Portage – The Sunken Alaska Ghost Town
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Portage, Alaska, located near the head of Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway, roughly 47 miles south of Anchorage, is a former settlement that was devastated by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. The town sunk approximately 6-10 feet putting it below the high tide level which caused devastating floods. Residents quickly abandoned the area as it was impossible to rebuild. Little remains of the town today, but visitors to the area will find structural remains of home sites as well as the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, an attraction that has brought welcome life back into the region.
Below is an account from a person in the Portage area and their experience during the long minutes of the earthquake on March 27, 1964.
“An eyewitness who was in a service station on the west side of the highway said he and a companion ran out the east door of the building as the concrete floor began to crack. They got about three feet out of the building when a crack about three feet wide opened between them. He said that cracks formed about each of them, leaving each man on a small island about three feet wide that moved up and down. He said it was like riding an open elevator. As he went down, the other man went up. And then they’d pass each other going in opposite directions. He said that the earth all around them broke into similar pieces and that as the blocks of frozen earth moved up and down, the cracks also opened and closed causing muddy water to spout as high as 50 feet. He said after the shaking stopped, water filled the open cracks. He estimated the duration of the quake at about four to five minutes.” Source: Chronology of Physical Events of the Alaskan Earthquake, 1966, Genie Chance papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.
This image of Portage shows the destructive effects of the Good Friday Earthquake.
Nearly the entire community sunk 6-10 feet, forcing residents to abandon their homes.
When you drive down the scenic Seward Highway, you’ll pass right through Portage.
Today, relics from the past still exist throughout the original Portage townsite.
This area, nicknamed the ‘ghost forest,’ got its name from the trees that stand dead because of the saltwater that flooded the area and killed their roots.
Today, visitors can explore the area and learn of its history while they enjoy the beauty of Turnagain Arm.
Hike, bike or ski to one of the many glaciers in the area, or hop on an Alaska Railroad adventure.
…Or visit the incredible animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out The Alaska Life’s treasured tiny towns road trip that will lead you through incredible scenery. Also, check out these Alaska ghost towns that you’ve probably never heard of.
Let us know below if we left off any of your favorite Portage Alaska attractions. If you are living and loving The Alaska Life – share your adventures with us on our Facebook page HERE, and they might just end up getting featured in one of our next blog posts.
Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley