Portage Valley

Chugach National Forest
This hike was rated 3 stars.
Difficulty
Easy; more difficult if you climb up to Middle Glacier
Miles One Way
2
Miles from Anchorage
50; 10 miles past Girdwood
Season
May to September (glaciers may not be visible if snow hasn't melted yet)

Description

This is a highly recommended side trip on your way to the Kenai Peninsula or a great way to end your Sunday drive down Turnagain Arm.

Along the Portage Road, there are several glaciers with short easy hikes to the base of the mountains from which they flow down. Middle glacier can actually be climbed to, as long as you’re careful.

At the end of the road is Portage Lake and a wonderful Museum of the Chugach National Forest. There is a great bookstore inside as well.

Unfortunately, the glacier has receded to the point where it is no longer visible but there are cool icebergs floating in the lake.

If you have the time, take the interpretive hike along Moose Flats at the beginning of the park.

Although I’ve never done it; it looks like a great place to ride your bike with either road and/or trail riding.

Important Information

Don’t be fooled on your climb up to Middle Glacier. It is steep, and when you hit snow, very slippery. As I was coming down I slipped on my butt and came way too close to smashing into a boulder. I wish I had bought some kind of ski pole or walking stick.

There is a federal campground on the premises; if you’re lucky you can reserve a campsite with a picture perfect view of Middle Glacier. This is a really nice campground with a fair amount of privacy. For more information, go to Recreation.gov.

Etc.

You can continue on through the tunnel to Whittier, “The Strangest Town in Alaska”. The toll is $15 and traffic alternates, I believe, every 45 minutes.

If you’d like to educate yourself about glaciers and their awesome power, please visit All About Glaciers, a great introductory website.

Topo Map

Portage Valley topo map

Comments on hiking Portage Valley

  1. Blain Anderson sent me the following article from Turnagain Times describing a new trail:

    Forest Tales: The Trail of Blue Ice is like a bike path without being close to a road

    By Allison Rein
    Special to the Turnagain Times
    9/20/07

    The Trail of Blue Ice, in Portage Valley, is not your typical forest trail. This trail is wide enough to walk side-by-side and its smooth surface of compacted gravel, wood decking or pavement make family outings easy—even when some of your family members are not walkers yet or anymore. Strollers, wheelchairs, and bike wheels all spin easily on this trail. It’s like a bike path without being close to a road. And the Views—you’ll just have to see for yourself.
    Planning for this six-mile long trail began over 10 years ago; partial funding through the state’s transportation enhancements program came in 2002 (many of the Chugach State Park sites along Turnagain Arm, such as Beluga Point and McHugh Creek, were funded similarly). The last major section should be under construction next summer, completing the majority of this Portage Lake to Seward Highway trail system.

    Right now the trail is completed in two sections, and under construction in another. One ready to use section is a mile long, between Moose Flats Day Use Area and Explorer Glacier Viewing Area. The other section extends from Portage Lake to Williwaw Campground, and will extend to Black Bear Campground soon. An experienced trail building company, Oregon Woods, has been hard at work all summer constructing the trail between Williwaw and Black Bear Campgrounds. The last bridge will be installed by next summer. Their workmanship has been superb, using Alaskan yellow cedar instead of the usual treated wood to minimize the introduction of toxins found in treated wood.

    Check out this trail. The following describes a loop that is just under three miles total length. Starting at Portage Lake, the very first part of the trail has a short section steeper than a person using a wheelchair can manage without help; the roadway into the parking area can be used if that fits your description, joining into the trail where it crosses the Byron Glacier Road. From the road crossing to Williwaw Campground (CG), the trail winds through dense, fat spruce trees, filled with song birds every spring. The mountains on each side of the valley have waterfalls and glaciers to add variety to your vista.

    Soon you’ll see Freestone Ponds, the source of much of the gravel used for Girdwood’s recent construction projects. Just past the ponds, you’ll come to a junction with the Williwaw Nature Trail. You can go right on the nature trail, or continue on the Trail of Blue Ice (they join at the campground). The nature trail crosses Portage Highway and leads you around Williwaw Ponds. You’ll cross over Williwaw spawning channel, teeming with salmon near the end of their life’s journey. Follow the channel downstream, eventually going back across (actually under) Portage Hwy, and end up at the Salmon Viewing Area. Several new interpretive signs were recently installed on the nature trail about the fisheries habitat.
    Walk straight back on the CG Road towards the mountains to rejoin the Trail of Blue Ice, and head back up valley to return to Portage Lake. Hope to see you on the trail!

    For a detailed map, come visit us in Girdwood at the Glacier Ranger District, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or in Portage at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through September. Due to a lack of funding, the Begich Boggs Visitor Center will be closed for the winter again this year.

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