Portage Valley offers fun for the whole family
Blue Ice Trail links diverse attractions in glacier valley
The beautiful, flat-bottomed, glacially carved and deposited Portage River Valley offers fun activities for all members of your family featuring: spectacular views of the surrounding snow and ice covered Chugash Mountains (including the Explorer and Byron Glaciers,) sight-seeing and fishing along the beautiful, meandering, gravel bottomed channels of the Portage River and its numerous side channels and contributory streams, a hike up to Byron Glacier and paddling or cruising around or across Portage Lake to the Portage Glacier.
You can also enjoy the fascinating Begish-Boggs Visitor Center and camp at either of two developed public campgrounds, a private campground, or at several informal stream-side pull-off areas. The five mile-long, broad, multi-use (walk, run, bike, stroller and wheelchair accessible,) gentle-gradient, lovely Portage Valley Blue Ice Trail links together all of these Portage Valley attractions.
You can park and access the trail at either end and at numerous access points along the Portage Valley Road including the campgrounds. Note: there is another Blue Ice Trail on the Kenai Peninsula in Kachemak Bay State Park that we will visit in a future article.
Drive to the eastern end of Turnagain Arm at the very northern end of the Kenai Peninsula and turn east on the Portage River Valley Road at milepost 77.3 on the Seward Highway. Your Portage Valley adventure begins here.
The Blue Ice Trail begins at the stream and lake-side Moose Flats picnic area located about one half mile east of the turnoff from the Seward Highway. The Blue Ice Trail, the Portage Valley Road and the Portage River loosely parallel each other and all lead to the Begish-Boggs Visitor Center located at the eastern end of the valley on western shore of glacier-fed Portage Lake.
The Blue Ice Trail alternates between dirt, gravel and boardwalk and follows the gentle gradient of the Portage River upstream and along several of its side and contributory channels and lakes. At about MP 2.5 pause at the rest stop next to the beautiful Explorer Glacier-fed aquamarine lake that provides a full view of the glacier hanging in its cirque bowl basin at the top of the mountain in front of you.
The aquamarine color that you see here, and in other Alaskan glacier-fed stream channels and lakes, is due to the interaction of light with the super-finely-ground, continuously suspended, glacial rock flour particles in the water. The trail also passes by two Chugash National Forest campgrounds, the small and intimate Black Bear Campground (~MP 3.5) nestled in the boreal forest, and the larger, more open, Williwaw Campground (~MP 4.0.)
My favorite section of this trail is an offshoot at MP 4, known as the Williwaw Nature Trail, which you take from a salmon viewing platform area, on a delightful journey around the Williwaw Ponds. Throughout the summer you can enjoy a vast array of wildflowers all along the Blue Ice Trail.
The Begish-Boggs visitor center, located at the eastern terminus of the Blue Ice Trail, offers some wonderful interpretive displays, and a fascinating movie about glaciers, salmon, other wildlife and the history of the Chugach National Forest. The center also provides spectacular views across Portage Lake, which is a melt-water lake in front of the Burns and Portage Glaciers located just a few miles away at the east end of Portage Lake.
If you are interested in canoeing or kayaking on Portage Lake check-in at the visitor center to obtain a permit for paddling the lake, for which there is a launch point located a quarter mile northeast up the road toward Whittier.
You can also continue southeast on the road past the visitor center on the south side of the lake for 1.5 miles to access the trailhead for the Byron Glacier trail, and for two miles to take a boat tour cruise across Portage Lake to the front of Portage Glacier.
If you happen to be in this area in the winter, consider a Nordic ski tour across Portage Lake to the front of Portage Glacier, for a wonderful adventure on which you can explore and enjoy the natural ice sculptures that form along the front of the glacier.
Other nearby attractions
While in Portage Valley you are close to numerous other fun-filled activities including: The Whistle Stop Train to Spencer Glacier whose Alaska RR train station is located only a quarter mile west of the Portage Valley Road turnoff on the Seward highway (see June 15, 2017 article in Homer Tribune.)
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center located across the Seward Highway from the Portage Valley Road turnoff, Fishing and jet-boat rides on the 20 Mile River located about a half mile west of the Alaska RR station on the Seward Highway, and access to Whittier and Prince William Sound via the Whittier Tunnel located a half mile northeast past the Begish-Boggs visitor center.
For Portage Valley camping information, visit www.campgroundsalaska.com/portageglacier.php.