Tucked between picturesque mountains and the Prince William Sound, Whittier, Alaska, is a snug town boasting 300 residents- most of whom live in the same 14 story building.
A former U.S. Army water port, the small town was settled in 1941 when the army set up a harbor in the event that Seward’s port was disrupted.
Most present-day Whittier residents live in an old army barrack that resembles an old-fashioned hotel. You can observe Whittier’s history in the surrounding buildings used today.
We’ve rounded up 15 incredible things to do in Whittier, Alaska. From exploring the picturesque scenery to steeping yourself in the town’s fascinating history, you can experience the best this mighty town has to offer.
In This Article…
- 1. Fuel up With Coffee and Breakfast
- 2. Explore History at the Prince William Sound Museum
- 3. Ride Further Into History in the Whittier Tunnel
- 4. Hop on a Hiking Trail
- 5. Discover Wildlife in Marine Parks
- 6. More Fuel for Your Day
- 7. Dock for the Day at Whittier Harbor
- 8. Reel in Alaskan Fish
- 9. Get a Workout With Kayaking
- 10. Voyage on a Day Cruise
- 11. Travel in Style With a Ship Expedition
- 12. Rent Jet Skis
- 13. Connect With Nature on Crazy Ray’s Adventures
- 14. Visit the Buckner Building
- 15. Investigate the Portage Ghost Town
- Don’ts Miss These 15 Incredible Things to Do in Whittier, Alaska
1. Fuel up With Coffee and Breakfast
Start your day by catching up with the locals and fueling up for a long day of exploring.
Sip your morning coffee while mapping out your day at Wild Catch Cafe– their menu is packed with a variety of coffee items and a breakfast platter to fill you up!
Or, sit back and take in the beautiful view right on the harbor at Lazy Otter Cafe. Try their world-famous salmon spread or one of their delicious pastries.
2. Explore History at the Prince William Sound Museum
After you’ve enjoyed breakfast, head on over to the Prince William Sound Museum and examine some Whittier Alaska history so you can appreciate the town you’ll be exploring.
Dubbed one of the top ten museums in Alaska, the small museum boasts 32 exhibits that detail Whittier’s military past, the construction of the rail terminal, Alaskan heritage during WW2 and the Cold War, and the devastating effects The Great Alaska Earthquake had on Whittier.
The museum’s located at the famous Anchor Inn Hotel, and admission is only $5.
3. Ride Further Into History in the Whittier Tunnel
You’ve read up on the history of Whittier; now it’s time to check out one of the town’s historical sites.
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a 13,000-foot railway tunnel built-in 1942 to connect to the Alaskan rail corridor. The tunnel, built in less than two years, is the longest highway tunnel in North America to this day.
One of the most charming cities in Alaska boasts the unique means of getting in the tunnel is the only way to reach Whittier, other than the seaport. The railway runs right under Maynard Mountain and is one of the few to service trains and cars.
4. Hop on a Hiking Trail
Have you got enough of a history lesson for the day? Then, there’s no end to the hikes in Whittier, Alaska, to sink your boots into.
Hike the Horsetail Falls Trail for a leisurely 2-mile trek that will take you up 700ft, giving you a gorgeous view of the Horsetail Falls as it tumbles over the edge of the Blackstone Ridge. On your way into the trail, observe all the work it took to clear a walkable path through the towering spruce trees.
Or, follow one of the grassroots trails forged by the rebel hikers and climb high enough on the ridge and experience the falls from above instead of below.
Take caution on this path, though- the slippery rock slabs aren’t for the inexperienced hiker.
Take the Portage Pass Trail if you’re looking for a view of the Portage Glacier. The path takes you through the glacier brush before depositing you out onto the pebbled beach of Portage lake, where you can get a close-up view of the glacier’s snout.
This excursion has few difficulties and is a family-friendly adventure!
5. Discover Wildlife in Marine Parks
If you’re not feeling a hike through rocks and ice, opt for a more luscious journey through one of Whittier’s eight marine parks.
Granite Bay State Marine Park boasts protective islands, two bays, a shoreline scattered with granite cliffs, and a pristine park never touched by structural development.
You can find fishing and camping here, with several campsites on the beach, lakeside, or upon the cliffs.
Decision Point State Marine Park is appropriately named because this is the point at which boaters decide whether or not to head out into Port Wells. Decision Point is popular with kayakers and small boats because there is no road access.
There are two camping beaches and a public use cabin located in the park.
South Esther Island State Marine Park makes for a great overnight or day trip. The park houses an undisturbed bay, home to the Wally Noerenber Hatchery, the world’s largest salmon hatchery.
A quick hike takes you to the scenic Esther Falls Overlook and the Lake Bay Area. There are various campsites along Esther Lake and the surrounding forests.
Bring your canine friends along with you to any of these parks! Unlike most Alaskan Marine Parks, the Whittier Marine Parks are dog friendly.
6. More Fuel for Your Day
After a long morning of hiking through glaciers and marine parks, you’ll probably need to stop for more fuel. Whether you’re looking for a casual lunch or a sit-down dinner, Whittier has excellent dining options.
Snag a slice and a cone at the Whittier Bay Ice Cream and Pizza Parlor for a quick lunch. They’ve got homemade pizza, sixteen different ice-cream flavors to choose from, and even a gift shop so you can pick up a souvenir!
Don’t skip out on the Inn at Whittier if you’re looking for great seafood options- which, of course, you are, you’re in Alaska.
Offering fresh catches of the day, burgers, and vegetarian options, this picturesque restaurant has something for everyone. Treat yourself to dinner and a view in the dining room with a beautiful view of the Prince William Sound.
7. Dock for the Day at Whittier Harbor
The Whittier Harbor is the gateway to the Prince William Sound and services all your water sport needs.
Rent a boat for the day if you’re up for a sea self-exploration, or take in the view of the bustling pier. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot salmon hopping around the harbor.
Along with boating and fishing, many tourists and locals alike visit the harbor to water ski and kayak.
8. Reel in Alaskan Fish
If you’ve come to Whittier for the fish, you’ve come to the right place. Whittier possesses some of the best King Salmon fishing in Southcentral Alaska.
Being the nearest saltwater fishing to Anchorage, Whittier sees both shore-based and boat-based fishing.
Private coves and bays dot the waters and provide some of the best-secluded fishing on the Prince William Sound. The avid angler will find rockfish, salmon, lingcod, salmon sharks, and if you’re lucky enough to uncover the area’s secrets- the elusive halibut.
9. Get a Workout With Kayaking
Double and single kayaks rentals are available in Whittier to explore the Sound and surrounding waters.
Whittier holds the largest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world, affording a stunning sight to kayakers.
Explore waterfalls, hidden coves, and all of the marine life up close. Keep your eye open for puffins, humpback whales, orcas, otters, and the occasional goat!
If you’re not comfortable kayaking solo, there are multiple guided kayaking adventures to choose from in Whittier.
10. Voyage on a Day Cruise
A day cruise of the Prince William Sound offers the best views of Whittier for travelers.
The tours generally take place on smooth waters, providing better views of the glaciers, waterfalls, and marine life. The tours hug the shore, so you’ll be looking straight up the glacial peaks.
Two cruise companies in Whittier offer both shorter and longer rides.
Float with icebergs and experience ice sheets and tumbling waterfalls with a 2-4 hour cruise- perfect for families or those short on time. Or, opt for the more extended cruise, travel deeper into the Sound and explore the Harriman Fjords for better wildlife opportunities.
Join a cruise with the Lazy Otter Charters, and the tour guide will ask your specific interests for the day and customize your ride based on what you want! Plan for an 8-to-9 hour day for longer cruises.
11. Travel in Style With a Ship Expedition
If you have a few extra days in Whittier, opt for a yacht expedition. One of the best ways to explore this scenic area of Alaska, you’ll have access to an intimate excursion that wraps sailing, kayaking, and fishing all in one!
This option is perfect for small group or family vacations looking for leisurely and luxurious exploration.
There are endless length, budget, and activity options through any of the cruise companies– some even double up on locations and will escort you west to Resurrection Bay and The Kenai Fjords National Park.
12. Rent Jet Skis
Maybe you’re looking for a little more control and speed with your water excursions.
Jet skis are one of the best things to do in Whittier, Alaska, and one of the most fun ways to get up close with the glacial coast in the Sound.
Jet skis give you an intimate and personal view of the Alaskan waters. Set off on your own or ski around on a guided tour.
Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- Whittier is one of the few places in Alaska where you can rent jet skis!
13. Connect With Nature on Crazy Ray’s Adventures
What better way to experience the local secrets than with Crazy Ray’s? Crazy Ray’s offers saltwater fishing expeditions and eco-tours.
Your guides will escort you deep into the Sound and divulge all of their halibut fishing secrets. They’ll also cover coves and bays that hold other fish, but the halibut is the coveted prize.
Crazy Ray’s offers a dual fishing and lodge package as well if you have the extra time!
Prince William Sound is a summer feeding ground for humpback whales making the journey to Hawaii and Mexico. Experts at Ray’s know where these whales frequent in the Sound and will lead you to them on their Alaska Eco Tour.
Along with humpback whales, you can expect to see killer whales, sea otters and lions, porpoises, harbor seals, and birds on the Alaska Eco Tour.
14. Visit the Buckner Building
Deviate from the designated tourist path and find your way to the now deserted Buckner Building.
The Buckner Building was dubbed the “City Under One Roof,” where it housed a secret military base. It contained a hospital, theater, bowling alley, jailhouse, church, bakery, barbershop, library, radio station, commissary, and enough rooms for officers and their families.
After the military base left Whittier, the building was rendered useless. In 1964, The Great Alaska Earthquake destroyed the remaining integrity of the building.
Now, you’ll find the rooms flooded with water and littered with graffiti as the building slowly crumbles into the mountain top where it resides. But, while the local government has started cracking down on trespassers, you can still take a trip up to view the Buckner Building from the outside and experience military history.
15. Investigate the Portage Ghost Town
While The Great Alaska Earthquake left some buildings standing, the following Tsunami’s rocked the coast of Alaska and changed the land forever.
Just 11 miles north of Whittier lies the Portage Ghost Town. A casualty of the earthquake, the town descended 10ft below tidal waves as the following Tsunami washed over buildings. Residents fled as the town sunk and never returned when they deemed it uninhabitable.
Nature reclaims this spot now as wildlife and foliage grow around the ghost town. Visitors can tour the remaining structures; the skeleton remains of an old mining community.
Whittier, Alaska, is 58 miles south of Anchorage and consists of around 20 square miles of land and water. As of 2019, 319 residents live in Whittier.
Another more southerly located town, Whittier, has milder temperatures compared to other parts of Alaska.
Dead of winter can get brutal with the town seeing temps in the teens, but June through August is a pleasant 60 degrees. The climate in Whittier can get wet and wild, though, with cloud cover and fog creating a misty atmosphere.
Still not sure what to pack for your stay? Check out our guide on what to pack for your Alaskan Cruise!
Whittier only has one dock in town- the Whittier Pier. Located at the head of the Passage Canal, your cruise ship will dock in the harbor, where everything the city has to offer is just a short walk away.
Don’ts Miss These 15 Incredible Things to Do in Whittier, Alaska
This town may be home to only 300 residents. Still, it is rich with history and thrives in primarily untouched nature- making it the perfect destination for your Alaskan excursion.
These 15 incredible things to do in Whittier, Alaska, will provide the entire family with days of exploration and activities. However, even if you have a limited amount of time to explore, Whittier is a quick and accessible destination for visitors to add to their tour through Alaska.
Want more Alaska travel tips and tricks? Or not sure where to even plan your next cruise? Check out our website for more cruise destinations.