Somewhere in a land. Far, far away. On the other side of a mountain. Lies a quaint, little seaside town called Whittier.
Whittier, Alaska is located on the West side of Prince William Sound, approximately 58 miles Southeast of Anchorage, and nestles in the beautiful Chugach National Forest. With annual precipitation of 197.8 inches, Whittier is the wettest city in the U.S., and experiences winter winds that reach 60 to 80 MPH. Sounds crazy…right?
During WW2, a military facility was constructed here by the U.S. Army and remained active until 1960. During this time, over a thousand military personnel lived in this tiny town. Today it is home to around 215 people, who proudly call Whittier home.
Whittier, Alaska is not your typical small town, in fact, it’s not even close. This uniquely, charming place is about as atypical as it get’s, but, before we “get into Whittier”….we have to actually “get in to Whittier”.
The only way to get to Whittier by car, is through a 2.5 mile tunnel through a mountain. The “Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel”, more commonly known as the “Whittier Tunnel”, is the longest tunnel in North America. The one lane tunnel is shared by both cars and trains traveling in both directions. Traffic opens to Whittier every 30 minutes on the half hour from 5:30 AM to 1030 PM and from Whittier every hour from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM. The one way toll into Whittier is $13 per vehicle and includes a round trip. No charge to get out. The bridge closes overnight, so if you’re not planning on staying (or if you are), you don’t want to miss the last run.
Take a ride with me through the Whittier Tunnel!
Welcome to Whittier
Welcome to the remote, little town of Whittier, Alaska!
The Whittier Harbor serves as a port for the Alaska Marine Highway year round, and a cruise ship port of call, from May through September, where it hosts over 90,000 cruise ship passengers per year. It is the embarkation and disembarkation port for Anchorage for some of the cruise lines.
During the “tourist season”, the harbor will be bustling with visitors from all over the world.
All of the charming, little, boarded up shops and restaurants that you see here, will be open, vibrant and welcoming to thousands of people. During the Autumn and Winter months they will lie dormant, with their hatches battened down, in preparation for the impending, harsh, Alaskan Winter, that is sure to come.
The Underground Pedestrian Tunnel
To get from the water front to the downtown area, you can walk or drive across the train yard that separates the two…OR…you can venture through a 512 foot long, underground pedestrian tunnel. Of course WE picked the tunnel. How often do you get to do something like this?
The beautiful signs by the entrance are placed on both sides of the tunnel.
How fun was this?! The tunnel is basically, a well lit, steel pipe, with a concrete floor and superb acoustics.
If you think Whittier is out of the ordinary so far…. just wait…. there’s more.
It just keeps getting better.
Where Does Everyone Live?
Remember the 215 people that live in Whittier?
Well…..this is where they reside. Almost all of the population of Whittier live in the same building!
A whole town under one roof. This 14 story apartment building (former Army barracks) is the Begich Towers. Aside from just apartments, you will find a grocery store, a post office, a church, a clinic, a laundromat, an indoor playground for kids, and a one room police department. If a Bed and Breakfast interests you, you will be happy to know that the top two floors are just what you’re looking for. The Whittier school, which serves approximately 38 students ranging from preschool to high school, sits directly behind, and is connected to the apartment building by……guess what? Another tunnel. The tunnel was constructed to allow children safe passage during the cruel winter weather.
Things You’ll Find
Take a walk around. You can’t deny that Whittier is full of weird Alaska charm. That is, by the way, a compliment.
From old boats to old rusted out trucks.
This place is packed full of mysterious charm, and has a bit of eeriness about it.
How many reindeer pens have you seen? This was my first. This friendly guy came right up to us, without any fear. He even has a cute little house.
The Buckner Building
This creepy looking place below is The Buckner Building, it was built in 1953 and was once called “the city under one roof”. It is now abandoned, as if you couldn’t tell.
The Buckner Building has a very interesting history, and many stories to tell, I’m sure.
The Anchor Inn
The Anchor Inn was the only restaurant open during our visit, it’s open year round. Here you can find a laundromat, a small museum, groceries, a bar, a hotel room for the night and the best Halibut fish and chips that I’ve ever had in my life.
Whittier, Alaska is not the easiest place to get to, but it’s worth the effort.
It’s hard to describe this strange land, but if I had to….. “beautifully weird” comes to mind.