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Small-town Life in the Whittier, Alaska

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Whittier is a beautiful coastal town tucked away in the wilderness of Alaska. This part of Alaska is so remote that it’s only accessible from a single tunnel carved in the deep mountains. The surprising part is that it’s a place where nearly all the residents live and work in a 14-story building. Whittier, Alaska, is among the most unique traveling destinations on Earth.

Port of Whittier, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

The origins of this small town are quite fascinating. During the Great World War II, the United States military established a secret base in this corner of the state. They constructed a harbor, barracks, and a railroad system too. After the war ended, the military left the space. 

However, the infrastructure remained, and later, it became a quirky fishing spot and a gateway to the beauty of the well-known Prince William Sound.

Today, we will explore this beautiful town together and find out what activities you can do as a visitor there.  So, are you ready for this exciting journey?

Everything You Should Know About Whittier, Alaska

Before we talk about the tourist spots in Whittier, let’s first learn about the history and geography of the place, the people living there, and who is looking after this small town.

History

The Buckner Building ,Whittier , Alaska
Image Source: iStock

The history of Whittier is closely tied to its military past. During World War II, the United States Army established a military base there called Camp Sullivan. The military built the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to connect the town to the rest of Alaska, originally constructed for military use only. After the war, the town served as a military outpost during the Cold War era. 

In the 1960s, Whittier’s population surged when it became a hub for the Alaska Railroad and the construction of residential buildings within a single large structure, known as Begich Towers, began. Today, Whittier has transformed into a quiet town known for tourism and outdoor recreation.

Geography

Map of Geography of Alaska
Image Source: iStock

Whittier is located on the Kenai Peninsula, on the shores of the Passage Canal, which leads into Prince William Sound. Rugged mountains, including the Chugach Mountains, surround the town. It is accessible primarily via the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which is shared by both vehicles and trains.

Climate

A view of the Portage Glacier and Portage Lake on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

As the ocean surrounds it, Whittier experiences a maritime climate characterized by cool temperatures and abundant precipitation. Winters are cold and snowy, while summers are mild and often foggy due to its coastal location. The surrounding mountains influence the local climate, creating diverse microclimates.

Population

A close-knit town of Whittier, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

The population is around 200 permanent residents. However, during the summer months, the population can increase significantly due to tourism. The population is diverse, with residents involved in various industries such as fishing, tourism, transportation, and support services.

Government

Whittier operates under a local government structure typical of small municipalities in Alaska. It has a mayor and city council responsible for making local decisions and managing municipal services such as public safety, utilities, and infrastructure maintenance. The town also relies on regional and state authorities for broader governance and support.

Exciting Things to do in Whittier, Alaska

As mentioned, most people live in one big building called Begich Towers. Everything is in the building, from church to grocery store. Isn’t that so cool?

Plus, you don’t have to worry about transportation as everything is within walking distance. But I don’t think a small town means small adventures. Whittier has tons to offer, including:

Wildlife Cruising

A cruise ship in Whittier, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

When visiting Whittier, boat tours in Prince William Sound are a must. If you get lucky, you might see playful otters, glaciers crashing into the ocean, seabirds, and whales shooting out of water. There are many cruises available that offer short sightseeing tours and overnight expeditions. So, it’s your call.

Hiking and Outdoor Adventures

Three people hiking a snowy glacier
Image Source: iStock

When making your Alaskan packing list, add a good pair of hiking boots, as there are many trails in Whittier that you want to explore. The Portage Pass Trail is popular among tourists as it directly takes you up to the giant glacier, and the view from there is breathtaking. 

Those who are acrophobic visit shorter trails like Horsetails Falls, which leads to rushing waterfalls. 

Fishing

Commercial fishing in Whittier, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

You must go fishing in Whittier if you want to catch your dinner. It’s a rewarding and unique experience for anglers due to the abundant marine life and the town’s location. 

As Whittier is situated on the shores of Prince William Sound, it’s an ideal location for fishing. It’s the home of various species, including halibut, salmon, rockfish, lingcod, and many more. 

The sea bodies in and surrounding Whittier are particularly known for their salmon runs, with all five species of Salmon, including Chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink, migrating through the areas at different times of the year. 

Many fishing charters nearby Whittier provide access to prime fishing grounds and well-trained guides who can help. 

Kayaking Adventures

A man kayaking through the Kenai Peninsula
Image Source: iStock

If you’re visiting Whittier, then you should go for Kayaking. It’s an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at the breathtaking beauty of Prince William Sound. 

Several kayaking outfitters in Whittier offer guided tours and rentals for individuals of all skill levels, from beginners to experienced paddlers. These tours typically depart from Whittier’s small boat harbour and venture into the calm waters of Prince William Sound.

Must-see Places Near Whittier

Even though it’s a small town, there are plenty of beautiful places you can visit there, including:

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier
Image Source: iStock

The Portage Glacier is a massive chunk of ice. It’s like a giant river of ice moving at the tortoise speed. Tourists visit it to see its beauty and capture pictures. You can take a boat or drive through the tunnel to get there. If you get lucky, you might see chunks of glaciers falling off into the water, also called calving.

Prince William Sound

Seals on the Prince William Sound
Image Source: iStock

Surrounded by mountains, Prince William Sound is a beautiful, big water playground for nature lovers. Visitors often go there to enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, and exploring other incredible things like glaciers and wildlife. You might spot otters, seals, and even blue whales swimming in the sound.

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
Image Source: iStock

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel in Whittier, Alaska, is a long tunnel through a mountain. It’s special because it’s North America’s longest combined vehicle and railroad tunnel.

Cars and trains both use it to travel between Whittier and the outside world. It’s dark and spooky inside but also exciting because you’re driving or riding right through a mountain. The tunnel is an important way for people to get to Whittier, especially since it’s the only road to the town.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

A bear in Alaska Wildlife Conversation Center
Image Source: iStock

This conservation center is like a big home for animals living in Alaska. It’s a place dedicated to animals who get injured or orphaned to stay and live a better and healthier life. People visit there to see animals closely. You’ll find many different animals there, including moose, bears, musk oxen, and wolves. 

Some animals were born at the center, while others were rescued. The staff there is well-trained. They teach people about wildlife conservation and take care of them. It’s an educational and fun place to visit. If you plan a family holiday in Alaska, take your kids there.

Top Tips for Visiting Whittier, Alaska

A collage of different scenarios

If you want to enjoy Whittier to the fullest, then you should follow these tips:

Book Tours Early

Even though it’s hidden in the wilderness of Alaska, many people visit to witness its beauty. Therefore, the cruises and other trips fill up fast, especially in peak seasons like summer. So, ensure to reserve your spot ahead of time to avoid any inconvenience or interruption. 

Make Reservations Before Visit

Since it’s a small town with only a few B&Bs and inns, book your room beforehand.  If you plan to visit during tourist season, snag a room early. 

Mind the Tunnel Schedule

Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel is the only way to get to Whittier, and it runs on a schedule. Therefore, plan and reach on time if you don’t want to miss your ride.  

Layers are Key

The weather in Alaska is unpredictable, just like the Crypto market. To avoid any mishap, prepare a packing list that includes a jacket, rain gear, sweaters, high socks, and good hiking shoes. Don’t forget to pack essentials like insect repellent, torch, sleeping bag, etc. 

Savour the Simplicity

Whittier is a simple town where a close-knit community lives. If you want to enjoy, relax and disconnect from the world, this is the right place to visit.

Bottom Line

Begich Towers ,Whittier, Alaska
Image Source: iStock

Whittier, Alaska, is a special town with beautiful sights and interesting stories. Previously, it was used as a US military base, and now it’s an incredible town surrounded by the ocean and mountains. 

Tourists enjoy exploring the town’s history, nature, and wildlife. If you’re looking for an escape from the bustling city life, it’s an ideal place to chill out. All in all, Whittier has something for everyone. It’s a place where you can make great memories and experience the wonders of Alaska’s wilderness. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Whittier Alaska famous for?

Whittier is the ideal vacation spot in Alaska to witness beautiful tidewater glaciers and marine animals, yet it’s only 90 minutes from Anchorage by car. This region has the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world.

2. What happened to Whittier, Alaska?

The 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed shoreline and rail yard facilities but left Cold War buildings untouched. The tsunamis also killed 13 people.

3. What is the story behind Whittier Alaska?

The neighboring Whittier Glacier was named after American poet John Greenleaf Whittier in 1915, and the settlement later adopted the name. During World War II, the United States Army built a military installation near Whittier Glacier, replete with a dock and railroad, which they dubbed Camp Sullivan.

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