Alaska Railroad Anchorage to Whittier
411 West 1st Avenue, 99501
Across from cruise ship terminal
2 hours, 20 minutes
Grab ‘N Go
May 13 to September 17, 2023
Schedule, Rates, Faqs, BOOK NOW
As you depart the Anchorage depot you can see the port of Anchorage in the distance off to your right. The port is a critical link for Alaska, handling 90% of goods and supplies for 80% of the state’s population. Anchorage is located on the Cook Inlet, which will soon come into view as you travel along the outskirts of downtown. For the next mile or so, you will be following the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a paved 11 mile pathway that hugs the coast line of much of the city of Anchorage. Next you will pass by Westchester Lagoon, and then cut through Anchorage, viewing several of the city’s residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, before dropping down and rejoining the coast line along the Turnagain Arm.
At this point you have a view of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge on both sides of the train. The refuge surrounds much of the Anchorage coast line, but the section to your left known as Potter’s Marsh is probably the most visited. The marsh was created in 1917 with the construction of the Alaska Railroad embankment, and is a great spot to see migratory birds such as trumpeter swans, snow geese as well as mallards, bald eagles and up to five sub species of Canadian geese.
For the next 40 miles or so, you will mostly hug the coast line, passing the historic Potter’s Section House and a series of points including Beluga Point, Windy Corner, and Bird Point. As the train rounds these corners, try taking a photo of the train and Turnagain Arm from one of the rear vestibules. Just over an hour into your trip a brief stop will be made in Girdwood which is home to the Alyeska Ski Resort. Anchorage and Girdwood were selected as America’s choice to host the 1992 and 1994 winter Olympics, and while these bids were ultimately unsuccessful, there is talk of another run for the 2026 games.
After leaving Girdwood it is just a half hour to Portage. Here the railroad tracks divide, with a 12 mile trunk taking you to Whittier, while the main line continues 60 miles or so to the town of Seward. As you might guess, this area owes its name to the short ten mile distance from here to the Gulf of Alaska. The town of Portage was destroyed in the 1964 Good Friday earthquake when much of the land subsided or dropped eight feet. Notice the dead trees in this area that were killed, and then preserved, as ocean salt water entered the water table.
From here the remainder of your trip to Whittier is short, and much of it will be spent in one of two tunnels. You will travel for 5 miles or so along the braided Portage Creek before entering the first mile long tunnel which travels under Begich Peak. As you exit the tunnel quickly look to your right for a glimpse of Portage Lake, formed by the receding Portage Glacier. To your left is Bear Valley, so be on the lookout for bears, moose and other Alaskan wildlife. The next tunnel is the second longest highway tunnel in North America… two and one half miles long. It is shared by alternating one way vehicle and train traffic. As you emerge from the tunnel, you will see Passage Canal, located on the western edge of the Prince William Sound, and the town of Whittier will soon come into view.
Once in Whittier the train will stop near the cruise dock and small boat harbor. This same train will return from Whittier to Anchorage in the evening, and there is plenty of time for a Prince William Sound glacier cruise if you are making a day trip from Anchorage. During the day, the train heads back out of Whittier for a sightseeing and whistle stop trip up to Spencer Glacier and Grandview. While you cannot book these extra runs on AlaskaTrain.com, feel free to contact us for us for assistance with booking. You can read more about Whittier here.