By Steven Merritt
Just like checking the hiking box for Flattop Mountain in Anchorage is a must for visitors or newcomers alike to southcentral Alaska, no trip to Whittier would be complete without a side trip on the Portage Pass Trail, which offers access to Portage Lake and unmatched views of Portage Glacier.
While the Begich, Boggs Visitors Center in Portage Valley is a great jumping off point to catch a ride on the M/V Ptarmigan for a lake tour to the glacier, earning the view with your feet is a rewarding option.
Once through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel into Whittier, an access road to the small U.S. Forest Service trailhead is just to the right. The trail ascends some 800 feet in less than a mile before cresting at Portage Pass, where the glacier and lake emerge in a broad panorama. Looking back gives hikers a great view of Prince William Sound’s Passage Canal.
From the pass, it’s mostly all downhill for about a mile and a half to the lake, where visitors wade, swim, or just lounge on the beach with a front-row seat to a gleaming mass of blue ice.
The Forest Service has done an outstanding job improving the trail, which for years was a route-finding bushwhack from the pass that would often prod our hiking party into singing show tunes to ward off bears while picking our way through the head-high alders.
Hikers should always check the weather first, as the area is famous for its rapidly-changing conditions. Whittier has an FAA webcam that is a great resource.