Whittier was formerly a military base in World War II. // © 2015 iStock
For more outdoor adventure in Alaska, take a trip to Hatcher Pass
The seaport of Whittier is a bit hard to find, and for good reason.
Protected by towering mountains and glaciers, the city, with a local population of less than 300, began as a military supply port to defend against a possible World War II Japanese invasion through Alaska.
Today, however, there is nothing war-like about this hidden portal. In fact, it is continuing to grow in popularity, with an annual visiting population of more than 700,000.
Whittier is a quick-and-easy destination for visitors who only have a limited time to take in some of the state’s finest coastal mountain glaciers and tidewater scenery. I visit Whittier at least once a year, and, for these five reasons, I’ll keep coming back.
Whittier is located approximately 60 miles southeast of Anchorage via the Seward Highway and Portage Glacier Road. Visitors take the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel — North America’s longest vehicle tunnel — that bores through a mountain of solid rock to reach the seaport. Before the tunnel, check out the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center in Portage Valley or watch the salmon spawning in nearby creeks.
Leave the Driving to Someone Else
The Alaska Railroad offers daily summer service from Anchorage to Whittier. The Alaska Marine Ferry also docks at this port on a daily basis throughout the summer. For further exploration, the ferry offers transportation to the coastal cities of Valdez and Cordova, where visitors can spend the night and return by ferry the next day. Whittier has also become a popular port for cruise ships arriving or departing from Alaska.
For the best seaport eateries, spend a few hours taking in the quaint minihut shops along the city boat dock. Expect everything from fresh fish tacos to Alaska espresso. The area is packed with young commercial fishermen and grizzled old timers who call this Alaska seaport home.
Glacier Day Trips and Attractions
Three of North America’s largest ice fields feed the glaciers around Whittier. According to Lisa Kruse, director of sales and marketing for Phillips Cruises, Whittier’s main attraction is its glacier day cruises, which attract about 55,000 visitors a year. The “26 Glaciers” cruise is my favorite Whittier tour for wildlife, spectacular tidewater glaciers and its “no seasickness guarantee.”
Kayaking and fishing
Halibut and salmon fishing derbies run during the summer in Whittier, and numerous protected coves makes it one of my favorite kayak destinations. Birders also enjoy the nearby Kittiwake Rookery, one of the largest in Prince William Sound.