Portage Valley & Whittier Tunnel Drive Guide
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.
Here is a PDF map of Portage Valley
Portage Valley Highway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 too far onto the ice of this tempting glacier. You can see… ...more
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 aired out in between trips (with jet turbine ventilation, another first!). This unique… ...more
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.