You’re lucky enough to have found yourself in the midst of summer in Alaska. The air is fresh, the salmon are plentiful and the sun never sets. Whether you live here or are just visiting, to get the most out of your Alaska trip itinerary, you must hit the road. This weekend, we visit Portage Glacier the great town of Whittier.
Pro tip: For a comprehensive view of what to do in Alaska, check out The Alaska Roadtrip Itinerary.
Starting the day
To have an amazing day at Portage Glacier and Whittier, I recommend the following items (all of which can be purchased at Carrs: firewood, fire starting necessities, a refillable water container, snacks, marshmallows (for roasting), roasting sticks, hand sanitizer (get used to the idea of an outhouse!), a light jacket, a raincoat, and your hiking boots.
For this trip, I suggest starting your day with a lazy morning. Why not sleep in for once? The sun will be ready when you are. As long as you hit the road by 10 am, you’ll have plenty of time for sightseeing. On the way out of town, make sure to stop at Black Cup Cafe, a spaciously, modern coffee shop, with the best pour-over coffee town.
A coastal drive, top priority on any Alaska trip itinerary
Some say it’s the journey, not the destination, but in this case, it’s actually both! A late morning drive down the Seward Highway is an experience like no other. Make sure to stop at at least one viewpoint, so that you can truly take in the unique, Alaskan mudflats, set against unnaturally calm waters, and framed by courageous mountains. This portion of the Alaskan coastline is one of the most scenic drives in the entire state.
After about 45 minutes on the road, you’ll see the turn-off for Girdwood, via Alyeska Highway. I’d suggest taking a quick break in town. Girdwood is a tiny, charming ski town, nestled in the Chugach Mountain Range. Make sure to stop by Crow Creek Mercantile to grab some picnic food for a late lunch in Whittier.
Portage Glacier, the next stop on your Alaska trip itinerary
Once you’re back on the road it’s a mere 15-minute drive to Portage Glacier Rd, where you’ll take a quick left, trading in the mystical coastline for a densely green valley, flanked by glaciers on either side. Make sure to pull over and explore the rivers and glacier-fed lakes, which lay hidden, just beyond brush-lined the road.
After approximately 6 miles, you’ll reach Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Here you’ll find a small, yet informative museum and stunning view of glacier-fed, Portage Lake. From this perspective, the massive glacier that feeds the lake is hidden from view, however, it’s easily accessible by boat.
Assuming you left Anchorage by 10 am, you should be just in time to check-in for the 12noon cruise to Portage Glacier. The entire cruise takes just 1-hour and takes you within 300 yards of the face of Portage Glacier. Running early or late? No big deal, Portage Glacier Cruises runs 5 trips a day at 1.5-hour intervals (10:30 am, 12noon, 1:30 pm, 3 pm, and 4:30 pm). This is one of the simplest glaciers to visit, while still being downright magnificent to gaze upon. Gazing upon a magnificent glacier is a must-do on any Alaska trip itinerary.
Make sure to make time for a lap through the visitor center either before or after your cruise to learn more about the history of the glacier and surrounding wildlife. You should aim to leave the visitor center by 1:15 pm.
The Whittier Tunnel
Upon exiting the visitor center you are only a short drive away from checking into the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, often referred to as the Whittier Tunnel. This famous tunnel connects Whittier to the rest of the world via one lane, carved through a mountain. This one lane is shared by cars traveling in both directions, as well as a train. It’s the longest combined vehicle-railway tunnel in all of North America. The 2.5-mile trip will give you plenty of time to ponder the mountain sitting on top of you.
During the summer, the tunnel opens for transport into Whittier at the bottom of every hour. Ideally, you arrive in time for the 1:30 pm opening. Make sure you leave time to check-in and pay the $12 toll.
Picnic in Whittier
As you enter Whittier, look for a small turn out to your left into an unmarked beach and small boat launch area (if you hit the main town, you’ve gone too far). Here you’ll find tons of driftwood to sit on and a handful of fire pits. Welcome to one of the most rugged, yet picturesque spots to picnic in Alaska! Once you get your campfire going, you can enjoy your delicious food from the Crow Creek Mercantile while staring into the calm, protected sea. This is an amazing place to view waterfalls from the winter snowmelt, just another small example of the joy of summer in Alaska.
After your late lunch, take as long as you want to relax on the beach, and roast some marshmallows over your mid-day campfire. Who says it needs to be dark outside to enjoy a fire? The real Alaskans know that any activity can be enjoyed under the summer sun.
Shotgun Cove Road
After your mid-afternoon campfire, take Shotgun Cove Rd to the very end for yet another, unnamed, unmarked lookout point. The road will end on a small cliff overlooking the water. Make sure to get plenty of pictures and take time to soak in the view. There is a little trail to the right that leads down to the water. If possible, try to time your hike around low tide and experience some of the most interesting rock formations and sea plants that I have ever come across.
A sunlit happy hour, the perfect end to your Alaska trip itinerary
Now that it’s nearing late afternoon, it’s time to make the 1 hour and 15-minute drive back up to Anchorage. This should put you back in town just in time to land at your favorite brewery for sipping on craft beer and sharing pictures from the day. If you have not identified your favorite brewery, I’d suggest Midnight Sun Brewing Company.
There is nothing better than a relaxed day exploring the coast and experiencing the magic of an Alaskan glacier. Summer in Alaska is about more than checking off a list of sights. It’s about embracing a lifestyle that can only be experienced with truly untouched nature, which is carefully guarded by a sun that will never set.
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