The best things to do in Whittier, Alaska in 2023

Whittier, Alaska is a small seaside town with an interesting history, stunning nature, and the perfect jumping-off point to explore Prince William Sound and the surrounding area. Slow-traveling cats love visiting Whittier because of the slow pace of life and excellent seafood. Speaking from my own perspective as a well-traveled cat, I love a lazy afternoon in Whitter, gazing at the sea, mixed in with a little bit of outdoor exploration. As for my human, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure in this deceptively small Alaskan town. Read on to learn the best things to do in Whittier, Alaska in 2023. 

Getting there is part of the adventure

The remote nature of Whittier is a draw for many travelers, and getting there is part of the fun! Perhaps the most popular form of transportation to Whittier is an Alaska cruise. This is a great way to visit since you’ll get great views of the shoreline and also get a chance to explore on land. 

This small town is also connected to the rest of Alaska by the road system. You’ll have to wait your turn to travel through a 2.5-mile single-lane tunnel, but you can drive to Whitter from any of the major cities on the mainland of Alaska. 

Best things to do in Whittier, Alaska - driving to Whittier from Anchorage
Driving to Whittier from Anchorage, Alaska

Whittier is also a stop on the Glacier Discovery route of the Alaska Railroad, making it a great day trip destination from Anchorage.

And, finally, the city of Whittier is a major stop on the Alaska Marine Highway System, meaning you can take a ferry into this town. In fact, this is the most popular destination for those lucky cats that take the ferry from Seattle to Anchorage

Do a glacier tour

Now that you made it here, one of the best things to do in Whittier, Alaska is a glacier tour. Prince William Sound is known for its stunning tidewater glaciers. A glacier cruise in this area typically lasts half a day and allows stunning views of Alaska’s most beautiful glaciers. If you are traveling later in the summer season (late July – August) you may even get lucky to witness calving, which is when chunks of the glacier break off and fall into the ocean. 

Another advantage of a glacier tour is the possibility to see wildlife. Known for its adorable sea otters, you may also spot humpback and killer whales, Steller sea lions, and harbor seals. 

There are plenty of day tours that operate out of Whittier Harbor, like the Glacier Quest Cruise by Phillips Cruises.  

Take in Whittier’s history

When exploring any new town, make sure to take time to learn about the area’s early settlers. Originally occupied by the Chugach people, Whittier eventually become part of the Klondike gold rush. Later on, it was converted into a military base during World War II and was eventually incorporated in 1969. 

Most of the town’s infrastructure was built as part of a World War II military base. Begich Towers is a 14-story building, originally designed to house the headquarters of the Army Corps of Engineers. Converted into condominiums in 1972, it now houses nearly all of the town’s residents. 

Make sure to stop by the Prince William Sound Museum, located in the Anchor Inn, to learn more about the unique history of this stunningly gorgeous land. 

Book a fishing charter

One of the top things to do in Whittier is to book a fishing charter. You’ll find plenty of options in Whittier Harbor, including Crazy Rays Adventures, a local favorite.

Tourists and locals alike, love booking fishing charters to try their hand at landing a delicious halibut. The helpful crew is flexible to help guests at all skill levels and will even clean, pack and ship your catch of the day. Deep sea fishing out of Whittier is not only a fun adventure but is also filled with stunning views of Prince William Sound.

Paddle a kayak

The calm waters and picturesque surroundings make this area the perfect place for your Alaskan kayak adventure. Plenty of tour operators, like Lazy Otter Charters, run daily water taxis from the Whittier Harbor to Blackstone Bay, the area best known for kayaking. 

Kayaking next to Whittier, Alaska

Here, you’ll find blue water, abundant marine wildlife, rushing waterfalls, and multiple glaciers hanging over the bay. Make sure to stay a safe distance from these magnificent pieces of ice, however. They are constantly crashing down into the sea, which is an experience you will not want to miss! 

See the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Also known as the Whittier Tunnel, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in North America. This famous one-lane tunnel connects Whittier to the rest of the world. Its single lane is shared by private vehicles, traveling in both directions, as well as the Alaska Railroad. 

The entrance to the tunnel is timed on both sides. Nonetheless, this 2.5-mile trip will give you plenty of time to ponder the opposing traffic waiting on the other side, as well as, the enormous mountain sitting on top of you. 

Enjoy views of the bay

One of the best ways to enjoy an afternoon in Whittier is to find a bar or restaurant with a view of the beautiful Prince William Sound. A great place to explore is Harbor Loop Road. Here, you’ll find the Inn at Whittier and Wild Catch Cafe. Both are great places to enjoy a beverage of your choice. 

This area is located next to Whittier Harbor, which is open to public access. Despite its frigid winters, Whittier remains an ice-free port, allowing it to remain active year-round. 

Visit Portage Glacier 

While Whittier is a great jumping-off point to explore the sea, there are also some great day trips on land. Taking the short drive up to Portage Glacier is a great way to spend the afternoon.

Pull out on Portage Glacier Rd

Upon arrival make sure to visit the Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Here you’ll find a small, yet informative museum and a 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.

The park runs hour-long glacier cruises every 1.5 hours during the summer. This is a great way to see a valley glacier up close and also see some stunning icebergs. 

If boating is not your thing, you can also get a view of the glacier by taking the Portage Pass trail. This 4-mile hike is family-friendly and offers a great example of the flora and fauna of the Chugach National Forest. 

Explore the ruins of the Buckner Building

This unique military building is approximately 275,000 square feet and was constructed with reinforced concrete. Designed to be self-contained, bombproof, and impossible to find under Whittier’s constant cloud cover, the Buckner Building was erected in 1953, during the beginning of the Cold War era. 

The original design contained housing for 1000 soldiers and their families along with a bowling alley, large cafeteria, church, movie theater, and even a small jail. In short, its residents could happily live inside the building without ever taking a step outside. 

After the military abandoned their base in 1966 the building began a slow decline and ultimately went into foreclosure in 2016. Today the City of Whittier has installed a chain link fence around the building for safety purposes, but you can still walk around the perimeter and marvel at a slowly decaying relic from another time. 

Take a trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Roughly 30 minutes outside of Whittier, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is not only an educational experience, but it’s also a great place to get photographs of some of Alaska’s best-known wildlife. Spanning over 200 acres, the center’s mission is to rehabilitate injured wildlife and support conservation efforts across Alaska. Here you’ll find plenty of black bears, grizzlies, muskox, reindeer, wolves, and moose. If you are into wildlife photography, this is a must-see destination. 

Get on a scenic train ride

Taking a train ride through the Alaskan wilderness is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Luckily for you, Whittier is a stop on the Glacier Discovery route of the famous Alaska Railroad.

View from the Glacier Discovery train route

You can buy a round-trip ticket that will take you through the Kenai Mountains on what’s considered one of the most scenic stretches on the railroad. The entire trip will take roughly 5 hours. As an alternative, you can get off the train to explore the backcountry on foot at the Spencer Whistlestop. 

Hike Horsetail Falls Trail

Another great way to spend an afternoon in Whittier is to hike the Horsetail Falls Trail. This hiking trail is 2 miles, round-trip, and is moderately difficult. Take Blackstone Rd just outside of town to find the trailhead and then enjoy a climb through the Chugach forest to a stunning viewpoint at the top. This is a great way to get some exercise while also getting off the beaten path. 

Conclusion on the best things to do in Whittier Alaska

Visiting Whittier, Alaska is a great addition to any Alaskan vacation itinerary. One of the lesser-known destinations in Alaska, Whittier offers a unique combination of adventures on land and sea, along with a side of history and an extremely laid-back vibe.

Whether you are looking to catch a gigantic halibut, get out into the mountains or learn about Alaska’s role in Cold War, there is something for everyone in the lovely, understated seaside town of Whittier, Alaska. 

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