EVERETT — This weekend is not the best time to say, “Hey, let’s ferry over to the islands before it’s too late.”
It’s already too late, unless you want lots of traveling companions.
Washington State Ferries expects 400,000 people aboard Thursday through Tuesday in what could be the system’s busiest summer since 2019. Saturday is expected to be the peak travel day on ferries.
Travel surges over Labor Day weekend by sea, street and sky as people chase the last fling of summer.
Even with gas at about $5 a gallon in Washington, many will hit the road.
Timing is key to avoid the jams. Peak traffic is expected from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, with 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday also higher than normal, according to INRIX, a transportation data company based in Kirkland.
“The best times to travel by car over Labor Day weekend are early in the morning or in the evening,” INRIX transportation analyst Bob Pishue said in a news release. “If you must travel during heavy traffic, navigation apps and local departments of transportation can help steer drivers around long delays.”
Walking or bicycling on a state ferry can save hours trapped in the car line. Mukilteo now offers long-term paid parking near the terminal.
The busiest sailings for vehicles are expected to be westbound Thursday through Saturday, and eastbound on Sunday through Tuesday. In Snohomish County, westbound is Mukilteo to Clinton and Edmonds to Kingston. Eastbound is vice versa. Both routes have returned to two-boat service, but crew shortages continue to cancel sailings on short notice.
Check the Washington State Department of Transportation online at wsdot.wa.gov to plot your trip before you go. Load the mobile app, which has toll rates, traffic maps, Amtrak schedules and real-time updates on ferries, mountain passes and U.S.-Canada border crossings.
AAA booking data for flights, hotels, rental cars, and cruises increased for Labor Day weekend travel over last year. Domestic bookings are up 4%, but the biggest jump is international bookings, up 44%. Cruise bookings increased 19%.
The top five domestic destinations are Seattle, Orlando, Anchorage, New York and Las Vegas this weekend. Vancouver, Rome, London, Dublin and Paris top the international list.
Long lines, already the norm at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, get even longer over holidays. Passengers without TSA PreCheck can reserve a screening time using SEA Spot Saver, a free service that allows appointments at certain checkpoints.
Travelers from Snohomish County wanting to avoid the Seattle congestion can catch the right rail at Northgate Station and get to Sea-Tac in under an hour. The cost for adults is $3.50. Seniors pay $1. Ages 18 and under ride free.
Riding a real train is an adventure in itself. The Amtrak Cascades has direct routes from Everett Station to Vancouver, British Columbia, and to Portland, Oregon. Hop on or off at stations that include Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Edmonds and Seattle along the way.