On the spectrum of Alaskan trails, Portage Pass is likely one of the highest ranking in terms of reward v. effort. Starting in Whittier, the trail connects through to Portage Lake, delivering spectacular views of Portage Glacier that you would otherwise have to take a ferry to experience.
The trailhead is accessed from a right-hand turn-off shortly after exiting the tunnel into Whittier. As if we need further proof that ‘the weather is always shittier in Whittier’, the clear blue skies we enjoy all the way from Anchorage to Portage are suddenly blanketed in storm-grey clouds as soon as we pass through the Whittier tunnel.
The first portion of the walk is through a lushly vegetated area filled with raspberry and salmonberry bushes. Expect this trail to be busy in August.
Portage Pass is a 1 mile, uphill trek to an elevation of 800ft. This is ‘easy’ by Alaskan hiking vernacular (plenty of toddlers and tiny dogs with tiny little legs on this one) but I’d still recommend wearing some decent shoes for protection from the gravel and sharp rocks. From the top of the Pass, take some time to enjoy incredible, panoramic views of the Whittier port and harbor behind you, as well as your first glimpse of the hulking Portage Glacier ahead (just look at the ferry out on the lake, completely dwarfed by the wall of ice in front of it).
The next 1.5 miles or so is downhill towards Portage Lake, and well worth it. Be prepared for some fairly steep, slippery sections along the way, and in the interest of full disclosure, keep an eye out for doggy business whilst taking in the scenery. And since we are technically leaving Whittier beyond the Pass, the skies are blue again, hurrah! Still not sure I’m acclimated enough for a lake swim at the height of an Alaskan summer, but the glacial water temperatures aren’t deterring the beach-goers here today.
We turn around to head back to Pass – probably the most lung-busting portion of the hike. A post-hike ice cream treat (Moose Tracks all the way) waiting for us back in Whittier is a strong incentive to make good time.