Whittier, Alaska: A secluded town
We're back on our journeys through Alaska. Today, Christina Rasmussen takes us to and through beautiful Whittier, Alaska. You'll see glaciers, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (inside and out), the Inn, and even a black bear cub crossing the road, plus so much more. Whittier is truthfully a remarkable, quaint little town separated off from the rest of Alaska.
Yes, you read the title correctly. Instead of there being numerous houses in the city, you'll find at the edge of town a fourteen-story building; Begich Towers. The building was once an Army barracks built in 1974. This is the location that the majority of the population of Whittier live in. It's known as Begich Towers. The towers are also the headquarters of Whittier's police, a laundromat, restaurants, and even a medical clinic and a church.
There are ten neighborhoods in Whittier. However, there are no family homes located here, since the railroad owns around ninety-seven percent of this location.
Even though the town seems secluded from the rest of Alaska. It offers all the pleasantness and amenities that the township needs. So in that aspect, it's a place that is truly quite remarkable.
I wasn't sure what type of bear cub this was in the above photo, because Alaska has black bears, brown bears, Kodiak bears, and grizzly bears (subspecies of the brown bear), and polar bears, so I asked Christie if it was a black bear cub and if she came across bears often in Alaska?
Christina replied; "Yes, that was a cub. I spotted it right before it crossed the road. You can spot black bears all over Alaska."
Christina states; "So the entrance of the tunnel is in Bear valley. The tunnel was originally made in 1943 for the train to go through Whittier. Whittier used to be used by the military, but they left in the 60s and abandoned the town. Whittier is very tiny and has about 200 people living there. Sometime in the 60s, the tunnel road was leveled out so both trains and cars could go through. This tunnel is the longest tunnel in the United States and is one of the very few that allows both cars and trains to go through. Whittier is known as a port town. They do fishing charters, but the main thing there is the ferry terminal."
If you're interested in visiting Whittier, Alaska, you'll have to go through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel first.
Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the only way to get to Whittier, Alaska, unless you want to travel by ferry or be flown in. It's a one-lane tunnel shared by cars, trucks, and even trains! You actually have to drive on the train tracks for about two and a half miles inside the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel before ever getting to visit Whittier, Alaska. The tunnel closes during certain hours. Plus, during the night, the tunnel remains completely closed off.
As stated before, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest tunnel in North America. The tunnel was designed to withstand temperatures of negative forty degrees F and can withstand one hundred and fifty miles per hour winds.
So, I had to ask this question. When the tunnel is shut down, are the people basically stranded in the town of Whittier?
Christina stated; "Yes, when the tunnel is shut down, nobody can go through. If you're in Whittier, you're stuck in Whittier until the tunnel reopens. So we went to Whittier two weeks ago and when we got there, the tunnel was closed until further notice because of a boat explosion. The reason they closed the tunnel in this incident was because the ambulance and the fire trucks came all the way from Anchorage to get into Whittier, so they closed the tunnel so that emergency response teams were able to make it through."
Oh wow! Hopefully, nobody got hurt in the incident, I replied.
Christina said; "A lady did get medevaced by a helicopter due to burns."
I replied, I hope that she's okay.
"I hope so too. I haven't heard anything else about it," Christina exclaimed.
"Something else I forgot to mention is that in the tunnel there are seven bunkers inside the mountain in case of an emergency," Christina stated.
I replied, "Very cool. The drive through the tunnel appeared like you had to drive real slow." (Christina actually took a video of the drive through the tunnel. The photo above is one that I took from that video.)
"Yes, the fastest speed for the tunnel is 25 miles per hour," Christina stated.
As you leave the utter darkness of the Whittier tunnel, you will almost immediately view The Inn located at Whittier on Harbor Loop Road.
The Inn at Whittier is located right off the waters of the bay, with big boulders, rocks, and mountains surrounding three sides of it. It looks extremely fascinating. Can you imagine the views from the upper rooms that face the harbor? I imagine that they're stunningly breath-taking.
The Inn at Whittier places you right beside the Chugach National Forest and within walking distance of Prince William Sound Museum.
Docked boats and ships at Whittier, Alaska.
"Also, that ferry terminal is the closest one to Anchorage. It is about 86 miles away. The ferry leaves Whittier and makes a few stops in Southeast Alaska before it ends in Seattle, Washington. I know it takes 3 to 4 days to get from Whittier to Juneau," Christina stated.
The location is also next door to the Alaska marine ferry depot. In fact, everything in the town of Whittier is within walking distance. The marine ferry depot is right beside a large glacier tour boat operation. In front of the hotel is a dock where boats pick up and drop off people for fishing.
Steel commercial vessels at Whittier harbor.
Another gorgeous view from Whittier, Alaska.
Upon asking about the photo above, Christina states; "Technically, it is considered to be in town, but there's a long stretch of road when you get past all the buildings that take you to some sort of picnic table area down by the water. It was on that stretch of road that I took that picture."
City of Whittier Campground
Whittier and Portage Glacier are a two‑mile-long trail which begins ninety minutes south of Anchorage. For the most part, the trail is family-friendly and definitely worth considering hiking.
Christina says; "Along with the pictures of the waterfall is a hiking trail that leads up to a mountain, but with my back issues, I was unable to hike it."
Part of the white rapid waters from the waterfall.
When I asked if the two above photos were of the same location in Whittier, Christina stated that the unzoomed picture is of the same spot as the other waterfall picture.
I get lost for words when I see how beautiful the scenery of both it and the glaciers at Whittier are. This place is simply unlike any other place I have ever seen before.
Whittier and Portage Glacier/ City of Whittier Campground
The people who live in Whittier year-round work mainly in commercial fishing, recreation and tourism or they work for the state ferry and railroad. A lot of the community consider the Begich Towers to be their home.
A view from the City of Whittier Campground. In this photo, I zoomed in so that you can see the old building that's lurking in the background. At first glance, I thought this was Begich Towers. However, Christina states that it's not. When I asked her more about the building, she said; "So the building and the way back are not Begich towers. It used to be a one-building community during World War II. Everyone used to live there and there were things like a movie theater and a bowling alley."
Speaking of Begich Towers: In 2016, the costs for accommodation at the Begich Towers were six-hundred and fifty dollars for one month for a studio apartment, and one thousand for a three-bedroom apartment. The Begich Towers accommodate both permanent and seasonal residents, as well as visitors who want to vacation in the bed-and-breakfast units.
At this present time, Zillow.com shows that there are zero condo listings available to purchase. However, there's one condo that I found pending for $64,500, at remax.com that's three bedrooms, one bath, and is 921 square feet.
Anchor Inn is located at 100 Whittier St. Whittier, Alaska, 99693.
Anchor Inn was established in 1980 and is a three-story building. This establishment in Whittier also has all the essential amenities and then some, which include a grocery store, restaurant, pub, laundromat, hotel, and public telephones, etc..
Yes, Whittier does have extreme weather in the winter. According to the Alaska.gov website, the average annual precipitation is 196 inches (16 ft). The average annual snowfall is 241 inches (20 ft). (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities ANTON ANDERSON MEMORIAL TUNNEL, n.d.)
Wow! I can't even fathom that amount of snowfall. Can you? The location where I am from rarely even gets three inches of snowfall, if that.
To conclude, so far, Whittier has probably been my favorite place in Alaska to write about. It has not only offered me personally a great escape from all the rest of the things going on in our world right now, but also has educated me a little more about the wonderful state of Alaska.
The photography in this article was made possible by Christina Rasmussen, a resident of Eagle River, Alaska. (August 3, 2022)
Information about Whittier, Alaska, was in large part provided by Christina Rasmussen from her travels there. (August 3, 2022)
Dunham, M. (2016, August 19). Begich Towers, home to about half the population of Whittier, gets a much-needed overhaul. Anchorage Daily News. https://www.adn.com/alaska-life/2016/08/18/begich-towers-home-to-about-half-the-population-of-whittier-gets-a-much-needed-overhaul/
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities ANTON ANDERSON MEMORIAL TUNNEL. (n.d.). Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. https://dot.alaska.gov/creg/whittiertunnel/weather.shtml