Getting around southeastern Alaska requires wings or a boat.

South of Haines, nearly every town — including Sitka, Ketchikan and the capital city of Juneau — is inaccessible by car. The only highway is the Marine Highway, the name given to the ferry routes along and between the islands of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

When I visited southeastern Alaska this summer, I knew I wanted to experience at least one trip on the Marine Highway. So a couple of days after flying into Juneau, I took a cab to the ferry dock at Auke Bay and hopped aboard the Fairweather, a 235-foot catamaran, for the 4.5-hour trip to Sitka.

The ferry’s name was ironic given the weather — damp and foggy, with intermittent showers. But that’s a frequent forecast in one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests, and the sea otter I spotted frolicking off our starboard hull before we set off didn’t seem to mind at all.

The cabin was comfortable, with padded, high-backed chairs offering plenty of legroom or tables near the ship’s small cafeteria. I settled into a seat, but didn’t stay there long.

Despite the wind and weather, the astounding views from the open-air aft deck were more tempting than the comfy seats.

Admiralty Island would be our port-side companion for half the trip. At 1,646 square miles, it is 15 percent larger than New York’s Long Island but has a population of 650, compared with Long Island’s 7.5 million.

A protected national monument takes up nearly a million acres of the island. Most of the population lives in the town of Angoon, the only settlement of any size I saw during our journey. It was just a huddle of tiny buildings off in the distance.

I was watching the town recede when a whale breached between us, as if to say, “Hey, pay attention to the real show, bub.”

The nature and scenery along the way were magnificent. Green, snow-topped peaks rose on both sides of us and more whales surfaced. They stayed far from our noisy craft, which, at 15,000 horsepower, could cover 36 miles in an hour.

On the starboard side of the channel was Chichagof Island, even larger than Admiralty. Chichagof is said to have more bears per square mile than any place on Earth, but they proved more elusive than the whales.

I followed our course on navigational charts posted around the ship, or on my cellphone when I could get a signal. At Angoon, we made a sharp right turn toward a passage between Chichagof and Baranof islands — ominously named Peril Strait.

Sure enough, at several points, the banks on either side seemed almost close enough to touch. Add a current from an incoming tide that was dragging buoys underwater and forming whitecaps against the shores and the passage seemed perilous enough. But the ferry captain obviously was an old hand in these waters and we plowed through with a nautical nonchalance.

We slowed a bit as we navigated the final twists and turns of our journey, but the first sign that we were approaching the dock at Sitka, besides a few fishing boats headed out, was a huge cruise ship that suddenly loomed up in the distance.

Those passengers, I thought, might have comfortable, private quarters. But they can’t say they sped through Peril Straits at 30 knots.

For more information about Alaska’s Marine Highway, call 1-800-642-0066 or visit FerryAlaska.com.

— Steve Stephens can be reached at sstephens@dispatch.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.