Named for poet John Greenleaf Whittier, this town of 300 friendly people has a picturesque mountains-and-bay setting. Unfortunately, the town itself is anything but poetic, and several other less flattering words come more quickly to mind.
Thousands of tourists pass through Whittier every week, but very few choose to spend much time in this strange place where the entire population lives in concrete high-rises and the wind never seems to stop. Ask an Alaskan about Whittier and you’re likely to hear the little ditty, “Nothing could be shittier than a day in Whittier.”
OK, perhaps I’m too harsh, since Whittier does have a gorgeous setting, scenic boat tours , and lots of great outdoorsy things to do  on nearby Prince William Sound . So come here for the surrounding land, but don’t expect to fall in love with the town, no matter how poetic the name.
By Car: Whittier is accessible by boat, ferry, train, or car. Drivers get here by turning from Seward Highway at Mile 79 (50 miles south of Anchorage ) onto Portage Glacier Highway. The road to Whittier splits off near the Begich, Boggs Visitors Center and heads through a 400-foot tunnel before emerging into Bear Valley.
Here you’ll find a staging area for access to the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel that is shared by both trains and cars. It’s the longest auto tunnel in North America, and one of the only tunnels in the world where the same roadbed is used by both rail and auto traffic. The tunnel is open to one-way travel throughout the day, but only for 15 minutes out of each hour in each direction (and not at all when trains are transiting the tunnel).
Ferry travelers and anyone else on a tight schedule should check the tunnel times in advance to make sure they don’t miss their connections. Get a schedule at 907/472-2584 or 877/611-2586, or online at www.tunnel.alaska.gov . The eastbound toll is $12 for autos; no charge heading west.
The tunnel is not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, and you will be driving on an odd roadbed over the railroad tracks. There are pullouts for emergency use, and enormous fans to clean the air after trains pass through. Once you reach Whittier, parking costs $10 per day, or $5 if you’re on one of the glacier cruises.
By Train: The Alaska Railroad (907/265-2494 or 800/544-0552, www.akrr.com , $74 round-trip) train connects Whittier with Anchorage daily in the summer, departing Anchorage at 10 a.m. and arriving in Whittier at 12:20 p.m. The northbound train leaves Whittier at 6:45 p.m. and arrives in Anchorage at 9:15 p.m. This makes an excellent day trip from the city. A trivia note: The route to Whittier was used in scenes from the 1986 film Runaway Train.
By Ferry: The Alaska Marine Highway (907/465-3941 or 800/642-0066, www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs ) has daily ferry service connecting Whittier with Valdez  and Cordova  on both the high-speed Chenega and the older (and much slower) Aurora; a Forest Service naturalist is on board. In addition, the Kennicott has a once-a-month summer sailing across the Gulf of Alaska from Whittier to Yakutat , continuing south to Juneau  and then all the way to Prince Rupert , British Columbia .