This popular area draws visitors from around the world for glacier viewing, camping, and hiking.
Located in the Chugach National Forest, Portage Glacier is one of Alaska’s most visited attractions and one of the most easily-accessible glaciers in Southcentral Alaska. Visitors access the area from the Seward Highway along the 5-mile Portage Glacier Road, which winds past a series of campgrounds and arrives at the impressive Begich, Boggs Visitor Center.
Things to Do
Most visitors to the area start their exploration at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, built on the shores of Portage Lake on the glacier’s terminal moraine. This impressive visitor center features exhibits on the area’s wildlife, ecosystem, and the 1964 earthquake, and shows a nature documentary throughout the day in a large theater. Small ice chunks that have calved off of the glacier are routinely hauled out of the water and brought into the visitor center so visitors can see and touch the dense ice.
Visitors to the Portage Glacier valley have a few options for viewing Portage Glacier and other glaciers in the area. For those who want to get up close to the vertical face of the glacier by water, an hour-long narrated sightseeing boat tour departs near the visitor center and cruises across Portage Lake to the face of the glacier. Five departure times are available every day from late-May through early September.
For hikers, there are a few nature trails that reveal stunning views of glaciers, the iceberg-dotted lake, and the surrounding valley. The Portage Pass Trail departs from the nearby down of Whittier, accessed through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This 2-mile-long trial leads up and over a low pass to the shore of Portage Lake, where hikers can get up-close views of Portage Glacier. This trail provides the only hiking access to Portage Glacier.
The 1.4-mile-long Byron Glacier Trail is located just past the Visitor Center on Byron Glacier Road and leads hikers through a narrow river valley to the terminus of Byron Glacier, an alpine glacier perched in the mountains at the end of the valley. The Trail of Blue Ice is a paved multi-use trail that travels 5 miles through the lush forest next to the Portage Glacier Road. This trail is popular for both hikers and bikers and features views of the surrounding mountains, with opportunities to view wildlife and fish.
The Portage Valley is a popular spot for camping in the summer, with two scenic campsites located along Portage Glacier Road. The shallow Portage Creek parallels Portage Glacier Road and is a family-friendly float, popular with packrafters and kayakers.
During spring and fall, great flocks of geese, ducks, swans, and cranes migrate through Portage Pass, taking a shortcut between Turnagain Arm and Prince William Sound. Summer fills the forest with songbirds, and harlequin ducks return to nest on fast-moving streams. Bigger creatures like moose, brown bears, black bears, and mountain goats thrive in the valley and can often be seen on the mountain hillsides.
The current location of the Visitor Center was the terminus of Portage Glacier as recently as 1914. Since then, the glacier has receded over three miles is no longer visible from the Visitor Center. A massive ice sheet once covered the entire Portage Valley. Today, the valley is surrounded by stunning steep-sided mountains and alpine glaciers. The meandering Portage Creek flows from Portage Lake to the Turnagain Arm, and several other streams and small lakes parallel the Portage Glacier Road.
The small town of Portage, located at the end of Turnagain Arm, was home to about 100 residents when the 1964 Good Friday earthquake struck. The magnitude 9.2 earthquake caused the shoreline to drop six to twelve feet, flooding the town with saltwater. All that is left of the town of Portage are a few ruined structures that can be seen on the mudflats along the Seward Highway.
Facilities and Camping
Portage Glacier recreation area features two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, both along Portage Glacier Road. Black Bear Campground is nestled in a beautiful forest and is popular among tent campers. Williwaw Campground is located beneath Explorer Glacier and well suited for RVs. Both campgrounds are extremely popular in the summer.
The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center is open daily from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day. The area features several miles of maintained hiking trails along with interpretive boardwalk trails, fish viewing platforms, and picnic areas.
Portage Glacier is 50 miles south of Anchorage and 10 miles south of the Alyeska Highway/Girdwood junction, accessible by road via the Seward Highway and Portage Glacier Road.
Explore more things to do in the Portage Glacier area.
For more information, visit the Chugach National Forest Portage Glacier website.