The Portage Pass Trail is a short, relatively easy, and well-maintained USFS trail that gives amazing views. Of all the trails you will hike in Alaska, this one provides the best "bang for your buck" - the best views with the least amount of work. When you get to the pass after a moderately steep one mile hike, you are treated to a beautiful of Portage Glacier and Portage Lake. If you turn around 180 degrees, you will be treated to a stunning view of Passage Canal (western Prince William Sound) and the City of Whittier.
This trail is great for visitors and those new to Alaska. The two views are simply stunning. The trail is moderately steep; most people in reasonable shape will be able to handle it. You don't have to be an expert hiker. It also is pretty short - just over one mile to the pass from the trailhead.
You will have to pay to get through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel - 12 dollars for cars in summer 2003. Alaska Department of Transportation is conducting a study to determine new rates - word is the tunnel fees will decrease for passenger cars...not sure if/when that will take place.
Best time of the year to hike this trail is late May - October.
About an hours drive from Anchorage, the drive itself is a constant stream of beathtaking views as you drive along the Turnagain Arm. The cost of the cruise for us was $29. It lasts about an hours and runs at Departure Times: 10:30am, 12:00pm, 1:30pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm.
The cruise around the lake is on an 80 foot vessel and has an indoor 1st level and an outdoor 2nd level. You definitely must go out on the outdoor level to really enjoy the surroundings. There's a forest ranger that provides the history and information about the local environment and the glacier. The vessel actually gets right up to the glacier only a few hundred yards away. We were lucky enough to see not one, but two calving fall into the lake! Before going to visit Portage Glacier I had seen pictures on postcards, but to really get an appreciation for the size and how blue the ice is you must see it up close. It's hard to believe that Portage Lake did not even exist 100 years ago. For more pictures check out my travlelogue.
This picture that I took was from the M/V Ptarmigan which departs about a mile and a half from the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center in the Portage Glacier Recreation Area. The cruise takes about an hour, and give you the chance to see the Portage Glacier up close and personal like. The cruise is reasonably priced, and in the summer discount coupons are often found at places like McDonald's or on the boxes that pop is sold in... places like that. I included the Visitor Center's number so you can find the latest options for touring Portage.
I suppose we were a bit early in the season, but there wasn't much to do at portage glacier, but that was ok because the ride there was the real treat. The glaciers in Kenncott/McCarthy were far more impressive, just takes longer to get to. I have to say, the huge chunks of ice floating in the water makes you cold just looking at it.... and a little thirsty. You just can't go wrong with the scenery in Alaska. It rained on us all day and still our experience was superb. Driving along the bay is unforgettable.
On a clear day, you used to be able to see the glacier from the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. It was not a clear day when I went to see Portage Glacier. Due to the $20 per person price, we also did not go out on the cruise to get closer. (The MV Ptarmigan takes visitors out on Portage Lake.) However, I could still see parts of the glacier from the walkways, and the BB Visitor Center had interesting exhibits.
By the way, the BBVC website says that one can no longer see the glacier from the center, as it's receded. Oh, well. More money for the boat ride operators, I guess!
Located about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage along Seward Highway (#1), Portage Glacier is one of the most visited glaciers in Alaska (along with Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier and Seward's Exit Glacier). It's actually closer to Whittier (by way of tunnel) than to Anchorage. Through the large windows of Begich-Boggs Visiter Center at the west end of Whittier tunnel, you can get a great view of the glacier lake and the glacier mountains behind. But after years of retreat, the Glacier itself cannot be easily seen from land.
The best way to view it is either by boat or by foot. By boat, you can take the tour boat "Ptarmigan" around the lake to get a close-up view. By foot, you can hike up the Portage Pass Trail (from Whittier side) to get an aerial view of the Glacier. The Portage Pass Trail is the old roadbed before the tunnel was built. It's on my hiking list but the girl I met on ferry gave me a ride straight from Whittier to Anchorage so I didn't have a chance to do it. We only stopped at a viewpoint at the west end of Whittier tunnel where I took the photo and her dog used restroom. In mid May, the glacier lake was still largely frozen. The Glacier is at the far end of the photo where the mountain meets the lake.
Take a trip south to Portage Glacier Recreation Area in Chugach National Forest.
This is an incredible spot with often very blue icebergs in fantastic shapes. It's a very popular stop. There's a few very short, easy trails which you can hike on. Watch out for the occasional bear!
From the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center there is a gorgeous view of this glacial lake and icebergs. The visitor center is worth a look.
From the visitor center, you can also continue on through a toll tunnel (new in 2001) to Whittier where you can catch the ferry to Valdez. Before this tunnel was built, you had to load your vehicle onto a flat-bed train to get to Whittier. This is how I remembered it from my previous trip in 1996. It's definately quicker and cheaper with the tunnel.
For more info about the area call the Glacier Ranger District Office in Girdwood: (907) 783-3242.
Here's another photo of the Portage Glacier and icebergs which have calved off of it in past years. The glacier is not that easy to see - it's all the way in the back of the photo. It's receding and is no longer a tidewater glacier (one that calves into a body of water). It's still a very nice photo opportunity and the visitor center has some very interesting displays and a short slide presentation.
Portage Glacier is the most visited glacier in Alaska due to its proximity to Anchorage
On a cloudy or rainy day the glacier looks blue
Calving is the process of the glacier breaking off into the lake
This is the most visited attraction in Alaska and is a short drive away from Anchorage at the Kenai Peninsula. You can even take a boat ride to view the glacier close up.
Nice place to see. Not too cold in Sep.... about 50's F.
Don't expect to spend more than 1 hour here.
About 1.5 Hours from Anchorage. Amazing views of this magnificent glacier. Relax while admiring it from the shore of take a boat tour.