Crystal-clear Williwaw Creek and its bank-side trail system in Portage Valley at the head of Turnagain Arm offers exceptionally good conditions for watching spawning in action. Coho, sockeye and chum salmon converge on the creek as it winds through the brushy flats beginning in mid-August, with some late-arriving fish still present after first frost in the fall.
The handicap-accessible platform overlooks several deep pools off a parking lot at Mile 4 of the Portage Highway, about 50 miles from Anchorage off the Seward Highway. The facility is adjacent to the Williwaw Campground, and features several info displays with great information on salmon natural history and behavior.
The Williwaw Nature Trail leads north from the platform beneath the highway and follows the creek for about a half-mile as it winds through the brush. There are many places where you can catch an intimate glimpse of salmon pairs evacuating redds for eggs and spawning. Be sure to make plenty of noise when walking this path when fish are thick! Bears often forage along this stream (usually black bears.) It’s not uncommon to come upon a fish carcass freshly abandoned on the bank or in the trail.
Another option lies a quarter-mile downstream, where the Trail of Blue Ice skirts the Williwaw Campground on its route through the valley. This bike trail and walking path crosses Williwaw Creek several times, offering great opportunities to see salmon working their way upstream to prime spawning grounds.
The stream usually provides exceptionally good picture taking opportunities. Be sure to use a polarized filter on your camera to cut the glare and enhance the green heads and scarlet-red bodies of the spawners.
The creek and the nearby campground is named for the high winds that sometimes blast through Portage Valley—situated on the 10-mile-wide isthmus between the Alaska mainland and the Kenai Peninsula. Notice how the surrounding forest is brushier and younger than the more mature stands only a few hundred yards downstream from the campground area. That’s because tremendous avalanches have plunged down the massive mountain face to the south in certain historic high-snow winters, burying the campground area and wiping out mature stands of trees.
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