6 Things to Do in Whittier
Whittier is one of Alaska’s top summer destinations, with incredible opportunities to discover dense forests, brilliant waters, and gorgeous glaciers. Cruise ship passengers and independent travelers can hop on fishing charters, sightseeing tours, water taxis, and even jet ski trips to explore beautiful Prince William Sound.
1. Drive North America's Longest Tunnel
At 2.7 miles in length, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest combined vehicle and railroad tunnel in North America. It’s also the only way to get to Whittier by land. The one-lane tunnel operates on a private schedule, alternating between private cars and the Alaska Railroad every half hour. The engineering marvel cuts completely through Maynard Mountain and is designed to withstand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and winds as high as 150 miles per hour.
Constructed during World War II, the historic tunnel delivered goods from the port via railroad. A combination of portal and jet-turbine ventilation fans air out the tunnel between direction changes. Passengers aboard the Alaska Railroad experience complete darkness for two minutes while the train winds through the inside of the mountain. Well worth the wait, the light at the end of the tunnel offers stunning views of glaciers and the coastal community.
2. Overnight in Prince William Sound’s Backcountry
With access to about a dozen U.S. Forest Service cabins and endless backcountry camping areas, Prince William Sound is a great spot to get off-the-grid for an overnight adventure. Local boat tour operators offer water taxi service out to cabins and can provide recommendations for backcountry camping areas. For a guided adventure, join a multi-day kayak trip. Experienced guides will take you out to stunning backcountry campsites, which will be your basecamp as you embark on daily kayaking trips in Prince William Sound’s protected waters.
3. Learn About Whittier’s History
Covered by clouds and surrounded by peaks, Whittier was founded as a secret military installation during World War II. The Prince William Sound Museum features displays describing Whittier's unusual military history, but for many, the most striking exhibit is on Anton Anderson and the “dynamite kings” who built the tunnel.
The region was previously inhabited by the Sugpiaq people and is officially recognized as the Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area for its natural, cultural, historic, and scenic relevance.
4. Hike Horsetail Falls Trail
Follow along Blackstone Road to reach the scenic, two-mile-long Horsetail Falls Trail. Fitting for all activity levels, this leisurely hike gently ascends the Blackstone Ridge to reach coveted views of the crashing Horsetail Falls. Along the way, travelers soak in views of meadows, the scenic Cove Creek, and many smaller waterfalls.
Although the trail begins with views looking up to the waterfall, more experienced climbers can continue on to scale the top of Blackstone Ridge for views overlooking Horsetail Falls spilling into Whittier Creek. Frequently visited, this highly groomed, low-elevation trail does not require a guide for exploration. Visitors with mobility limitations can watch the rushing waters from an easily accessible roadside pullout.
5. Explore Portage Glacier
Portage Glacier, which lies within Chugach National Forest, is easily accessible (though not visible) from the Portage Highway on the Portage side of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. While the glacier was once within viewing distance of the road, it has since retreated and is now only visible by boat or by hiking the Portage Pass Trail, which departs on the Whittier side of the tunnel. This 2-mile-long trail travels over a low pass with stunning views of Portage Glacier and then descends to a rocky beach on Portage Lake near the face of the glacier.
On the Portage side of the tunnel, visitors can witness the effects of glacial activity from the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. Explore a simulated ice cave, touch an iceberg, and view live ice worms. From the visitor center, forest service interpreters take visitors on leisurely hikes along the nearby Byron Glacier Trail. Embark on a one-hour boat tour to cruise through the iceberg-dotted Portage Lake or paddle to the face of the glacier on stand-up paddleboards or in a kayak.
6. Cruise Prince William Sound
Home to 150 glaciers, filled with marine wildlife, and surrounded by mountains, Prince William Sound is an adventurer’s paradise that is best explored by boat. From half-day cruises to multi-day excursions, tour boats and water taxis explore the nooks and crannies of this beautiful wilderness. Smooth-sailing catamarans cruise through the crystal blue waters while eagles soar high above. Abundant marine wildlife including whales, sea otters, and harbor seals are often spotted, while birds nest on rocky cliffs and black bears can be seen foraging along the shoreline. Knowledgeable captains take visitors to the face of tidewater glaciers in top destinations like Blackstone Bay and Harriman Fjord. Most day tours serve hot meals and drinks onboard the vessels for visitors to enjoy.
Tour boats aren’t the only way to enjoy take in the sights in Prince William Sound. For up-close views, visitors can explore the area on a kayak or jet ski tour, or join a fishing charter to catch salmon, halibut, lingcod, and rockfish.
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