Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Whittier

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A tight-knit community with open arms

In the “strangest town in Alaska,” you won’t find any stop lights, hair salons, banks or even fast food joints. What you will find is the longest highway tunnel in North America, a tight-knit community with open arms, and a gateway to what some consider an Alaska paradise in Prince William Sound.

Whether arriving in Whittier on a cruise ship through the Sound, or in a vehicle from the scenic Seward Highway, this quirky and sometimes misunderstood town offers outdoor adventures and one-of-a-kind shops, cafes and historical sites.

Located off Mile 79 of the Seward Highway near Girdwood, the area’s unique history dates back thousands of years to when the Chugach Eskimos hunted and gathered food by trekking over Portage Pass and Portage Glacier to trade and fight with the Athabascans of Cook Inlet. They were followed in the late 1800s by gold miners and prospectors before Whittier was used as a strategic military base during Word War II.

Only one of the two multi-story buildings that served as army barracks remains occupied. The now abandoned Buckner Building was once the largest building in Alaska, according to information found on the town’s website. It housed 1,000 apartments, a hospital, bowling alley, swimming pool and a theater.

The other large building, known as Begich Towers, sports 14 floors filled with most of Whittier’s residents, as well as the police station, post office, a small store and municipal offices.

“I think a lot of people think there’s nothing here,” Whittier Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Bender said. “Especially Alaskans. Tourists tend to be more open-minded and are more apt to seek various activities like hiking, diving and sight-seeing while here.”

“Where else can you drive an hour from Anchorage and be on a boat for another hour and be right in front of glaciers thousands of years in the making?” asks Bender, who owns Lazy Otter Charters and the Lazy Otter coffee shop in Whittier with her husband, Mike. Their summers in Whittier are dedicated to helping visitors experience breath-taking kayaking trips and seeing majestic glaciers right around the corner from their favorite place on earth.

Its 1,300 residents must be doing something right, because nearly 600,000 visitors came through the tiny town last year, said Luncford, Whittier’s mayor for the last 11 years.

Luncford is proud of the progress made on the town’s commercial harbor and road upgrades in the last few years and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“When you get out on the water, it’s almost like a completely different world,” the Florida native and former Whittier police chief said. “There are bird sanctuaries and often whales and sea lions. Within a matter of minutes you are in paradise.”

For Marilynn Heddell, the owner of Captain Cook’s Books and Gifts, nowhere else can compare.

“There’s good water, good air and it’s the western gateway to Prince William Sound, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” said Heddell. “We love Whittier so much.”

WHITTIER ATTRACTIONS

Whittier Museum
Created in 2005, the museum in the heart of town showcases Whittier’s contribution to Alaska’s role in military history and explains why there is a large abandoned building looming over the harbor.
Where: Inside the Anchor Inn, 100 Whittier St.
When: Summer, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; winter, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Cost: Donations accepted
Phone: 907-472-2354 or 877- 870-8787
Web: www.anchorinnwhittier.com/museum.html

Horsetail Falls
A 1,400-foot-elevation boardwalk trail offers tremendous waterfall and Passage Canal views.
Where: Follow Whittier Street past the cement barracks, turn right off the paved road and follow the dirt road up the hill. Follow the sign at the fork in the dirt road to Horsetail Falls. The trail begins on the right side of the road at the top of the hill.
When: Year-round, weather permitting
Cost: Free

Portage Pass
This 11/2-mile trail offers a view from the other side of Portage Lake and Portage Glacier.
Where: Turn left just before the tunnel and cross the railroad tracks; signs will point the way. Parking is available at the trailhead.
When: Year-round, weather permitting.
Cost: Free

Bike and Walking Path
A multiuse path begins at the tunnel and runs through town along the harbor. Take a bike, the kids, and the dog.
Where: Starting at the tunnel, the trail follows Camp Road.
When: Year-round
Cost: Free
For all hiking and more recreational ideas, visit the Chugach
National Forest website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/chugach/recreation/hiking/

WHITTIER EVENTS CALENDAR

Halibut and Silver Salmon Derby
These derbies have been combined this year and the Small Fry Derby has been discontinued. Another change: Salmon Derby contestants place first, second and third based on true weight. Halibut Derby ticket-holders use a published targeted weight, and the three contestants closest to the targeted weight win.
Where: Prince William Sound
When: Halibut Derby is May 1-Sept.15. Salmon Derby is June 1-Sept. 15. Weigh-in from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. at Fee’s Custom Seafoods on the Whittier Harbor Triangle
Cost: $10 for a daily entry or $30 for the week (separate fee for each fish species) and $100 for the season (includes both species)
Web: www.whittieralaskafishderby.org

Old Fashioned Family Fourth of July
Have fun at this free family event. Just before midnight on July 3, enjoy the fireworks display; then celebrate the Fourth at noon with a parade, games and a free barbecue.
Where: Downtown Whittier
When: July 3-4
Cost: Free
Web: www.whittieralaskachamber.org

Halibut on the Harbor
This new and fun community event is in its second year on behalf of the Whittier Community School. Local businesses and residents purchase a bare plywood halibut, decorate it, and finally display it in the Fourth of July Parade before it’s auctioned off as a fundraiser for the school. Visitors are likely to see them hanging around town.
Where: Around Whittier
When: Decorating begins in the spring or earlier; finished halibut will begin appearing on July 4.
Cost: Varies (depends on the bid); art appreciation is free
Contact: Andrea Korbe, korbefamily@yukontel.com

Alaska Marine Highway’s 50th Anniversary Celebration
The Alaska Marine Highway is the perfect way to experience the communities that populate Alaska’s diverse and scenic coastline. Walk aboard or bring your car, RV or motorcycle or other means of transportation such as a bicycle or kayak to explore the natural beauty of Alaska. Celebrating 50 years of service this year, it is the only marine route with the designation of National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. AMHS will be holding community events in each region from May through September commemorating its golden anniversary.
Visit their Facebook page for information on community events and how you can participate.

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