Wonders of Chugach National Forest and Portage Valley - Alaska Anecdotes (Day 3)

Far from the expected
breathes a mystery,
Shoving deep inside
with each drag.

Few steps laid astray
ear to ear a whisper,
A flame is quenched
a quest is born.

The road meanders along the blue waters of Turnagain Arm washing the feet of Kenai Mountains on one side and the lush green stretches of Chugach National Forest on the other. To add to the scene runs a series of tracks belonging to the Alaskan Railroad.

You will want to stop more than once to enjoy and capture this panorama through the lenses when you are on Seward Highway running from Seward To Anchorage. The Chugach National Forest occupies a large area of the Kenai Peninsula and you can witness some of its beauty driving down this route.

For a closer encounter with this area we decided to go off the route and took Portage Highway to visit Whittier, the gateway to Prince William Sound and Portage Valley. Prince William Sound is a part of Gulf of Alaska and is surrounded by Chugach National Forest. The only land access to Whittier is through Alton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (often referred to as Whittier Tunnel). It is a mixed use tunnel, that is, both rail and road go through the same passage. It is opened at intervals for one-way traffic from each side.

  • Chugach National Forest is the second largest national forest in the United States.
  • The Alton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest combined tunnel (rail and road) in North America.

There are several opportunities to explore Prince William Sound from Whittier, like kayaking or cruising. As we were quite content with our Kenai Fjords cruising experience we chose to stick to the shores this time and explore the Portage Valley.

This beautiful valley is adorned with several glaciers (Explorer Glacier, Middle Glacier, Byron Glacier, Burns Glacier), though the Portage Glacier and Portage Lake are jewels in the crown.

We could not find any proper guidance to reach Portage Glacier in the maps so we had to rely on Google maps. It directed us to take the national forest access road after crossing the tunnel on our way to Whittier which lead us to a trail head. There was no one visible nearby to gather some information from. It was just us and the wilderness and a sign board saying Portage Pass. So we started to hike up the trail with an amount of unsurety. Nonetheless we enjoyed the solitude, the views of Prince William Sound from up high, the sounds of the forest and the excitement to discover what awaited for us at the end.

After a good one hour of steep ascend we saw this beautiful reflection of the mountain in a small pond on peak of the hill.

We passed by the pond and the a whole new world opened up on the other side. In front of us was the Portage Glacier draining into Portage Lake. There is a small lake in the front called the Divide Lake. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling on seeing that sight so I shall let the pictures do the talking.

The trail does not quite end at this point, one can actually hike down up to the lake. We skipped that part due to time constraints but we were no less satisfied by the bit we did. On our way back we met a few more hikers going up the trail. One of them carried a pole like object on his back and we couldn't control our curiosity and inquired. He said he was from Google and the device would record the particulars of the trail (for example: take photos, mark the trail) which would help to update Google Maps with more details of the place in future.

Later we visited the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center (built in 1911) from where the Portage Glacier used to be visible in the past but is no longer due to its retreat over the years. Some visitors mistake the Burns Glacier which is visible from the Visitor Center as Portage Glacier. Now one has to either take a cruise at the Portage Lake or hike up the Portage Pass Trail to see it.

After the success of this wonderful hiking experience we headed towards Trapper Creek, our that night's halt. But we still had some time in hand to visit Matanuska Glacier en route.

The long day ended relaxing at the beautiful property of Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The rustic log cabins and the long porch adjacent to the lobby building overlooking the mountains were more than perfect for an Alaskan vacation and recharging for the coming day's adventures.

 ALASKAN ANECDOTES TO BE CONTINUED.. in the up-coming posts, stay tuned!

If you missed my previous post on Alaska about day 1 and 2 you can find it here.


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