Established during the Second World War as a military supply port, Whittier is located on the west side of Prince William Sound in south central Alaska, southeast of Anchorage.

A port and railroad terminus were constructed by the US Army for transport of fuel and other supplies into Alaska during the Second World War. The railroad spur was completed in 1943, and the Whittier port became the entrance for troops and dependants of the Alaska Command.

Construction on the larger buildings that dominate Whittier began in 1948. The Hodge Building (now Begich Towers) was built for Army bachelor quarters and family housing. The Buckner Building, completed in 1953, was once the largest building in Alaska, and was called “the city under one roof”. The port remained an active Army facility until 1960, at which time the population was around 1,200. The Begich Building is now a condominium and houses nearly all of Whittier’s residents.

Whittier was named after nearby Whittier Glacier, which was named for the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. The name was first published in 1915 by the US Coast Guard & Geodetic Survey.

Incorporated as a city in 1969, Whittier today is a small community with an area that encompasses 12 square miles of land and 7 square miles of water. The economy is comprised mainly of shipping and port related jobs, fishing, and tourism. Whittier is a year round ice-free port and is a focal point for marine activity and freight transfer from sea train barges serving South Central Alaska.

The city town site lies on a fan-shaped delta on the south shore of Passage Canal. The delta, approximately a mile square, is bordered by Whittier Creek on the west and by a mountain ridge on the east. At the west end of Passage Canal is a delta, commonly known as “West Camp” or the “Head of the Bay,” about one and one-half square miles in area. This delta is formed by creeks flowing from Portage Pass, Shakespeare Glacier and Learnard Glacier. These two deltas comprise the land area upon which the Whittier community infrastructure is presently located.

Recently a number of cruise lines have begun to use Whittier as a scenic port of call on longer Alaskan cruises. Berthing in Whittier provides road access to Anchorage while reducing the sailing time required to round the Kenai Peninsula and steam up Cook Inlet.

Whittier has a mild maritime climate, but be prepared for cool wet weather.

Population: 400

Location: Whittier is located at the head of Passage Canal, on the western edge of Prince William Sound on the northeast shore of the Kenai Peninsula, 62 miles (99 kms) southeast of Anchorage. The nearest major communities to Whittier are Anchorage, Cordova (110 miles/176 kms to the east), Valdez (97 miles/155 kms to the northeast), and Seward (125 miles/200 kms to the southwest).

One of the unique features of Whittier is a 2.5-mile long tunnel that is shared by alternating one-way auto traffic and railroad traffic. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest highway tunnel in North America, opened in June 2000 after extensive conversion from a World War Two railway tunnel. The tunnel connects the port city of Whittier on Prince William Sound to the Seward Highway and south central Alaska.

Passage Canal is one of the most westerly of several long fjords comprising Prince William Sound. The canal averages about 1 ½ miles in width in the Whittier area, and is over 600 feet deep. Despite the presence of several glaciers in the surrounding valleys, ice does not form in Passage Canal during the winter.

Outdoor Activities: Whittier offers a number of great outdoor adventures, including kayaking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, fishing, hiking, wildlife and nature cruises, and exciting glacier cruises, where you can watch tidewater glaciers calve before your eyes! Visitors can also beachcomb, and pick berries while walking along the harbour or hiking the Portage Pass, Salmon Run or Horse Tail Falls trails. Winter activities include snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

Prince William Sound has the highest concentration of glaciers in Alaska. Spend an afternoon cruising through glacier-carved fjords and experience the untamed wilderness and calm waters of Prince William Sound. View the tidewater glaciers of Barry Arm, discover the waterfalls and inlets of Esther Passage, view the abundant marine wildlife, and learn about the natural history of the area. The Whittier small boat harbor is the Gateway to Prince William Sound.

Wildlife: Migratory birds such as geese, ducks and cranes use Portage Pass in crossing the Coast Range between Prince William Sound and Western Alaska, while some waterfowl do remain in the Whittier area year-round. A large rookery on the north side of Passage Canal supports numerous birds, including gulls and kittiwakes. The kittiwake rookery has about 6,000 breeding Black-legged kittiwakes, 20-30 Glaucous-winged Gulls and 10 to 20 Pigeon Guillemonts. Although this is the largest Kittiwake colony in the sound, it is small by Alaskan standards. Colonies in the Gulf of Alaska and Pribilofs number 50,000 to 200,000 kittiwakes. This rookery is very accessible, and is in fact the most visited seabird colony in Alaska. The Bald Eagle is common to the area, and Rufous humming birds, once thought not to travel as far north as Whittier, are summer visitors.

A Bore Tide that is taller than ordinary surf and sounds like a speeding locomotive can be viewed between Anchorage and Portage at the head of Turnagain Arm. Imagine one wave stretched out like a wide carpet and unrolling in froth as it sweeps into a basin of water and runs up the inlet with the incoming tide. Turnagain Arm’s narrow, shallow, and gently sloping basin is ideal for this natural phenomenon. As the tide rises in Cook Inlet, it fills Turnagain Arm so rapidly that a tidal flood (or bore tide) is formed when incoming water collides with outgoing water. Bore tides are caused by a large range in tide, and can vary from 6 inches to 6 feet in height and travel at speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour. The most extreme tidal range in Turnagain Arm is almost 40 feet! Extreme minus tides and new or full moon periods create the most dramatic bore tides. High winds blowing against the tide can also enhance the effect. It takes 5-1/2 hours for the bore tide to travel from Anchorage to Portage, near Whittier. The water will appear calm just before the bore tide’s arrival. Listen for a roaring sound and watch for a series of waves two to three feet apart breaking near the shore or across channels. Turnagain Arm and Knik Arm are the only places in the USA with regular tidal bores.