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Southcentral Mountains & Prince William Sound
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Southcentral Mountains & Prince William Sound


The Copper River Valley


Tok Cutoff (AK1/Glenn Highway) Gakona Junction to Tok

Glenn Highway (AK1) Palmer to Glenallen

South Richardson Highway (AK4) Valdez to Glenallen

Copper Center

Edgerton Highway (AK10) & Chitina

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

McCarthy & Kennicott

Prince William Sound & Chugach National Forest

Cordova and the Copper River Delta




Location/Climate: West side of Prince William Sound at the head of the Kenai Peninsula, 50 miles southeast of Anchorage. 66"/yr. precip., 80"/yr. snowfall, 17°F–63°F.

Population: 284 (12.3 percent native).

Travel Attractions: Ferry link, Prince William Sound tours and access, Blackstone Glacier, kayaking, remote stays, Chugach National Forest access.

Getting There: Vehicle and foot access via Alaska Railroad shuttle and new road from Portage; scheduled ferry service from Valdez and Seward.

Information: Visitor information available during business hours, 472-2379, www.alaskaone.com/whittier.

Isolated and small, yet still accessible to those with thin wallets, Whittier has a slightly colorful reputation as a home to those who don’t wish to be found. It’s situated at one end of a portage route once used by the Chugach Indians of Prince William Sound for accessing fishing areas on Turnagain Arm. The town was created during World War II, serving as the main Alaskan debarkation point for troops and materiel after the railroad spur was completed in 1943. This ice-free, strategically located port stayed busy until it was closed in 1960. The town’s population subsequently dropped from 1,200 to 284, giving it the distinctly eerie feel of a ghost town.

The most visible legacies of the military era are the Begich Towers, a 14-story high-rise; and the Buckner building, long known as a "city under one roof," having held 1,000 apartments, a bowling alley, hospital, theater, library, shops, gymnasium, and pool. The Buckner building is abandoned, though the Begich Towers and the Whittier Manor, a large structure built in the 1950s for civilian workers, now host the condominium homes of many Whittier residents. The accommodations, both past and present, are thoroughly un-Alaskan. Indeed, if it were not for Whittier’s marvelous location and key transportation links, the "town" itself would be a must-miss for most travelers.

Whittier’s boat harbor and dockside businesses form the heart of the tourist part of town. Cruise ships stopped coming to avoid a head tax and because of limited dock facilities, but may return with the opening of the new road. Ferry passengers generally use Whittier as a transfer point for the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, or the Interior. The small harbor shelters many vessels owned by Anchorage residents and charter companies. Almost everyone who arrives in town quickly finds a way out again—as perhaps you should.

On the other hand, Whittier’s old military ambiance is intriguing in its own right. Certainly the people of Whittier are friendly and the immediate surrounds of the town are quite beautiful. Whittier makes an awkward postcard, but with glaciers, waterfalls, bird rookeries, fjords, and peaks a walk or paddle away, how bad could a bit of ugliness be?

Train and Ferry Connections/The New Road

Independent travelers typically arrive or leave Whittier via one of six daily train shuttles to or from Portage (four on Wednesday and Thursday), connecting with the once- or twice-daily arrival of an A.M.H.S ferry (see Ferry Travel, chapter 6). Plans are in the works to build a short road and to open the train tunnel to vehicles at certain hours of the day. For current information on the train schedule and rates, or the road schedule and tolls, call the Alaska Railroad at (800) 544-0552 or 265-2494.

Things to See and Do in and Around Whittier

Moderate and inexpensive natural-destination options around town include the following:

Portage Pass Trail (2 miles, 700' gain)—The best views of Portage Glacier are found at the end of this easy route. Take West Camp Road (the only road) west from town and past Army Bunker Road to the trail. The path crosses the stream then contours up and around the southern slopes of Maynard Mountain. You’ll soon reach a small lake and pass with splendid views of Portage Glacier and Portage Lake. The old portage route once crossed the glacier, which has now receded beyond usability. To reach Portage and the road to Anchorage, you’ll need to take a more adventurous route. RT—3–4 hrs.

Other short hikes include a scramble up to the falls on Whittier Creek and beyond to Whittier Glacier (rough path along creek above Begich Towers), or an easy walk to the picnic area at the Salmon Run (up Cove Creek Road beyond the Buckner building). Consider a walk down the road around the head of the canal for town views and a look at the tank farm and mill ruins.

Passage Canal—Rent a kayak at Prince William Sound Kayak Center (see the Appendix) and explore the local waters. Across Passage Canal from town is a frantic kittiwake rookery and a splendid waterfall. A shifting panorama of peaks and glaciers accompanies you through the sheltered waters. Decision Point State Marine Park, Entry Cove State Marine Park, and Surprise Cove State Marine Park campsites are about 8, 10 and 12 miles from town, respectively. Longer trip options include Blackstone Glacier and College Fiord (see Chugach National Forest).

Where to Stay and Eat in Whittier

Anchor Inn, Whittier Street at Depot, 472-2354. A dive of a motel—a last resort. Bar, grocery, coin-operated laundry, $70.

Captain Ron’s Berth & Biscuit (hostel), 235-4368 (winter phone/fax in Homer), 472-2393 (summer). Good budget lodging choice. Call for information.

Irma’s Outpost, Harbor Triangle, 472-2461. Delicatessen, pastries, orders to go.

Whittier Public Campground, Glacier Street on Whittier Creek (above town). $5 per site. Convenient, cheap, not bad.