Sheltered by mountain peaks more than 1 kilometre high and hidden by cloud cover, Whittier is an isolated town at the head of Passage Canal in Alaska. Steeped in military history, Whittier was selected because of its inaccessibility. The surrounding area is nothing short of stunning, offering abundant hiking trails, superb scuba diving and endless opportunities for spotting wildlife.
Whittier was built by the Alaskan military during World War II and that military presence is evident throughout town, even to this day. The town is an amazing mixture of industrial design and pristine, untouched beauty.
Begich Towers stand alone as the largest construction in town, and is home to permanent residents and many of the town’s commercial businesses. Whittier looks across the Kenai Peninsula and sits to the edge of Prince William Sound, which is widely recognised as a haven of wildlife and glacial magnificence. As cruise ships dock in Whittier, visitors take advantage of the first-class kayaking, scuba diving and hiking.
Whittier joins the rest of Alaska via its famous tunnel. Constructed by blasting solid granite, Whittier Tunnel is a feat of engineering and a reminder of the isolation that made the area a perfect military base. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (also known as the Whittier Tunnel), is 4 kilometres of single-lane access shared with railway traffic. The tunnel is in operation until 10:30pm every night, alternating between railway and auto access every half hour.
Whittier is located approximately 90 kilometres south east of Anchorage. The town of Whittier was built as a military supply base and is now a shipping hub. The cruise ship port is located in an industrial area. Shops and facilities are limited; however, there are places to purchase a drink and something to eat.
Facilities in Whittier are limited due to the size and isolation of the area. It is recommended that your carry cash with you as there are no ATMs nearby. The terminal itself is modern, ensuring efficient check-in and disembarking amenities.
Facilities in Whittier include:
- Guidebooks and directions
- Tour information
- Small eateries.
How to Get Around
Unlike many other ports in the region, Whittier is accessible by road, railway and ship. The Alaskan Railroad runs from Anchorage to Whittier and there is also a regular bus service. The service runs on a daily basis to cater for cruise ship passengers.
The nearest airport to Whittier is in Anchorage. If you are flying into Anchorage, allow extra transit time to Whittier due to time restrictions on the tunnel.
Once you have arrived in Whittier, everything in town is within walking distance. Locals are very friendly and are happy to give you directions to any place you wish to visit. Rental cars are available in Whittier; if you are journeying out of town, it is wise to familiarise yourself with the Whittier Tunnel schedule.
- Currency – The local currency is the United States Dollar (USD). The United States Dollar comes in USD$1, USD$2, USD$5, USD$10, USD$20, USD$50, and USD$100 notes. Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cent (₵) and USD$1 denominations. Cash is preferable in Whittier as card facilities are limited. As most goods are flown into Whittier, allow for slightly higher costs.
- Time Zone – Whittier observes Alaska Standard Time (AKST), which is 9 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Daylight Saving Time begins in March and runs until November. Alaskan Daylight Saving Time (AKDT) operates 8 hours behind UTC.
- Weather – Rainfall is a constant in Whittier. Annual rainfall reaches more than 5,000mm and high wind often accompanies the downpour. During the summer, daylight stretches to 22 hours per day. Summer temperatures range from 9 to 17 degrees Celsius, while winter averages between -8 to -2 degrees Celsius. Snowfall can amount to more than 6 metres during winter.
- Prince William Sound – Home to a large concentration of glaciers, Prince William Sound boasts Humpback and Orca whales, as well as bald eagles, owls, otters and sea lions. Prince William Sound is a beautiful spot for kayaking and exploring the rugged fjords. This is a popular tourist spot.
- Prince William Sound Museum – This museum is a proud tribute to the pioneering history of the town. Filled with numerous photographs and personal accounts of past residents, the museum offers an inside look at the Alaskan military heritage that formed Whittier. It also showcases the construction of Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which links Whittier with the rest of Alaska.
- Begich Towers – This 14-storey building is home to the majority of Whittier’s residents. The 1940s military structure is its own community, housing a medical centre, grocery store, police station and video store. Children that reside in Begich Towers attend school in the same building. Visitors can explore the commercial areas and the myriad hallways.