Galveston Island’s Free Ferry Service

If you are heading down to Galveston Island this summer, you may be thinking of the typical things to do – long walks on the beach, eating tons of food, and getting a bike ride in along Seawall Boulevard. While all those activities are pretty fun(even with the 100-degree heat), you don’t want to skip one thing: riding the Galveston – Port Bolivar ferry.

picture of galveston ferry sunset
Sunset on the Galveston ferry.

Taking you across Galveston Bay, this twenty-minute boat ride connects Galveston Island and the semi-rural community of Port Bolivar. The ferry is run by the Texas Department of Transportation(TxDOT) and has been in service in 1929. It was operated by a private company until TxDOT took over in 1934. This service is much utilized by locals and visitors alike – more than eight million people ride it annually!

picture of the galveston ferry at night
Day or night, the ferry is a pretty popular attraction.

Boarding on the Galveston side takes place off Seawall Boulevard and Ferry Road, close to Stewart Beach. This stretch of Ferry Road also doubles as State Highway 87, which continues on in Port Bolivar. One ship operates 24/7, while a second starts running at 6:30 in the morning. Should demand increase throughout the day, up to five vessels can be in service at the same time.

In periods of high demand(in my experience anytime after mid-morning on the weekends), expect at least a thirty to forty-minute wait for boarding. Each vessel can hold up to seventy vehicles, and space fills up quickly.

picture of cars on Galveston ferry

After loading and securing your car, you can get out and breathe in some fresh sea air as the ferry gets underway. Both the upper and lower decks are open to the public. While on this short journey, you can expect to see various forms of marine wildlife, including dolphins on occasion. You’ll also get to see some of the marine traffic that makes use of the Port of Houston daily, to include everything from cargo ships to Coast Guard vessels.

picture of cma cgm cargo ship
This French-owned container ship passed us by, making its way into port.
picture of coast guard base in galveston
The United States Coast Guard base.

Shortly before docking, a deckhand will make an announcement advising everyone to return to their cars. Through the years, the process has become pretty efficient – everyone is off the ship within a few minutes of docking.

picture of galveston ferry approaching port bolivar
There’s Port Bolivar!

After disembarking, you can choose to drive down the Bolivar side of State Highway 87, a lonely stretch of road that passes by vacation homes and largely desolate beaches. When you are ready to come back, the same boarding process is repeated. Usually, the wait time on the return leg is a bit shorter.

picture of galveston ferry dock
The loading area on the Bolivar side.
picture of ship leaving dock
Pulling away, heading back to Galveston.

While I didn’t see any vending machines on board, restrooms are available on both the lower and upper deck. The ride is very stable for the most part – provided the seas aren’t rough, of course! As long as you follow the instructions of the crew members, you’ll have a good(and safe) time. In the five or so times I’ve been on board, it’s always been a very enjoyable experience that sometimes left me wishing the trip was a bit longer. Come check it out for yourself the next time you are in G-Town!

Disclaimer: Weather in Texas can be unpredictable, so check the ferry’s official Twitter: @GalvestonFerry, as they post updates throughout the day along with expected wait times.

Have you been on the Galveston ferry? Let me know in the comments.