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Add Portage Glacier to Your Alaska Must-Do List

Portage Glacier is one of Southcentral Alaska’s most visited places. Just a short drive south of Anchorage, it’s centrally located and easily accessible by hike or day cruise. Here is a bit about the history of the glacier and what to do once you arrive to make the most out of the Portage Glacier area.

Plan your visit to Portage Glacier

History of Portage Glacier

Scientist Thomas Mendenhall gave the glacier its current name in 1898. Portage Glacier is located in Chugach National Forest, and is bordered by Portage Lake. A large amount of glacier is actually underwater in Portage Lake, more than 100 feet deep. Centuries ago, the glacier extended across the entire 14 miles of the Portage Valley but has since been separated, leaving behind many small glaciers in the area.

How to get to Portage Glacier

From Anchorage, Portage Glacier is just a short drive south. Hop in the car or book roundtrip transportation from Anchorage for a beautiful drive down the scenic Turnagain Arm (keep an eye out for beluga whales to one side and Dall sheep to the other). While you’re visiting Portage Glacier, be sure to stop by the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center to learn more about the science of the glacier and its environment. With a film shown hourly, the exhibits cater to adults and children, providing fun insights into the glacier and the surrounding areas. Portage Glacier is no longer visible from the visitor center so from here, choose your own adventure to get an up-close look.

How to see Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier cruise

You can enjoy Portage Glacier by day cruise on Portage Lake. The one-hour cruises leave several times daily from mid-May to mid-September. Aboard the mv Ptarmigan, guests can enjoy a heated viewing cabin on cooler days or stand outside on the deck for the duration of the trip. Not only will you experience magnificent views of the glacier, but you’ll get to enjoy the surrounding waterfalls and wildlife along the way.

Portage Glacier hike

For a different view, you can hike the Portage Pass Trail. This moderately steep, four-mile roundtrip hike to Portage Glacier rewards you with a panoramic view of the lake, the glacier, Prince William Sound, and Whittier. Whatever route you choose, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience!

Exploring the Portage Glacier area

Don’t miss an opportunity to stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education, research, and quality animal care. Visitors can explore the center and view the wildlife by walking or driving the loop around the sanctuary.

Also nearby is the small community of Whittier, a popular cruise ship port initially established as a U.S. military base during World War II. Connecting the road between Whittier and the glacier is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This nearly three-mile tunnel, known commonly as the “Whittier Tunnel,” was once the longest constructed tunnel in North America before the “Big Dig” tunnel in Boston was completed. It shares passage with the Alaska Railroad and is only wide enough for traffic to flow in one direction at a time. It’s the only route in and out of Whittier by car or train. Take a drive through the tunnel to grab a bite to eat or visit the shops in Whittier.

No matter how you choose to experience Portage Glacier, we hope to see you soon!

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