Alaska RVing: Portage Glacier & AK Wildlife Center

On Wednesday, August 5th, we went on a Portage Glacier cruise, visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, then drove the 108 km (80 mi) to Seward and got settled for our first multi-day stay of the trip.

While the others were getting ready for the day, I went for a walk to get more photos of Williwaw Campground, which is one of our favourite campgrounds of the trip. We had lost our sunshine, but Portage often gets very localized weather so I still had high hopes for the day. This was our double site, #29 (see a map of the campground).

The entrance to Williwaw Campground. The hanging glacier above is called the Middle Glacier, but that may not be an official name. That might sound odd, but although the number of glaciers has never been systematically counted, the total is probably over 100,000, and only about 600 of them (far less than 1%) have been officially named by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

The entrance to Williwaw Campground, Alaska
The Williwaw Creek salmon viewing deck.

The Williwaw Creek salmon viewing deck.
We went to the dock for the Portage Glacier cruise in time to get tickets for the 11:30 sailing. Without paying much attention when we arrived, I told Cathy that we get tickets in the lodge. She said “lodge?”. It was gone!! So I raced back to the other Portage Glacier Lodge and got tickets there. I had seen the sign adversing tickets but thought that they were just brokering them – it never occurred to me that the cruise office was now there. The old lodge at the dock can be seen in this photo from one of my many previous cruises.

MV Ptarmigan at the Portage Glacier cruise dock
Looking back at the dock, with the Byron Glacier to the left. There’s an excellent, fairly easy trail leading up to the Byron Glacier.

Portage Glacier cruise dock and the Byron Glacier
Portage Glacier isn’t the most impressive glacier you can see in Alaska, but for me, any big ice is wonderful to see, and for a quick look at a low price ($39 each), Portage is tough to beat.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
The glacier has retreated a long way since I first saw it in 1990, but the retreat seems to have slowed or even stopped in recent years. To see what it looked like 60-odd years ago, see this postcard from the mid 1950s.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
There are several other glaciers visible during the cruise.

A hanging glacier above Portage Glacier, Alaska
Captain Tom Callahan has been master of the MV Ptarmigan for many years, and clearly loves his job. He’s a great guy to chat with – I really enjoy his dry sense of humour.

Captain Tom Callahan has been master of the MV Ptarmigan for many years
As we docked, I could see that Bella was ready to hit the road again!

Husky driving an RV in Alaska
We didn’t go very far, just over to the Portage Glacier day lodge for a good lunch. There’s lots of parking there, so we then unhooked the Tracker and took it the 6 miles to the wildlife centre.

Portage Glacier day lodge
Halfway back to the Seward Highway, we stopped to see the Explorer Glacier, and chatted with a young woman who was up for the summer and was paddleboarding there with friends.

Paddleboarding below the Explorer Glacier, Alaska

We reached the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) at 2:00, with no schedule in mind for when we needed to leave, as there’s lots to see. Admission was $12.50 each for Cathy and I, $9 each seniors rate for MJ and Jim.

The “ghost forest” was caused when this area dropped about 8 feet during the great 9.2 magnitude Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964. That put the trees’ roots below sea level – the salt water killed the trees, but the salt also preserved the wood so the trees are still standing.

Ghost Forest at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Up-close moose were a fine way to start our wander around the property. As much as possible, I drove the others close to each of the animals and then found a place to park for a bit. I took 150 photos during the 2 hours we were there, but will just show you a tiny sample of what we saw 🙂

Moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
From the main parking area for the outer loop, you can walk or take a shuttle bus, but you can also drive around, as I did.

Parking at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The sign here let people know, among other facts, that porcupines don’t throw their quills as many people think (so a quill-proof shield around them isn’t necessary).

Porcupine at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Moose calves are really funny looking!

Moose calf at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The bear habitat was under construction the last time I was at AWCC – it is wonderful!! From the elevated walkway, black bears can be seen to the left, and brown bears (grizzlies) to the right. Although mortal enemies in the wild, we saw a black and a brown bear having a bit of a chat through the wire that separates them.

Bear habitat at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The two creatures that I want to see most are orca and grizzlies. Due to harsh backlight, I shot most of my grizzly photos as HDR images so as not to lose the glacier background.

Brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Before going back to the motorhomes, I had one more spot to show the gang – the viewpoint over Portage Lake to the Byron Glacier on the road to the Whittier tunnel. From this viewpoint, half a dozen glaciers are visible.

Portage Lake and the Byron Glacier, Alaska
We had hoped to be able to camp in one of the City-run RV parks on the waterfront in Seward, but after driving around and around looking for an empty spot for a while, gave up and eventually ended up at “Seward’s only luxury RV Park!”. More about that in my next post 🙂

RV camping on the beach in Seward, Alaska

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