Portage Glacier, Portage Valley & Whittier Tunnel Drive Guide

Portage Valley Scenic Drive  (2:45)

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.

Getting there:

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. Here's information on the area from the USFS.

Weather note:

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 and weather cam! The valley can sometimes get quite stormy, with high winds and sideways rain. Here's the Real time road weather at Portage Valley Road intersection with Seward Highway

Show Map

Portage Valley Driving Guide

Portage Valley Highway

The main road that runs 5 miles in from the Seward Hwy
Difficulty: Easy

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.

Difficulty: Moderate

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.

Stop at the turnout to pho­to­graph this beau­ti­ful hang­ing glac­i­er high on the mountainside.

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.

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.

Difficulty: Easy

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.

Portage Lake Loop

Turnoff for the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and Portage Glacier Cruises. The road bends another 1.5 miles around the lake shore

Why go 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 by Portage Glac­i­er almost a cen­tu­ry ago. The Trail of Blue Ice, Byron…  ...more

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile Elevation Gain: 100 feet

This short day hike — with an eas­i­ly acces­si­ble trail­head a few hun­dred meters from the Begich Bog­gs Vis­i­tor Cen­ter — offers you big views of the Byron Glacier.

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.

Season: mid-May to mid-September $49+ 1 hr

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.

Bear Valley, Whittier Tunnel & Whittier

If you stay left on Portage Glacier Highway instead of veering right toward the visitor center, you'll reach the Whittier Tunnel to access the town of Whittier.

It’s free to go this far by car, and you’ll get a pic­ture-per­fect shot of Portage Glacier.

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 aired out in between trips (with jet tur­bine ven­ti­la­tion, anoth­er first!). This unique…  ...more

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 2 miles

This 2‑mile-long, fam­i­ly-friend­ly trail, which begins 90 min­utes south of Anchor­age at the far end of the Whit­ti­er Tun­nel, remains the only easy way to see Portage Glac­i­er on foot. And it’s has a spec­tac­u­lar con­clu­sion: After crest­ing Portage Pass, the trail drops through glacial scrub before pop­ping out on the wide grav­el shores of Portage Lake, direct­ly across from the snout of gor­geous Portage Glacier.