(This is part 3 of our 4 part Alaska road trip series)
We ended our Alaskan trip as we started, visiting places that are not on the typical tourist itinerary and our next stop was decidedly atypical…Whittier!
On the way to Whittier, we filled up our water bottles at a freshwater spring located just a few miles from Anchorage. A lone pipe protrudes from a granite cliff that has rushing glacial water that is divinely cold and refreshing. No filter needed. (update as of 2021 when we revisited Alaska, this pipe is gone!) Whittier was one of my favorite towns in Alaska because of the amazing luck we had with wildlife and auroras there. It’s a sleepy town with a population of 200 on Prince William Sound. Getting there is an adventure. You could arrive by sea, but the only other option is a one lane, one way 2.5 mile tunnel through the mountain ($13 roundtrip). They change the direction of traffic every 30 minutes. All of the town’s residents live in a converted army barracks which also has a convenience store and a laundromat so residents can stay indoors when the frequent gusty winds strike.
Phillips Cruises and Tours
Our lodging here was the Inn at Whittier, a beautiful inn with 25 rooms located directly on the Prince Edward Sound. Think a rustic B&B minus the breakfast part. In Whittier, the highlight was our glacier cruise with Phillips Cruises and Tours. We chose their 26 glacier tour ($160) which was one of the best adventure tours in all our travels. This is a 5 hour tour through miles of the fjords of the Sound where brilliantly blue glaciers are the stars of the tour but the abundant wildlife is quite the addition. As with most tours, weather and luck dictate your day, and we had a bluebird day cruising the Sound. Even the naturalist aboard commented that the weather was extraordinary, the best in her 25 years. Surely, it beat those clouds surrounding Denali! Otters, seals, sea lions and a plethora of birds could be seen from the ship. They also include a hot lunch, coffee, tea, and a water with a chunk of glacier ice. Your dining options in Whittier are slim, but the Wild Catch Cafe was surprisingly good with dine-in and take out options. We only stayed one night in Whittier, but the nightcap of our perfect day was the dancing aurora display that peeked out around midnight. Go to Alaska in September! Admittedly, our photography skills were not up to par (check out our articles on Iceland as we’ve improved), but it was our first glimpse of the auroras for any length of time so capturing anything on camera was a huge score!
Our “Champagne Splurge” this trip was our next stop, Hotel Alyeska. The drive to and from Whittier is a National Scenic Byway through the Chugach National Forest and you’ll want to stop every 5 minutes for a photo of glacial waters and the stunning mountain range. This chateau inspired hotel is 40 minutes from Anchorage and has numerous windows to view Mount Alyeska. A luxurious indoor pool was great for soothing our road weary muscles but it was our dinner at Seven Glaciers that was true taste of luxury. Located on the top of the mountain and accessible by their aerial tram, it is AAA four diamond restaurant and every table has panoramic views of the surrounding mountain and glacier. The food is delectable but it is the sunset views that make it absolutely magical.
From Alyeska, we cruised down the Kenai Peninsula to reach Homer, approximately 4 hours away. We extended our journey by taking a detour around Skilak Lake, an 18 mile gravel road that affords mesmerizing views of the massive lake colored turquoise from the glacial runoff from the Skilak Glacier. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife but it is recommended to drive early in the morning before the boaters head to the boat ramps and moose, bear, and many birds can be spotted. Immediately before reaching Homer, I’d also recommend a stop at Anchor Point, AK where you can take a photograph at the sign saying that that you’ve reach “America’s Most Westerly Highway Point.” We also had a lot of luck grabbing some great shots of bald eagles there. Homer was a perfect conclusion to our great Alaskan adventure.