Although the former village of Portage is basically a ghost town, it’s still one of Southcentral Alaska’s more popular roadside attractions for one big reason – Portage Glacier.
Between Girdwood and the road to Whittier is what’s left of Portage. The community at the end of Turnagain Arm was home to almost 100 residents until the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The massive earthquake caused the shoreline to drop between six and 12 feet, allowing high tides to flood the town and surrounding area with salt water. All that remains of the original village are a few structures sinking into the nearby mud flats and scattered stands of dead trees, all of which can be easily seen from Seward Highway.
Things to do
Portage Glacier in located in Chugach National Forest and is one of Alaska’s most visited attractions. Access is via the Seward Highway, about 50 miles south of Anchorage. The Portage Glacier Access Road winds about five miles from the highway, past a series of campgrounds and to the impressive Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. Portage Glacier is in retreat, and is no longer visible from the center’s observation decks and telescopes, but the center is still an interesting stop thanks to exhibits that let visitors walk through a simulated ice cave, view live ice worms or touch an iceberg. To get up close to the glacier, take an hour-long sightseeing boat cruise on Portage Lake, or hike on one of a number of foot trails that lead to the glacier.
Also in the area is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a non-profit organization that provides refuge for orphaned, injured and sick animals. It’s a great place to safely view grizzly bears, musk ox and other impressive Alaska species. The center is located just before the Portage Glacier road turnoff on the left.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit wildlife center located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway where injured and rescued animals are on display. Stay in your vehicle as you swing through the center to see everything wild from a bear to a moose.
Anton Memorial Tunnel
The tunnel that connects Whittier to the Seward Highway is a marvel of engineering. In 2000, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
was overhauled for auto traffic and now is the longest 'railroad-highway' tunnel in North America at 2.7 miles. You can enjoy it either in your car or onboard the Alaska Railroad.
Begich-Boggs Visitors Center
Even though Portage Glacier has since retreated out of view of its observation decks and telescopes, Begich-Boggs Visitor Center is still an interesting stop. Managed by Chugach National Forest, the center features a variety of exhibits where you can walk through a simulated ice cave, view live ice worms or touch an iceberg. There is also video theater and bookstore.
Glacier boat cruises
You can no longer see Portage Glacier from Begich-Boggs Visitor Center. For a close look at the ice, visitors book passage on a glacier cruise that takes them an hour-long ride on Portage Lake right up to the glacier.
One of the most unusual railroad trips in Alaska is the Alaska Railroad's Spencer Whistle Stop Train. The special run departs from the Portage station for Spencer Glacier, where at a viewing area of the ice there are also interpretive trails and a group campsite for visitors to spend the night.