Whether you are exploring mainland Alaska or getting on/off an Alaska cruise in the city of Whittier, make sure to stay a little! Most people make the mistake of only embarking or disembarking their cruise in the Whittier harbor. There are many things to do in Whittier Alaska.
Whittier is best known for the quantity and quality of King Salmon fishing, and whale-watching tours in Whittier are some of the best in Alaska. Along with this, we are going to look at the other 7 top things to do in Whittier, Alaska.
We first visited the small town of Whittier when we drove to Alaska from Wisconsin (yes, you read that right). We spent the night as there as there were so many outdoor activities, and it looked like a great place to spend the night.
You can easily visit as a day tour and jump on one of the glacier day cruises. We suggest looking at a calendar and seeing what are the cruise ship days in Whittier. Some tours only run when the cruise ships are in port, so double-check.
On our last visit, we were on a Holland America Alaska cruise that was ending in Whittier, so sadly, we didn’t have time to explore. We opted for the train ride from Whittier to Anchorage, as we had previously driven through the Whittier tunnel.
If you ask us, it is one of the best ways to travel from Anchorage to Whittier/Whitter to Anchorage, and the price isn’t that much more than the standard Alaska cruise transfer by bus.
The train still goes through the tunnel, so you will get that longest highway tunnel experience no which way you travel. The train offers daily summer service several times a day.
1. Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
If you are driving from Anchorage to Whittier, you will need to travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This record-breaking tunnel runs for 2.7 miles under an entire mountain and is the largest of its kind in North America. It is North America’s longest tunnel! It was the first tunnel designed to withstand 150 mph winds and -40°F temperatures. The single tunnel is shared by cars and trains traveling in two directions.
Allowing cars to travel over the rail tracks was a ground-breaking design. The tunnel is regularly aired out using a huge jet turbine and portal fans (another first). The toll price for private vehicles to pass through starts at $13. There are scheduled times for access due to the single-lane nature of the tunnel.
Access is on the half-hour and the hour, depending on the direction you are traveling. There are different timetables for the winter and summer seasons, so check beforehand and make sure you give yourself plenty of time in case you have to wait.
If you arrive early and have extra time then just relax and take in the breathtaking scenery. Click here for the tunnel schedule and closures.
2. Prince William Sound Museum
The Prince William Sound Museum was formed by the Whittier Museum Association in 2003. Since then, the museum has built up a collection of 32 exhibits. The history of Whittier as a military port is examined and explained. There are also displays relating to the port city being a rail terminal. Some exhibits cover the Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel, the Alaska Railroad, and the Alaska Steamship Company.
However, there is lots more information about the military aspect of the city. From WWII to the Cold War, the military heritage of Whittier is thoroughly discussed. From the battles of Kisku and Attu in the Aleutian Islands to Cold War flights. The guarding of the coastline and dramatic rescues are all highlighted with fascinating insights.
Located at the Anchor Inn in downtown Whittier, this small museum has been rated within the top 10 in Alaska. If you are in Whittier, visiting the Prince William Sound Museum is highly recommended.
3. Hike Portage Pass
In the recent past, visitors could visit the Boggs Visitor Center at Begich on the western edge of Lake Portage. From there, people could take a quick hike down to a small beach and touch the crystalline blue ice of Portage Glacier. Those times are seemingly long gone, and now the glacier sits at the eastern end of the Lake.
To see the glacier close up, you now need to take a boat. Otherwise, it involves a 2-mile hike across the Portage Pass trail by foot. Not to worry, though. This moderate trek takes in some truly awe-inspiring scenery. In fact, the landscape in this part of Alaska is considered some of the best in the world.
The round-trip of 4 miles rises steadily to the actual pass. Before you reach the two stone towers of the pass, you will see the slopes of Maynard Mountain. The huge rock of Shakespeare Shoulder juts out in the narrow valley and rises to over 3,700 ft. After the pass, you start the descent from just over 800 ft above sea level.
There are two options here: to take the more challenging route or to go for the more relaxed path. Whichever route you take, you will eventually pop out through the scrub to face the impressive Portage Glacier. Time to stop and take a breath – listen to the glacial meltwater flowing from the melting ice.
Wonder at the enormous amounts of energy that the glacier has used carving out the valleys and forming drumlins. Then, head back on the 2-mile hike to arrive in time for dinner. Highly recommended for all nature-loving families and folk.
- Coordinates: Latitude: 60,776 Longitude: -148,7244
4. 26 Glacier Cruise Tour
Voted the ‘Best Tour Experience’ in 2021, this guided glacier cruise takes in up to 26 different glaciers. Using modern high-speed catamarans, the tour takes just under 4 hours and spans 45 miles. The first-class setting of the catamarans allows visitors to see the abundant marine wildlife and glaciers in complete comfort. Some of the natural highlights include spotting whales, sea otters, bald eagles, and sea lions.
While the bird-spotting opportunities are exceptional in this part of the U.S., the glacier tour takes in both the College Fjord and Harriman Fjords, where wildlife watching is best. Warm clothing is recommended, and a warm meal is included in the tour. This is a scenic and educational cruise recommended as a once-in-a-lifetime possibility. Highly recommended.
- For more details contact: [email protected]
5. Shop Whittier’s Small Boat Harbor
While the Whittier harbor isn’t large, there are a number of small shops and a pleasant little boardwalk, a great spot to get a souvenir at a gift shop. The view of the small boat harbor is almost picture-perfect. Sometimes, you might even catch an otter or harbor seals playing in the seawater. The boardwalk wraps around the waterfront, and there are benches to rest.
The view of the ocean, sky, mountains, and waterfalls leaves many speechless. Should you wish, there is a picnic area with tables at the end of the harbor.
You have to pay to access the harbor, and normally, there is a harbor master on hand. Parking is free for private vehicles, but recreation vehicles and boat trailers need to pay a small fee.
6. The Buckner Building
The Buckner Building is a crumbling relic of the U.S. military from a bygone era. The building is six stories tall and was made using reinforced concrete. The self-contained complex consisted of a small hospital, a 320-seat theater, a 4-lane bowling alley, a 6-cell jail, a church, bakery, barbershop, library, radio station, rifle range, photo lab, commissary, a huge cafeteria and kitchen, and an officers’ lounge.
The military regarded it as a city under one roof, and it was used as a secret military base when it finished in 1949. The building was slowly abandoned over the years as the military had no use for it. And in 1964, the great Alaskan earthquake finally made it unsafe for habitation.
Since 2014 the local authorities have prohibited trespassing proactively as a safety measure. Worth a visit to see it before it crumbles to the ground completely.
- Directions: 1. Head southeast on Portage Glacier Hwy toward W Camp Rd. 2. Continue onto W Camp Rd 3. Turn right onto Whittier St 4. Slight right onto Blackstone Rd
7. Horsetail Falls Trail
Considered to be a moderately challenging trail, the route takes a little over an hour to complete. Rising to about 700 ft, it is not a particularly high climb. However, the spectacular views of Blackstone Ridge with the Horsetail waterfall make it worth it. It is a great trail for bird-watching, as well as hiking, and is about a 2-mile round trip in total.
Depending on the snow cover, the trek can be more or less difficult. There are great views of Whittier, but sometimes the waterfalls may not be flowing. Beware of black bears, as there have been rare sightings on occasion.
- Coordinates: Latitude 60.774 Longitude -148.67238
As mentioned before, Whittier is well known for having the best King Salmon fishing. For those living in Anchorage, Whittier is the closest spot for seawater fishing in Alaska. Because of this, the area is very popular with shore- and boat-based fishermen. If you have the time and inclination, it’s recommended that you charter a fishing boat. Obviously, there is no obligation to hire a fishing charter, but why not?
To get the most out of fishing the Alaskan waters, hiring a professional seems more than sensible. One charter company, in particular, has over 20 years of fishing experience around Whittier. There are plenty of other fishing charters, so there are lots of choices. Whatever you decide, fishing in these parts is a must for any angler.