Whittier, at the head of the Passage Canal, originally was part of the portage route for the Chugach Indians of Prince William Sound traveling to fish the Turnagain Arm:later the Russians and Americans exploring the region also used this portage. It was used extensively by prospecting miners during the gold rush as it was the quickest passage from the Sound to the Cook Inlet and Interior regions. The city itself is a historical landmark, established by the U.S. Army during World War II. The Whittier railroad to Portage was completed in 1943 and became the primary debarkation point for cargo, troops, and dependents of the Alaska Command. In 1948 the military began construction of the first of two buildings for their military personnel as the Port of Whittier was then recognized as an ice-free, deep water port strategically located to Anchorage and Interior Alaska. This remained active until 1960 at which time the total population was 1,200. The city of Whittier, incorporated in 1969, purchased the town site from the federal government in 1973. Until the year 2000, Whittier was only accessible on land by train (or by foot over the pass). In 2000, the state paved the railroad tunnel, and opened the longest combined rail and vehicle tunnel.
In the Summer, the tunnel is open for vehicles going to Whittier on the half hour for 15 minutes. Leaving Whittier, it is open on the hour. Times may vary, and trains have priority. Check with the State of Alaska Department of Transportation for the daily schedule.
Today, less than 300 people reside in the town supporting the Alaska State Ferry, the Alaska Railroad, the the military tank farm for aviation fuel, the Small Boat Harbor and tourism in general. You can see Birds, Sea Otters, Seals, Whales, Sea Lions, Porpoise, Glaciers, Waterfalls, (watch Horse Tail Falls flow up!) Goats, Deer, Bears and more in Whittier and Prince William Sound. Hike the Portage Pass Trail or to the Salmon Runs, beachcomb, bird watch and pick berries. Water sports include boating, sailing, kayaking, and scuba diving. Winter time sports activities include snow shoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. Whittier is a photographers paradise.
The Begich Towers, formerly the Hodge Building, contains 198 apartments and is 14 stories high. Over half of Whittier’s population live in this building which is now a condominium complex. The Buckner Building known as "the city under the roof" was central to this isolated Army outpost. It contained 1,000 apartments, a hospital, bowling alley, theater, library, shops, gymnasium, and pool. This design greatly reduced the need for snow removal which sometimes exceeds 14 feet. This building is now vacant. The Small Boat Harbor, which has over 300 slips, is where you will find a variety of boats, commercial, charter and pleasure.