There’s a lot of what I call my really favorite places in Alaska. A lot. And this is indeed one of them. One of many. That’s why I live here. There’s SO MUCH astounding beauty.
I brought one of my very first photography workshops here to Portages Pass many years ago. It started out to be kind of a drizzly day and we weren’t quite sure if we really wanted to make the jaunt. But as I told my guests then— “It’s a fairly short hike (about a mile) to a VERY HUGE crescendo stunning view. It’s one of those that we always call the “quintessential Alaska views.”
The trailhead for Portage Pass is just on the Whittier side of the Whittier tunnel. A little over an hour drive south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm. So it does take a little bit of planning to get there. Timing the tunnel correctly (it opens every hour) and paying the fee to access the tunnel.
Perhaps a hundred yards or less past the tunnel parking area at Whittier, on the right-hand side is a road that crosses a set of railroad tracks. There’s even a sign that says Chugach National Forest Portage Pass. Down that road, a little ways and make another right-hand turn and at the dead-end of that road is not really a parking area but you just park your car on the side of the road. There’s a sign there and you can see the past from there. If you know what you’re looking for you can see the pass.
My photo tour group decided to make the hike even in a little bit of a drizzle simply because of the hype I gave it.
As we walked along the first portion of the fairly level, plenty wide and plenty well-marked trail we experienced luscious salmon berries on both sides of the trail. We ate them heartily. And then the trail slowly rises and rises and rises. Even though it’s only a mile long it does seem like it might just never end. It just seems to keep going up. We stopped to catch our breath and a water break and we turned around to see a grand view of Prince William Sound. If the view ahead was anything like this, we’d be happy. And we were not even to the summit yet.
Another ten minutes of hiking and it seemed, out of nowhere, with steep rock walls on both sides of the trail, one of the group said “I think I see something”.
Each next step got just that much better. The white snow-covered peaks of the mountains became more and more pronounced. And there we were. At the summit. We stepped right up to this small pond with such a stunning view of Portage Glacier. Cameras were firing away as if the sight might go away.
Once at the summit and that pond, to continue, you must go right or left around the pond. Both are equally amazing locations. Off to the right, the trail scrambles steep and narrow up some rocks. A fairly well-defined trail will take you another several hundred yards to a stunning overview which gives you even more of a view of Portage Glacier. It’s a great opportunity for photos there.
All around in that area on the right are more of those small kettle ponds. They make great reflection images on a still day. And they are surrounded by lush green vegetation. Please be sure not to walk on the vegetation as it’s very fragile and keep on the mark Trails. There are lots of blueberries around here too in the fall time.
Once here at the top, the views in both directions are “story-book” views. Or maybe “movie” views. I tell people you’ll start skipping & twirling along and singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music” song when you’re up there.
The other option, when you get to that summit pond, is to go off to your left where there are likewise more of the kettle ponds with more of the and luscious low ground cover. If you continue on that trail on the left another 3 or so miles you’ll make your way downhill all the way to Portage Lake. The trail terminates just across the lake from the face of Portage Glacier. It’s a very different view than up on top and very worth the extra hike. Especially in July and August when the Fireweed is blooming along the Lakeshore there.
As I said it’s a short hike to one of the most magnificent views around. Be sure to take a lunch and water. I’ve never seen a bear in that area but I would certainly take bear spray and precautions there as well.
Did the love these images? Then this tour might be perfect for you! This trip will take you on a one-week tour to some of the most spectacular regions of Alaska. You will experience & photograph Alaskan brown bears up-close, imposing mountain scenery, giant glaciers & icebergs, and walk on a glacier. We will fly to a remote lodge to photograph the mighty Alaskan brown bears with their spring cubs and overnight there. During a full-day boat trip, enjoy photographing seals, sea otters, eagles, perhaps whales and glaciers in Prince William Sound. We will take time to land the boat and photograph beached icebergs. We will travel via luxury van into the Chugach & Talkeetna Mountains, away from the tourist crowds to photograph cascading rivers and wildflowers. We will fly into the mighty Alaska Range and photograph snow-capped granite spires and massive glacier-filled valleys and with any luck on the weather, we will photograph the grand Denali massif. Learn more about the highlights, logistics, and price for this tour here.
Photographer & Photo Workshop Instructor
Official Photographer of Alaska’s Iditarod since 1982