The Quirky Reasons We Love Whittier, Alaska

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View of Whittier, Alaska.

Some of our favorite places to visit in Alaska aren’t big cities or national parks but small towns like Skagway, Hope, Homer, Seward, Sitka, and Whittier. There’s a charm and quirky vibe that you don’t get elsewhere. Today, we will focus on Whittier, Alaska.

This town is only accessible by land through a tunnel, making it cool and exciting before you even arrive. But there’s a lot to explore and enjoy in this small town of less than 300 people. 

Let’s dive in!

Where Is Whittier, Alaska?

Whittier, Alaska, sits about 58 miles southeast of Anchorage along the shores of the Passage Canal.

Whittier is uniquely located on the northeastern shoreline of the Kenai Peninsula, which extends about 150 miles southwest of the Chugach Mountains.

Much of the Kenai Mountains are glacier-covered and lie within Kenai Fjords National Park.

Boats at a deck in Whittier, Alaska.

How Big Is Whittier, Alaska?

Less than 300 people live in Whittier, and almost all live in the Begich Towers Condominium. The town has about 12 square miles of land and a little over seven square miles of water.

To reach Whittier, Alaska, you must travel the Portage Glacier Highway, also called the Portage Glacier Road. It’s a series of roads, bridges, and tunnels that connect the Portage Glacier area to the Seward Highway, also known as Highway 1.

The only land access to and from Whittier is through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, also called the Whittier Tunnel. 

What Whittier, Alaska, Is Known For

Whittier, Alaska, is well known for the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. It’s North America’s longest highway tunnel and the longest combined rail and highway tunnel.

As it passes under Maynard Mountain, it stretches 2.5 miles. There’s a specific schedule for automobile and train traffic so that both are never in the tunnel simultaneously. 

There are also size limitations for semi-trucks and RVs. You can read more about this engineering marvel in our Whittier Tunnel: Know Before You Go article.

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel in Whittier, Alaska.

5 Reasons We Love Whittier, Alaska

Although small, Whittier, Alaska, is a great place to visit. We enjoyed our time there and encourage other travelers to take the Portage Glacier Highway from the Seward Highway, through the Whittier Tunnel, and into town. Whittier has a unique charm!

1. You Must Drive Through a Train Tunnel to Get There

As we’ve already mentioned, the Whittier Tunnel is an engineering marvel. The technology required to safely operate bimodal traffic and the unique design of the concrete panels on top of the railroad tracks is something to experience.

Even though you have a staging area and strict schedule that adds a few minutes to your travel time, it’s worth it. It may be one of the coolest things we did in Whittier!

View of driving through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel in Whittier, Alaska.

2. The Haunted Buckner Building

The Buckner Building used to be a U.S. military building. The history behind the building and its importance in protecting the U.S. Army during WWII is fascinating.

And the decision to choose Whittier, Alaska, as the home of this base was carefully thought out. 

But now, it’s abandoned. Many people believe it’s haunted. It will give you chills as it rises six stories tall, stretches 500 feet long, and covers about 275,000 square feet.

You won’t want to visit this building at night!

View of the haunted Buckner building Whittier, Alaska.

3. The Entire Town Lives Under One Roof

Before, when we mentioned that almost all of the 270 residents of Whittier live in the Begich Towers Condominium, it wasn’t an exaggeration.

The entire town really does live under one roof. There are 196 units, a grocery store, a laundromat, a medical clinic, the police department, the post office, and the city offices. 

Whittier’s only school sits behind the building, and kids can easily walk through an underground tunnel to get to class.

View of Whittier, Alaska.

Keep in Mind: Surprisingly, this isn’t the smallest town in Alaska. Eagle, Alaska, is home to only 83 people!

4. Underground Pedestrian Tunnels

A pedestrian tunnel connects the northern waterfront area to the southern downtown area of Whittier, Alaska. It’s approximately 512 feet long and provides a safer pedestrian route than crossing the railroad tracks. 

Visitors and residents can easily access the marina, ferry terminal, restaurants, and tourist attractions at the shore from the campground, city park, Begich Towers Condominium, and Whittier Creek Trail.

A sign for underground pedestrian tunnels in Whittier, Alaska.

5. Quirky Eateries and Gift Shops Are Everywhere

There may only be a couple hundred people living in Whittier, but the town offers fun shopping and dining opportunities.

Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Cafe, Whittier Ice Cream and Pizza, Lazy Otter Charters coffee shop, and Whittier Oceanfront Cafe are all local favorites.

Log Cabin Gifts is a cute store with jewelry, ornaments, wooden carvings, and other unique souvenirs. And since Whittier, Alaska, is so small, it’s easy to get to everything!

Gift shops in Whittier, Alaska.

The Best Time to Visit Whittier, Alaska

Although peak season is summer in Alaska, this is when you want to visit unless you’re brave enough to bear winter’s brunt.

But winter may be the right time to visit if you want to try ice fishing, mushing, or snowmobiling.

For most people, the summer months are pleasant in terms of temperatures and weather conditions.

Additionally, some tourist attractions are only open during the summer season. So, if you want to book a paddling excursion or sailing adventure, those outfitters will likely be closed by October.

Pro Tip: We took the Glacier Jet Ski Adventures tour while in Whittier and loved it! We highly recommend checking that article out to learn more if you want an unforgettable experience.

Are There Campgrounds in Whittier, Alaska?

You can stay at Whittier Parking and Camping from mid-April to late October. This campground sits across the railroad tracks along Whittier Street. The pedestrian tunnel provides easy access to downtown, the marina, and other attractions.

There are 50 unserviced campsites, with some adjacent to Whittier Creek. Tent sites cost $10 per night, while RV sites cost $20 per night.

An RV parked in Whittier, Alaska.

Keep in Mind: While in Alaska, should you be on the lookout for the Alaskan Giant Polar Bear? Let’s dive in and see!

Visit the Gateway to Prince William Sound the Next You Travel Through Alaska

Whitter, Alaska, is an excellent location to view glaciers, watch fishermen, and learn about Alaskan history.

Glacier day cruises are a top attraction, and many enjoy kayaking and birding around Prince William Sound. It’s a beautiful location and easy to access from Anchorage. 

So don’t forget about this quaint small town on the Kenai Peninsula. The next time you’re traveling near Anchorage, take a day or two to visit the people and places of Whittier, Alaska.

Have you ever visited this town before? Are there tips you could offer for first-time visitors?

1 comment
  1. i taught ocean kayaking on Prince William Sound back in the 80’s. There was no “road” to Whittier. If you needed to get a vehicle to Whittier you drove it up onto a flat car on the train which took you through the tunnel to Whittier. I used to drive a bus loaded with students and gear, towing a trailer with kayaks and more gear. “Just give me 40 acres to turn this rig around”
    It was not a tourist town “just a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem”
    You didn’t mention that about 85% of all goods shipped to AK come by barge to Whittier then onto the train to Anchorage, then onto trucks. 196 inches of percipitation a year. I’ve gone into Whittier in early May and the snow was above the railroad cars. One year it snowed so much that it collapsed the entire roof of the old gym. You didn’t mention the gun emplacements at the very end of the canal.

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