Whittier, Alaska – The Gateway To Prince William Sound
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Whittier, Alaska, was recently named as one of the “weirdest towns in America” by Ranker.com, and you know what? We take that as a compliment! Standing out is way better than fitting in. Most things in Alaska can never be ordinary or status quo, which is part of why we love it here. For those who haven’t experienced the extreme isolation factor that comes with living in a tiny rural community like Whittier, the idea can be hard to fathom. As the place known for housing “an entire community under one roof”—Whittier sure does know how to leave a lasting impression.
To access Whittier by road, there is only one way in and one way out—through the historic Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This is the longest combined rail/highway tunnel in the United States and the second longest highway tunnel in North America.
After the urgency from WWII prompted the development of this challenging engineering feat, the “spur” includes three and a half miles of tunnels in total. A mile-long tunnel was built under Begich Peak, and an impressive two and a half mile tunnel was carved into the base of the towering Maynard Mountain. Today, the tunnel is open at set daily times for regular traffic to the area and a small toll is required to travel through it.
Along the way to Whittier on the scenic Portage Glacier Highway, visitors are spoiled with views of hanging glaciers and soaring mountains of the Chugach National Forest.
Situated at the head of the Passage Canal on the western edge of Prince William Sound, Whittier is home to around 200 permanent residents. During the summer months, the tourism and fishing industries bring abundant amounts of traffic to the otherwise sleepy community.
The town became known as the “entire town that lives under one roof” back during WWII when the Buckner Building was in operation, which housed the entire military community. Constructed in 1949, the bomb-proof Buckner Army Barracks survived the notorious 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and continued to operate for two years afterwards. It has been abandoned since 1966, and is said to be too expensive and dangerous to demolish due to high amounts of asbestos.
Today, the 14-story high Begich Towers is the major home base for Whittier residents and business owners, as well as public service, administrative, and medical professionals. It is reported to house a police station, post office, convenience store, church worship center, video rental shop, playground, and a community health center. It was built in 1952 by the military and went under private ownership by the year 1960. It has 196 units in total.
Visitors to Whittier can enjoy the small boat harbor where marine wildlife viewing is not uncommon. Seals, sea lions, and otters like to frequent the area and are absolutely brilliant to observe in their natural environment.
Daily fishing and glacier viewing excursions are very popular, as guests get to experience the breathtaking beauty of Prince William Sound. Hearing the sounds and seeing the sights of massive tidewater glaciers calving into the ocean is guaranteed to make your jaw drop.
It’s impossible to forget a world-renowned trip to College Fjord, or Harriman Fjord, which is home to Surprise Glacier and Barry Glacier.
There are also incredible hiking, backpacking, and camping opportunities in and around Whittier.
Look around and you’re sure to see stunning waterfalls plummeting from massive cliffs and rock faces.
Venturing into the Passage Canal and Blackstone Bay is a great experience via a kayaking and jet skiing tour. Get up close and personal with raw, rugged nature while watching wildlife along the coastline.
Whittier also has many delicious restaurants, shops, and oceanfront lodging options to take your experience to the next level. Local hospitality is all the rage in Whittier. The people really are delightful and the businesses are filled with character.
While Ranker.com might consider Whittier to be the “weirdest town in America”—we happen to think it’s one of the most alluring attractions in the world. Everyone deserves to experience this special place at least once in their lifetime.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out this Alaska road trip that will lead you through some of the most treasured tiny towns in the state. Also, don’t miss Portage – the sunken Alaska ghost town that nature is reclaiming. You’ll love learning about El Capitan Cave, Alaska’s largest aboveground cave that will give you an enchanting middle-earth type of experience. You might also enjoy reading about the isolated places in Alaska where you can actually view Russia from your doorstep.