An hour’s drive south of Anchorage, Alaska, Portage Lake is one of the most accessible locations in the state. Tourists pause on their way to Seward to enjoy this glacier fed lake and spectacular glacier. After the visitor’s center closes, you can still walk along the lake and catch the last rays of light as the sun paints the clouds red and orange. Chunks of ice, more than 50 years old, fall from the glacier at the far end of the lake and float nearby, blue and sparkling.
The National Forest Service Begich-Boggs Visitor Center sits at the west edge of the lake. Open daily in the summer, it offers extensive displays on the glaciers and their environmental importance. Naturalist rangers are ready to answer questions and tell you the latest news about the ice worms which live on the glacier. A small bookstore there is well stocked with nature books and videos on glaciers and the local flora and fauna. The award-winning, educational film “Voices from the Ice” shows hourly.
Explore the self-guided interpretive trail just south of the visitor center and learn how the glaciers form the land. During the winter, the lake freezes over and the entire area is blanketed under snow. The road to the visitor’s center is plowed open on weekends. Stay warm inside and look out through huge picture window overlooking the icy lake.
Make time to enjoy a cruise on the MV Ptarmigan sightseeing boat, crossing the lake to within a few hundred feet of the toe of the Portage Glacier, and with luck, you may see large chunks of ice calve into the lake. A ranger usually accompanies the cruise, narrating the trip and explaining glacial geology and the unusual Chugach National Forest, a forest that contains more ice than trees.
At the USFS Williwaw Creek Campground, 38 sites accommodate campers of all sizes from tents to large motor homes. Reservations for the campground are available by calling 1-800-280-CAMP. Campfire programs are offered during the summer.
From the campground, a self-guided nature trail leaves the campground loop and wanders along the creek. This is prime moose and beaver habitat. Early morning is good for finding the moose grazing in the wetland areas. Along the creek a viewing platform juts out and spawning red salmon and dog salmon fill the creek from late July to mid September. Another trail north of the campground heads up the mountainside towards rushing cascades of glacier run-off.
Travel eight miles back to the town of Portage and catch the train to Whittier, or travel the soon-to-be-completed auto route directly from Portage Lake. From the fishing community of Whittier on Prince William Sound, you can board the Alaska Marine Highway Ferries to cross to Valdez and other ports of call or join one of several glacier and wildlife cruises into the icy fjords.
Whatever the season, the Portage area south of Anchorage is an exciting and photogenic place to visit.