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