tip is actually outdated but has been retained for various reasons.
Here is why this outdated tip has been retained, for now: This tip you are reading was written in August of 2009. In September of 2009, the Washington State Ferries ceased passenger only ferry service. The route was then taken over by the King County Water Taxi, with completely different craft. The ferries formerly used by Washington State Ferries are for sale, and the catamarans currently used by King County Water Taxi are registered in Alaska. Therefore, there may still be some changes coming to this ferry route. Until things are a little more settled into what this serivce will look like in the future, I have left this old tip in place, which reflects the Washington State Ferries service and craft, while also creating a NEW Seattle to Vashon Island ferry route tip to reflect the service as it exists in 2010. All of the information below is outdated, but has been retained here so that it may be easily put back into service as a useful tip should the service be changed to resemble that which was provided by the Washington State Ferries.
++ From here on, you are reading outdated information! ++
While it is more expensive than the $6.70 passenger fare for the big ships going to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton from downtown Seattle, the $8.70 fare to go between downtown Seattle and Vashion Island is still a good price for a boat trip on Puget Sound.
Some of what you see in this tip will be quickly put out of date, as Washington State Ferries is getting out of the Seattle-Vashion Island business. On September 28, the service will be taken over by the King County Water Taxi, which has already purchased a high speed catamaran for use on this route.
The current service (until September 28) is operated using Washington State Ferries vessel Skagit, which is a high speed passenger vessel. There is no deck viewing, no food service, and only a small area at the rear of the vessel is available for outdoor photography and viewing. There are only two seats on this outdoor deck, created from bolting down old automotive seats.
There is a bow viewing deck, but the windows on the front end of the Skagit are a bit hard to see through due to accumulated water-born grime.
Each ferry route is a bit different in terms of what you see. This route runs the closest to the Alki Peninsula of any of the routes, but everything is still fairly far off. As the boat curves around the Peninsula, Seattle is completely hidden behind the trees on the Peninsula, and you are completely out of view of any large buildings.
The boat touches the very far north end of Vashon Island, and so there is very little running next to any land once you have come around the Alki Peninsula.
Services are minimal at the terminal buildings as well. The ticket office opens only about 15 minutes before the departure of the vessel, and consists of a small office for the passengers to purchase tickets. There is no food service at all here, and not much in terms of waiting seats or even covered waiting space. Departures from Seattle happens from "Pier 50", which is a tiny facility entered from a walkway on the south side of the intersection of Yesler Way and Alaskan Way. As this is also an entry for vehicles entering the large boats heading for Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, the entry walkway is almost lost compared to the much larger facility.
Facilities on Vashon Island are similar: there is very little here, except at least on Vashon Island passengers may share a covered waiting room with passengers headed out to Fauntleroy or Southworth on the larger boats that serve that pier.
The trip goes fairly quickly due to the higher speed of this vessel vs. the larger ferries, but the lack of easy viewing space makes it a little less desirable for recreatonal ferry trips.
While the boat is not big enough to hold any sort of automobile, it does accomodate bicycles and similar non-motorized vehicles.
Washington State Ferries: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/
King County Water Taxi: http://www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Marine.aspx
As of this writing, there is no direct Vashon Island to downtown Seattle ferry that allows vehicles. Instead, that is a passenger only ferry, and it is in the process of being transferred to operation by the King County Water Taxi.
At the northern tip of Vashion Island, at the end of the Vashon Highway, you will find the road comes down onto the ferry pier that connects this northern end of the island with Fauntleroy and with Southworth.
The ferry delivers vehicles and passengers to the residential area at the south end of West Seattle known as Fauntleroy. Due to the residential nature of the streets in that area, and possible traffic congestion problems, the decision has been made by the city of Seattle that there should be no expansion of the ferry terminal at Fauntleroy. Thus, there is some thought that one day there will be vehicle service between Vashon Island and downtown Seattle.
One of the unusual things about this ferry service, compared to the services operating out of the main ferry terminal, is that passengers board and deboard at the vehicle level. Traffic management is done in such a way as to prevent walk-on passengers from getting run over by simply giving them a running start - they board before the vehicles do.
So, even though this is a very quick trip, be sure you are here early if you are a walk-up passenger.
The ferry terminal at the north end of Vashon Island has a small shelter for those waiting to board either ferry (Fauntleroy or Southworth) and it is temperature controlled, but there isn't much here in terms of food service and other such items, as available in the main ferry terminal in Seattle or Bremerton, for example.
Due to multiple ferries boarding at once sometimes, there is a traffic indicator to show which ferry is boarding, and which direction it is going.
The Fauntleroy ferry terminal has a similar lack of restuarants directly at the terminal, but there are some restaurants reasonably close to the ferry terminal.