A Road Less Traveled

Visitors will find Whittier is well worth the detour

By: Christopher Batin

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View of Prince William Sound from
near Portage Pass, Alaska.
When driving the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, most tourists don’t consider taking the turnoff to Whittier, a small seaport nestled in the Chugach Mountains. The two-lane road winds off into the mountains, away from the other attraction-rich areas of the Kenai Peninsula. My advice to your clients is to follow it for a day or weekend. I frequently take the turn, and have yet to regret my actions.

Loads of Adventure
Whittier is Anchorage’s closest deep-water seaport, and the gateway to exploring the many wonders and sights of eastern Prince William Sound.

Clients should first stop and take in the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center, which takes in the flora, fauna and ice of nearby Portage Glacier area. Stop at one of the viewing platforms overlooking the area creeks and rivers and watch salmon spawning activity. Day hikes to nearby alpine glaciers offer ample opportunities to get up close and personal for those clients who like rugged backcountry hiking.

One of my favorite parts of the trip is driving through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest vehicle tunnel in North America. At 2½ miles, this vintage and renovated World War II train tunnel and bunker is the fastest and most economical way to reach Whittier. For the average vehicle, the price is $12, roundtrip.

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The Whittier Small Boat Harbor is where
most of the tours throughout the area are based.
Because Whittier is a city whose road dead ends at tidewater, clients need either a bush plane or boat to continue their exploration of Prince William Sound. There is much to explore here.

Local Larry Suiter, who for years journeyed to the Kenai Peninsula for his weekend recreation, now keeps a boat in Whittier.

“It’s fast to get here, compared to driving to the Kenai,” he said. “Plus the saltwater port allows me many touring and recreation options each weekend.”

The deep fiords and spectacular alpine glaciers are always popular with cruise-tour passengers. Fishing opportunities abound with new halibut and salmon derbies that run during the summer months.

The Chugach National Forest offers recreational cabins and hiking opportunities. The most popular include Portage Pass, Horsetail Falls and Salmon Run trails.

Scuba diving here is popular with local divers. Inland shore dives are my favorite because of the World War II bunkers and wrecks found in both shallow and deep water.

Birders will enjoy the kittiwake rookery that is on the opposite side of Passage Canal. Bring a waterproof pair of binoculars or a decent zoom lens. Bonus sights include oyster catchers, eagles and a variety of scoters.

Whittier has a host of guided tours, such as the Phillips 26 Glacier Tour, which is part of the day-tour fleet. Boats are the mainstay transportation here, transporting kayakers, anglers and sightseers.

Clients can best access Whittier by renting a vehicle in Anchorage or surrounding cities and driving. Bus tours are also available, as are tours aboard the Alaska Railroad for those who want to leave the driving to someone else.

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Alyeska Resort
Where to Stay
While hotels such as the Anchor Inn offer basic accommodations near the water, those not staying the night or looking for a bit more finery might want to backtrack a few miles to the Seward Highway and stay at Alyeska Resort.

The tram up the mountain is worthwhile on a clear or cloudy day, and new hiking trails offer a variety of day activities in one of the most picturesque valleys in Alaska. Expect average, basic lunch fare at the cafe on top, with better food at the restaurant in the main resort.

I spent a day here with family, exploring the quaint town that serves as Alaska’s major ski resort in winter, and its eccentric flair makes it a must-see tourism attraction in summer. Take time to view the bore tide on Turnagain Arm, or watch orca whales chase salmon on an incoming tide.

Alyeska’s rooms are worth a solid four stars, with superb room service, amenities and Wi-Fi. Ask the resort for off-season and special discounts.

Whittier Country offers good, single-day cruises or fishing charters and a multi-day backcountry experience, if your client is inclined toward kayaking, sightseeing, touring, hiking, fishing or flightseeing. Whatever the activity, consider Whittier as part of an overall Alaska tour for clients, or as a place to make the most of a day in south-central Alaska.


Alaska Railroad

Alyeska Resort

Anchor Inn Whittier

Tunnel Schedule and Information

Whittier Chamber of Commerce