This is a continuation of the last entry describing our trip this
morning from the Kasilof
RV Park to Portage Valley.
In this entry I'll describe one of the best US Forest Service
campgrounds we've found in our travels and talk about our second visit
to the impressive Chugach National Forest visitor center at Portage Lake. Our first visit to
this area was on a day trip from Anchorage on
The aerial photo above gives a great overview of the end of the valley
near Portage Lake. It is from
this USDA website. I found it while
looking for a map of the road through the valley from Portage to Whittier.
The photo is a better representation than any map I found.
Williwaw Campground is located approximately where the arrow points.
The rain continued off and on today from Kasilof to Portage Valley,
getting worse as we approached this valley in the early afternoon. By
bedtime it was just misty, with low clouds obscuring the mountain peaks.
Weather is even more unpredictable here, between Prince William Sound
and Turnagain Arm, than it is on the Kenai Peninsula. We did get some good views of Middle Glacier
during the day, however. Middle is a "hanging" glacier located above our
site, one of several glaciers visible in Portage Valley.
This is a cloudy view of Middle Glacier from our campground:
View from the campground road
I took the next two pictures of Middle Glacier and the drainage below it
this evening during a walk with Cody on the Trail of Blue Ice
near the campground:
I could see even more of the glacier and mountainside from across the
road on the Williwaw Nature Trail. I'll show photos from there later in
the next entry.
We really like the
Williwaw Campground, which is located
four miles back Portage Valley Road.
When we were here on our day trip three weeks ago we
drove through the nearby Black Bear Campground and decided the
sites were too small for our rig. We didnít notice Williwaw at the time
or read about it until later so we didn't actually see it until we drove
Both Williwaw and Black Bear are attractive, reasonably-priced US Forest
Service campgrounds with lots of trees and lower-growing greenery. The campgrounds are connected by
the Portage Valley Road and also by the awesome 5+ mile paved Trail
of Blue Ice bike/hike path.
We had a good choice of sites when we checked in at 1 PM. I'm surprised
the campground wasn't more full but it is a Sunday
afternoon when many state residents go back home after a weekend of camping.
The long loops within
Williwaw Campground are paved and wide enough for large rigs to pass through
without hitting any branches. Most of the 60 sites are long enough for a
large RV but not all of them have adequate turning room for a truck and
Sites are large, with a lot of
privacy trees/shrubs between them.
There are some pull-thru sites that are big enough for our rig and at
least a dozen double sites.
We chose a double site recommended by the campground host as easy to
back in and roomy enough to put our slides and awning out:
Our site has a view of the glacier when it's clear enough to see up
there. A couple nearby sites have an even better view of it but they are
Above and below: View from my desk (doorside,
where we have several windows)
We are also close to an entrance to the Trail of Blue Ice. We were
hoping to ride our bikes on it this afternoon or evening but itís been
too cold, wet, and windy. I did take Cody for a walk on it this evening
and I'll show you pictures of it on the next page.
Our half-price cost for this site with our National Park Service senior pass is $14/night ($28 regular price).
Single (more narrow) back-in sites and pull-thrus cost less, $18/night
regular or $9/night with a senior pass. Payment is by
cash or check at the self-service check-in station at the hostís site.
Another nice, private site
Sites have a paved RV pad, fire pit, and room to pitch a tent on gravel
next to the picnic table.
There are several water pumps and vault toilets at Williwaw but no hookups or a dump station.
Black Bear doesn't have a dump station either. That could be a problem for folks staying
in RVs for more than a few days. Reservations can be made for up to
We have a serviceable Verizon phone signal (2 bars) and MiFi works OK here. I wasnít expecting
that in a valley surrounded by trees and mountains. We donít have any TV reception
at our site, though.
THREE NEW FRIENDS
When we walked over to the host site with Cody to check in we talked
with another fella who also just arrived. Wes, his wife Nancy,
and their 7-year-old yellow Lab, Amber, are in a 36-foot HitchHiker at
the other end of the campground.
We found several things in common right away
besides being Labrador retriever owners.
We had a HitchHiker 5th-wheel before we got our Cameo.
Wes is retired Air Force so the couple can use military campgrounds like
we do. Not only were they at JBER about the same time we were there in
June, they were also only two spaces away from us at the Seward
Military Resort when we were there. We noticed their dog
looks like Tater, a female yellow Lab we had, but we never did see them
outside when we were so we didn't talk to them before today.
This access to the Trail of Blue Ice is close to
Wes and Nancy are going to be here at Williwaw for two days, then theyíre going
back up to JBER to camp at Elmendorf again; they prefer that
campground to the one we were in at Richardson (we prefer Richardson).
We plan to go up to Anchorage
tomorrow, especially since itíll still be raining here and itís supposed
to be sunny part of the day there. We'll hunt for them on the other side
of JBER in a couple days so we can spend more time with them.
A COOL SURPRISE AT BEGICH, BOGGS
After eating lunch we drove a mile to the
Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, one of
the best-looking Forest Service visitor centers we've seen. We enjoyed a
quick visit there on June 27 and wanted to go back to see more this
I took a few pictures of Portage Lake and the mountains before going inside:
This is a very scenic lake and backdrop but I think it looked more
interesting the first time we were there. The pretty blue icebergs have
melted now and it's not sunny like it was three weeks ago. You can see
the icebergs and the exterior/interior of this very nice national forest
visitor center in this entry from
Wes and Nancy drove in right behind us. We all watched the Chugach
Mountains glacier film in the theater at 2 PM, then talked for a couple
hours afterwards as we slowly wandered through the exhibits.
The movie was excellent and we highly recommend you see it if you're in
Portage Valley. Maybe I shouldn't give away the "ending" but most of the
people reading this will probably never be in this visitor center.
Telling you what happens might encourage more folks to visit. (If you don't
want to know the surprise part, skip the next paragraph.)
At the end of the movie the curtains opened to reveal a large wall of
windows looking out over Portage Lake and Burns Glacier. It was
spectacular, even in the rain. It would be even more breathtaking on a
Wow. Great effect!
After watching the film we sat outside the theater to talk with Wes and Nancy and didnít spend
much time looking at exhibits. We didnít do any of this the last time we
were here, partly because we were in more of a hurry and partly because
we didnít realize we could get in free with our NPS
Itís a very nice visitor center and well worth the low
cost of entry if you do have to pay. That film alone is
worth the fee.
Jim sits in a kayak display while Wes watches.
Weíll probably stay in contact with Nancy and Wes during and after this
trip. In addition to
all the time we talked with them at the visitor center and campground
host's site, they also brought their dog Amber over to our camper and we
talked some more this afternoon (Cody enjoyed the company, too).
Topics included where all of us been in Alaska so far, current and
previous RVs, their plans for the trip back to their home in Colorado,
where theyíre spending the winter, and much more.
Nancy and Wes donít do as much camping as we do and have no intention of selling
the house they built in the mountains west of Pueblo several years ago.
This four-month trip to Alaska is their longest to date. They plan to stay in
one place in Arizona with full hook-ups from January to March. Theyíve
invited us to camp on their property sometime when weíre in SE Colorado.
ADDITIONAL PHOTOS OF PORTAGE LAKE
In the interest of continuity I'll show you some better photos of the
lake that I took the next morning, July 16, during a long bike ride with
Jim on the Trail of Blue Ice.
Visibility was much better then than on Sunday, although I still prefer
the views on June 27 when the icebergs were still floating in the lake:
That's Burns Glacier visible across the lake in the
photo directly above and the one below.
Portage Glacier has receded a couple miles behind the
mountain on the right and is no longer visible from the visitor center.
You have to take a plane or boat to see it now. Portage Glacier used to
extend the whole five-mile length of this valley and up into the Harding
There's a graphic diagram of the recession of both Burns and Portage glaciers
in just the last century at this Forest Service
link. A hundred years ago Portage
Glacier reached the current location of the Begich, Boggs Visitor
You can sorta see part of Byron Glacier on the right in the next
photo from the lake shore:
We hiked back to Byron Glacier on our
day trip when snow still covered part of the trail.
We won't have time to see it while we're here this time but may come
back down here soon on another day trip from Anchorage so we can see
what the trail is like with less snow and more flowers.
In the next entry I'll show photos from the hike I took with Cody on
the Trail of Blue Ice and the Williwaw Nature Trail this evening.
A second entry will focus on different scenery on those trails during
Jim's and my bike ride on the 16th. What great hiking/cycling trails!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil