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. Flickr - NAParish
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. Flickr - Michael Hayes
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. Flickr - Paxson Woelber
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. Flickr - davidd
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. Flickr - Nicholas D.
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. Flickr - Travis
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. Flickr - Frank Kovalchek
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. Flickr - Ken Levine
It’s impossible to forget a world-renowned trip to College Fjord, or Harriman Fjord, which is home to Surprise Glacier and Barry Glacier. Flickr - Baba1948
There are also incredible hiking, backpacking, and camping opportunities in and around Whittier. Flickr - Frank Kovalchek
Look around and you’re sure to see stunning waterfalls plummeting from massive cliffs and rock faces. Flickr - Anita Gould
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. Flickr - Forsaken Media
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. Flickr - TravelingOtter
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.
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
Do you remember Francis Adams from New York State? He is my uncle and was stationed there about that time.
Thre is a place to park and stay a few aye. No hook ups or showers. The showers are in th business areas.
April 1, 2020
Whittier was my first introduction to Alaska in 1956. What a first impression. Portage Glacier has receded 4 miles since.
Been there, seen that, done that. A trip to Whittier should be on every Alaskan travelers map. It’s beautiful, everything they described, but more. An undefinable something I can’t put into words but brings up thoughts, mental pictures and feelings about being a sourdough there, having forged most of the small towns that exist in Alaska and slowly grew and filled out. Except a few. Whittier being one. Totally unique. A step back 100 years, yet still in the present. People holding on to their heritage way of life and living in today too. Imagine living in a brand new anchorage. Before the now and the before now. I lived in Alaska from 1973 through summer of 2002. Not so long as many, but love the old timers. Tough as nails, and loyal as anything I can think of. Unless you really crossed one up, then maybe loyal to that grudge too. Whittier reminds me of the old timers. It’s a feeling. Not a description. You should go.
Hi Pam. Yes you an take a fifth wheel trailer through the tunnel as many people tow large ocean boats through to Whittier as well.
Can you take a fifth wheel trailer there and is a place to park it?
Several of us from Elmendorf AFB hiked in to Whittier back in 1963 before the earthquake and well before a road was made through the 2nd tunnel. We set off from Portage and hiked the RR on Sunday when no train was running. Walked with flashlights through both tunnels to the town to provide music and help with a worship service there. Hiked back the same day for a total of 26 miles. The beauty when we emerged from the first long tunnel was breathtaking. It was tiring but a trip we’ll never forget.
Yes, we have been there twice; the first time we took the train as the tunnel was not accessible by vehicle and the second time we could drive there and took the boat over to Valdez. Very unique and interesting town.
Grew up in Whittier back in the days before the earthquake when Union 76, Chevron USA and Columbia Lumber existed. Went to movies and church in the Buckner building!
I live in AK and youve alrady experience more of the state than I have. Its my mission to explore the state this year!
At the age of 19, I went to Whittier and married a soldier. We lived in the Whittier Arms apartments a block or so from Buckner Bldg. We married in a church, no longer there, down the street from Begich Towers, and our reception was held in an apartment in that building. Later, the Army allowed us to take a tour on a tug boat around the harbor in Whittier, which is a fond memory. Yes, being young, I did not like the isolation and no walks in the sun for 4 or 5 months was hard to take. But my experiences during the year we lived there are priceless. My memories make me smile and I am so glad I got to experience the life in Whittier for all the seasons. I have been back once and the feelings I felt I was, and am still not able to put into words. Life in Whittier was one of the true Blessings in my life.
Went to Whittier on my Alaska trip in 2016 drove thru the train tunnel and to an amazing tour of the glaciers, planning on traveling back to Alaska in a year or two for another road trip!!
I live in Alaska and have been to Whittier several times. It has an amazing history and is a wonderful place to go hiking, kayaking, or just wandering around to visit the sights. Be sure to take the boat out and see the glaciers and wildlife in the area but, be warned, bring a raincoat since it rains a lot there! Cool place for a day trip!
Actually, I believe the whole thing is cinder block, so it might be better soundproofing than you think.
I’ve done 8 road trips to ALASKA from KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI in the lower 48. I have to drive to PRINCE RUPERT in BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA to catch the ALASKA FERRY, north through the beautiful INSIDE PASSAGE to get to ALASKA. My destination is always WHITTIER, as this is my jumping off point to begin my ALASKA ADVENTURE. After arriving on the FERRY, I always spend a night in WHITTIER at the ANCHOR INN HOTEL before subsequently tackling the beautiful and scenic highways and byways of the great state of ALASKA!! WHITTIER is a quaint little town with nice little shops, eating establishments and great daily tours for the delight of transient tourists such as myself . From WHITTIER, I can drive all over the state of ALASKA before heading back home via the famous ALASKA HIGHWAY!! One of the most exciting legs of my travels in ALASKA, is the drive from FAIRBANKS to DEADHORSE and back on the daunting DALTON HIGHWAY. I’m already planning my 9th road trip back to ALASKA later on this Summer. I can’t think of a better (or more exciting) way to spend my 4 week vacation than driving all over the great and beautiful state of ALASKA!!
I’d be a poorer man if I never went to Alaska. So much to see and do allow yourself plenty of time for all excursions, you can sleep on the flight home.
I would greatly enjoy the beauty of the location, but that kind of fishbowl, communal living would be a nightmare to me. I need space and tranquility. The average apartment is annoying, this would be beyond the pale. Considering the age of the building, I doubt there is much soundproofing to buffer the noise of neighbors and visitors.
Swiftwater Seafood Cafe located in the triangle is the best deep fried Halibut you’ll ever eat.
When I told someone that randy lydic and I lived there. They asked if we were practicing alcholicism!! Lol
You can also access the car ferry in Whittier,from their on to Valdez, or many other destinations.
Looks like a marvelous stop for the next Alaska visit.
And also remember the weather!
It’s Shittier in Whittier!
Been there, really amazing you drive threw tunnel you take turns with train, when you enter town very dreary but historically fascinating
It is a one of a kind experience driving thru the train/RV/car tunnel… and visiting the town… It was on my 6,000 mile RV road trip..
I reccomend it!!
It looks like a little ShangiLa!