Portage Valley southeast of Anchorage at the head of Turnagain Arm offers so many potential adventures that you might have to tow a trailer loaded with gear to sample them all. What will you find here? Biking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, potential iceberg sightings — plus a natural history visitor center packed with interactive displays about the ecosystem of the valley and Prince William Sound. It’s like an outdoor Disneyland just over an hour’s drive from town.
Trail of Blue Ice
A highlight may be the five-mile-long Trail of Blue Ice, a biking and hiking route that starts at the Moose Flats Day Use Area and connects to most of the developed stops along the road before reaching the lakefront by the visitor center. Almost completely flat, the trail winds through the forest and crosses wet areas on handsome boardwalks. It is very popular destination for family biking, with one highway crossing.
Explore the ponds
Want to paddle around? Several interesting-but-calm lakes with relatively warm water can be accessed from pullouts along the road. Try the system of ponds and channels at the entrance to Alder Pond (stocked annually with rainbow trout) about 1.5 miles from the Seward Highway. For those with more advanced skills, float or canoe Portage Creek, considered the least gnarly whitewater trip in the Anchorage area.
Gold Rush route
A portion of the north shore of Portage Lake is also open to paddling to the beach below Portage Pass. This water trail parallels the route that Native Alaskans and gold-rush prospectors once traveled between Prince William Sound and Turnagain Arm before the glacier retreated. (The rest of the lake is closed to paddling.) The launch spot is at the parking area just past the first highway tunnel. Be prepared for very cold water, unexpected winds and rough conditions.
From Anchorage, take the Seward Highway south to the head of Turnagain Arm. The turn-off to Portage Valley is 48 miles south, just past the Alaska Railroad staging area and the bridges over Portage Creek. Portage Lake and the Begich Boggs Visitor Center are about five miles to the east.
When it’s sunny and/or calm, Portage Valley may be one of the most stunning — and welcoming — destinations in the region. But check the forecast! The valley can sometimes get quite stormy, with high winds and sideways rain.
Located at Mile 1.0 of the Portage Highway, this site has a short boardwalk trail along several ponds. It is a good site for observing waterfowl that nest and rear their young in the ponds and river channels.
If you have the ability to transport bicycles, this trail makes for a great afternoon trip. The dirt path winds through the Portage Valley, passing glacial lakes and ending at Portage Lake (this part of the trip is 5 miles each way). Make sure to bring your camera: you’ll see hanging glaciers and, very likely, some wildlife.
This tour operator out of the Kenai Peninsula’s Cooper Landing offers an up-close and unforgettable experience—as well as a great workout—in the Alaska wild. Take a stand up paddleboard tour on Portage Creek, or go an easy, scenic bike ride on the Trail of Blue Ice. More tours are available in Cooper Landing, but these two adventures are specific to the Portage Valley.
Biking, fish viewing, a natural history center and a flat hike to a glacier are within easy reach of this quiet, intimate campground in Portage Valley at the head of Turnagain Arm in the Chugach National Forest. The 12 sites in the graveled, wooded Black Bear are yards from the Trail of Blue Ice — a non-motorized multi-use trail that traverses the valley floor.
With 60 sites on paved loops, Williwaw is suitable for large motorhomes and offers great access to the Trail of Blue Ice — a non-motorized multi-use trail that traverses the valley floor. Also nearby biking, salmon viewing, hikes, and glacier viewing.
This salmon viewing opportunity is located at Mile 4 of the Portage Highway. Look for a paved lot on south side of road and a Salmon Viewing sign. The viewing platform is handicap accessible and overlooks Williwaw Creek. Spawning sockeye, chum, and coho salmon arrive in late-July and remain throughout early fall with the best viewing in mid to late-August. In addition to salmon, you More...
There is a good guide for this trail available at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier. Numbered trail posts correspond to things in the guide. This is a great place to view spawning salmon in the fall. It is a well-maintained path with a thirty-foot bridge. This hike is wheelchair accessible and there are lots of berries and various wildlife species.
Originally built in 1956 as a bar at the end of a 5 mile gravel road which served Glacier Ice Margaritas. In 1964 a restaurant and lodging was added, but the lodging portion was eliminated in 1980. The only place to eat in the valley, this family-run day lodge has a gift shop and serves cafeteria-style food.
The Forest Service’s Begich, Boggs Visitor Center is located in Portage Valley, one of Alaska’s most visited recreation areas. The valley is a showcase of glacial activity with a number of "hanging" glaciers gracing the encircling mountains. The visitor center is located on the northwestern shore of Portage Lake, and was built on the terminal moraine left behind More...
Portage Valley may be one of the most popular visitor destinations in Alaska, but don't let that scare you away. The truth is that most people stop at the visitor’s center for a quick walkthrough, take a photo on the deck and then get back on the road, to Whittier or elsewhere. And while it’s true that the valley's blue ice and glacial scenery is outstanding from More...
Technically, Portage is no longer a roadside glacier, as it recedes an average of one foot a day and is now no longer visible from the road, but its big blue icebergs are often found along the shore of the lake, right in front of the parking area. On Byron, ice worms are common, if you get down and look. There are also beautiful ice caves and rivulets to see, but be careful not to walk More...
Just an hour’s drive from Anchorage, the MV Ptarmigan let you get within 300 feet of the towering ice wall called Portage Glacier. You can also book a narrated motorcoach tour to take you to Portage Glacier.
Deep enough to submerge an 80-story building, the lake was carved out over thousands of years of glacial advances. While Salmon make their way into the lake, you may not see them due to the immense deposits of glacial silt. The silt also protects them from predators such as birds and larger fish. However, they eventually make their way to clearer waters. Look for dense blue icebergs from Portage Glacier blown to shore.
Driving from Anchorage to Whittier to play in Prince William Sound? You’ll go through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel—the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America, and the first designed for -40 Fahrenheit temperatures and 150 mph winds!
The one-lane tunnel must be shared by cars and trains traveling in both directions, and it usually needs to be More...
Whittier was built as a deepwater port and railroad terminus to transport fuel and supplies during World War II. Come inside the Anchor Inn where a small but fascinating museum gives a glimpse of Whittier's interesting history.
Built during WWII as a top-secret military project, today Whittier is a great jumping-off place to explore Prince William Sound. To connect Whittier with the rest of the Alaska Railroad, during the war the military constructed a massive tunnel. Today the expanded tunnel is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.