It was a road trip that began to an unknown destination as we were trying to discover more of Alaska. To see Alaska, you have to get out into Alaska. So, starting out, just hit the road and drive! You never know where you may end up or what you’ll find.
There aren’t many roads here. In fact the highways are numbered, 1-11 and 98 (lost count I guess). They ALL offer stunning, varied scenery, places to stop and picnic, hikes, and fascinating Alaskan towns.
Heading South on Highway 1
On this trip, our initial goal was Girdwood. As we made our way south of Anchorage, we stopped to watch a female Dall sheep with a lamb, and to look for Beluga whales along the Turnagain Arm.
The closer we got to our planned destination, the more we thought “Let’s just go a little further.” So we kept driving until we had to make a decision to go towards the Kenai Peninsula, or turn left to?
We chose left, the Portage Glacier Highway, and made our way to Portage Lake. It was a VERY cold lake fed by mountain snow runoff and Portage Glacier. We couldn’t get a good view of the Glacier from the visitors center, but had a ball playing in the lake.
Who said there aren’t beaches in Alaska! This one came complete with it’s own iceberg, and guy with dog on a paddle board. Next summer, I think we’ll get some boards or kayaks and see if we can get all the way to the glacier.
Keep on Going to Whittier-Why not?
As we prepared to go, I said to Jeff, “It would be awesome to see Prince William Sound.” Jeff replied, “Well how far is Whittier?” I didn’t know for sure, but the lady in the visitors center said the tunnel was just up the road.
The kids love tunnels and I wanted ocean so we had to check this out. Final destination for the road trip turned out to be Whittier.
*Tip: The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is 2.5 miles long, one way traffic only, and also used by trains to transport goods from the port in Whittier. The fee is $12 for private vehicles, and it’s best to check the schedules so you aren’t stuck waiting, or in Whittier overnight.
There was no way the kids were holding their breath for the ~10 minutes it took us to drive through. The temperature dropped by at least 30 degrees in the tunnel. Moisture trickled down the walls, and I imagine in winter, it’s an icy cave.
We emerged into a different world. The ocean was bluish green. I loved the instant feeling of a rough Alaskan port on the edge of famed Prince William Sound.
The surrounding mountains were lush and green with countless waterfalls.
Much of the town lives in the building above, which originally was government owned. It’s now transformed into condos.
The kids were hungry (I would have packed a picnic if I’d known where we were going). But really, who was going to pass up fish and chips! Not me. We found the Swiftwater Seafood Cafe, and ordered mixed baskets of shimp and halibut. They got it right! It was the best fried halibut at a ‘restaurant’ we’ve had since moving here.
We sat on the deck and enjoyed the views. Then walked around the town and docks. Many of the shops were quirky Alaska at it’s finest!
The harbor was busy but not overly crowded. Fishing and private boats were coming in and out. No cruise ships were in port, but some do leave from there.
Whittier, Alaska- Harbor
Many of our friends have boats stored here as it’s about 60 miles from Anchorage, and 97 miles from Wasilla. I had visions of hopping on a black beauty of a sailboat and heading out to sea.
My guess is we’ll store one there too at some point. (Maybe it’ll entice people to come see us!)
I loved the smell of the ocean and harbor. While the fishy ambiance was an annoyance to some tourists we saw, I found it heavenly. We all breathed in deeply the refreshing sea air.
After basking in it for a couple of hours, it was time to head back home. As we waited to go back through the tunnel, we enjoyed the views of a hanging glacier. It was so close I felt I could touch it.
Riding back home, I thought about what we would have missed if we hadn’t kept going just a little further. It’s how we’ve found so many places in Alaska we didn’t even know we were looking for.
The cost was 1/2 tank gas $20, and tunnel fee $12. We did buy lunch, but if you planned ahead, Whittier or Portage Lake are great spots for a picnic. Well worth the drive with enough sites and fun to keep the whole family entertained.