Portage Valley, which stretches about six miles from the western
end of Turnagain Arm to the small seaport town of Whittier on Prince
William Sound, was one of our favorite parts of South Central Alaska
when we visited here three years ago.
The scenic valley is sandwiched between two glaciated mountain ranges
-- the Chugach and the Kenai. Numerous glaciers can be seen from
the roads, railroad track, and trails in the valley.
Explorer Glacier, as seen from
the Trail of Blue Ice
Water and ice flow into beautiful
glacier-blue streams, ponds, and lakes where several species of salmon return each summer
to complete their life cycle.
Wildflowers and wildlife are abundant.
There are several private and public campgrounds, one of the best
National Forest Service (NFS) visitor centers anywhere in America, and
recreational opportunities galore.
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.
The arrow marks the approximate location of Williwaw Campground.
In this entry I'll cover the short drive from Anchorage to Portage Valley,
the Williwaw NFS Campground, and two bike rides on the uber-scenic
Williwaw Nature Trail, Moose Flats, and theTrail
of Blue Ice, where visitors can see at least five hanging glaciers from
the multi-use path -- more than can be seen from the road.
FROM HERE TO THERE: ANCHORAGE
→ PORTAGE VALLEY
Since our drive was a mere 62 miles today, we took our time getting
ready to leave Black Spruce FamCamp at JBER in northern metro Anchorage.
We got to Williwaw Campground about 10:15 AM with no stops in town or
along Turnagain Arm.
It was early enough on Sunday that traffic on the Seward Highway wasn't bad yet.
It was sobering when we passed the location where the horrific
occurred near Portage just two days ago.
Lots of white clouds along Turnagain Arm near
Beluga Point this morning
Despite the heavy news coverage of that tragedy, some drivers were still
exceeding the speed limit, following too closely, and passing when it
wasn't very safe.
The tide in Turnagain Arm was the highest this morning of any of the
times we've driven this route. It was beautiful, although it's always
hard for me to take pictures in the morning going eastbound, facing the
as we got closer to Portage Valley
Ironically, there was more blue sky in Portage Valley this today than along
the water -- and no wind.
Because Portage Valley lies between Turnagain Arm and Prince William
Sound it often gets gale-force winds and sudden weather changes.
Portage Valley Rd., with a couple of the hanging
glaciers visible on the right
Glacial creek flowing along the road
Today couldn't have been any better, though. It was much more pleasant
than when it's been raining down here.
The National Forest Service operates two very nice campgrounds in
Portage Valley -- Williwaw and Black Bear.
Per the Forest Service's
web description of the campgrounds,
Black Bear is smaller, more rustic, and has limited views of the
surroundings mountains and glaciers because of all its tall trees. It is
a great place for tents and smaller RVs.
Williwaw, which means "big wind," has better views of the
mountains and glaciers, more sites, and can accommodate larger rigs.
Glacier views from one of the roads in Williwaw CG
The long loops are paved and wide enough for large
RVs to pass through without hitting any branches. Most of the 60 sites are
long enough for a big RV but not all of them have adequate turning room
for our truck and 36-foot 5thwheel.
Some sites can be
reserved; others are first-come, first-served.
2012 we spent one night in a spacious non-reservable site with
great views of Middle Glacier behind us when the clouds
lifted just a bit:
That was then: view of Middle Glacier from our window
on an overcast day (7-15-12)
This is now: a photo from today of the site we occupied
in 2012 (above); the arrow marks
Middle Glacier (enlarged below), which we could see
from our living room windows.
If it hadn't continued raining that week, we would have enjoyed staying
more than one night.
Several months ago we made reservations for two short periods of time in
early August. There are more visitors to Alaska this year and we wanted
to be assured of a spot.
day trip earlier this summer we drove through the campground and feared
the site we reserved would be too hard for Jim to back into but he did
it without much difficulty since no one was in the site across from ours:
We still have glacier views but they are easier to
see from outside the camper.
Although there is plenty of privacy between sites, shorter trees and
shrubs at Williwaw allow some great views of the mountains and Middle Glacier:
Arrow marks our truck; a big glacier near Porter
Lake is visible a few feet past our site.
Sites at Williwaw 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
14 days. The cost is very reasonable and even more so at half off with
our senior national parks pass.
Quiet hours are from 10 PM to 6 AM. Generators can be run any time
except then, which is very generous.
We have a serviceable Verizon phone signal and our MiFi works OK here.
That's pretty good for a valley surrounded by trees and mountains! We donít
have any TV reception at our site, though.
truck and current site from the other direction.
The campground was full last night and most sites are full again
tonight. It's a good thing we reserved a site.
MAXIMIZING OUR GOOD WEATHER LUCK
We got the camper set up quickly this morning and wasted no time getting
out to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and weather that we didn't have three
years ago when we were here.
This place -- and Alaska in general -- is just awesome
when it's sunny and dry!!
Swimming in this pretty lake at Moose Flats wouldn't be
much fun on a rainy or overcast day.
The main reason we like Portage Valley so much is the Trail of Blue Ice
and other connecting multi-use paths. We walked and rode them on our
bikes several times in 2012 (
July 16, and
August 25) and wanted to enjoy them again this summer.
There are lots of photos and information about the trails in those three
entries so I won't repeat all of it again now.
Here's a map that shows the interconnecting trails in Portage Valley:
The Trail of Blue Ice is marked with a gray dotted line, the Williwaw
Nature Trail a yellow dotted line, and Portage Valley Rd. a thin black
line. Our campground is the "CG" with the loops; Black Bear CG is to the
left of it.
The photos in the rest of this entry are from bike rides we did on
Sunday afternoon and Monday evening.
This afternoon Jim rode his bike 12 miles and I rode 13. Some of it was
together, some separately on the Trail of Blue Ice and the Williwaw
Nature Trail. We started together on the Nature Trail so we could hunt
for salmon in the little channels where they spawn, then went our
Jim also took Casey a total of at least three miles with the bike in two
separate "runs" (next photo) both days. I walked the dogs several times
in the campground for at least two miles total each day. We were outside
a lot more than inside both days.
Like I said, we
wanted to get out and enjoy the fantastic weather and scenery!
The second evening after supper we
rode our bikes again separately.
Jim rides slowly with Casey in the campground
I rode 8+ miles on the Nature Trail (saw the red salmon across the
road from the fish viewing area again) and west on the Trail of Blue Ice
to the Moose Flats Day Use Area. It was my first time riding all the trail options
at Moose Flats.
It was very pleasant riding when it was cooler (mid-60s F.) in the
evening -- and we love the long hours of daylight up here.
I'll categorize photos from both days' rides by trail, starting with:
THE TRAIL OF BLUE ICE
This multi-use trail is a wide, mostly smooth, crushed
gravel path with some long boardwalks and several handsome bridges over streams and
absolutely love the graceful elegance of the two suspension bridges.
As you can see on the map, the trail runs for five miles east-west from the NFS Moose Flats
day use area to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at the NW corner of Portage Lake.
There are several access points, including both campgrounds.
Most of the trail is forested and shady when the leaves are out in the
However, there are open spaces where hikers and cyclists can get
more views than in the forest.
The trail passes several lakes and ponds, goes over wet areas and
streams, and affords great views of at least five hanging glaciers in
The Trail of Blue Ice is partly paved between
Williwaw CG and the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center.
Explorer Lake and Glacier
Continued on the next page: more scenic photos from
Williwaw Nature Trail and Moose Flats
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil