How to get between Whittier and Anchorage – all your options explained

Last Updated on May 31, 2023

Are you taking an Alaska cruise to or from Whittier and trying to figure out how to get from Whittier to Anchorage or the other way around? I’ve got you!

I’m a former Alaskan and I still spend many weeks in Alaska each year. As a travel advisor I help people plan their trips to Alaska, including cruises. I can help you evaluate your options and make the best decision for you!

The most important thing is to make a plan and book in advance for whatever option you are taking. Whittier is too far from Anchorage to wing it. Taxis and rideshares are not a practical option. You might be able to find someone willing to do it, but it will be very expensive. Trust me on this, many people learn the hard way, but not you because you’re reading this article. Well done, you!

If you’re not on a cruise, but you’re interested in visiting Whittier as part of your trip, I recommend a day trip from Anchorage, since the overnight options in Whittier are limited (stay at the Inn at Whittier if you are overnighting here). Fishing charters, kayaking, hiking and glacier cruises are popular activities with Alaskans in Whittier.

A hiker stands on a ridge above a fjord and distant mountains on a sunny day
Portage Pass, one of my favorite hikes in Alaska, looking down at Passage Canal and Whittier. Whittier is hidden behind the rocks in the foreground

What is Whittier known for?

Whittier has a fascinating story. During World War II, the military was looking for an ice free port that was isolated and they found that here at the head of Passage Canal on Prince William Sound. In addition, the frequent cloud cover provided protection and secrecy. A spur of the Alaska Railroad was built to move people and cargo between the port and Anchorage. This was exclusively a military base until the 1960s.

An abandoned building with green bushes growing around it. It's a four story building with empty windows
The former building the whole town lived in, that was damaged in the 1964 earthquake and is now abandoned. The new building is Begich Towers a couple blocks away

Whittier is isolated and can only be accessed through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel which connects it to the main highway system and the rest of Alaska.

Is Whittier worth seeing?

Whittier is truly tiny. When I say tiny I mean the population of about 300 people nearly all live in the same building, Begich Towers. It’s quirky and an interesting place to walk around for a few minutes. There are a few very small eateries and an excellent coffee shop. Overall however there isn’t a lot to do in the town of Whittier, especially with your luggage in tow.

Alaskans go to Whittier for fishing charters and hiking (one of my favorite hikes is Portage Pass near Whittier). Whittier is the closest place to Anchorage for sea kayaking and ocean fishing. It really isn’t practical to engage in these activities if you’re passing through on a cruise ship unless you’re doing it as part of an organized tour that will keep your luggage and manage transportation to Anchorage.

A small boat harbor with a few boats in it on an overcast day. There are snow covered hills around the harbor
Whittier’s harbor. The cruise ship dock is to the right.

Should I book transportation between Anchorage and Whittier through the cruise line or on my own?

Either way can work well, it depends on your priorities. Sometimes people think they will save money if they book it independently but that hasn’t been my experience.

The biggest factors in cost difference between the different options are the type of transportation and whether or not it includes a tour.

I recommend booking transportation between Anchorage and Whittier through your cruise line if you are flying out the same day. That gives you the best chance of having everything go smoothly and having your luggage arrive without you having to touch it until you’re at the airport. If you’re getting on the ship in Whittier, it’s important to get to Anchorage at least a day before to allow for any flight delays and to make sure your luggage catches up with you before the cruise.

Booking through your cruise line will always be the least hassle and the smoothest transition for luggage. On the other hand, booking an independent trip between Anchorage and Whittier gives you the chance to book with smaller companies and have a small group experience, as well as giving you more options for stops along the way. They will also handle your luggage during the tour.

If you’re going to book your transportation with an independent company, I strongly encourage you to stay overnight in Anchorage and not try to fly out that same day.

What is the cheapest way to get between Anchorage and Whittier?

The cheapest and simplest way to get between Anchorage and Whittier is to book a motorcoach trip between the two without a tour. This typically takes about two hours and will be your least expensive option. You’ll want to book this through your cruise line and they will handle your luggage between your stateroom and the airport or your Anchorage Hotel. Going the other direction, same process and no need to worry about your luggage, you’ll see it in your stateroom after boarding the ship.

If you really want to book your motorcoach transportation separately from the cruise line, another option on ship days in Whittier is the Park Connection.

What is the most unique way to get between Anchorage and Whittier?

The most unique option is definitely to take the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train. You may be able to book this through your cruise line if they offer it (I recommend this option if they do for scheduling and luggage reasons).

If you book the Glacier Discovery Train from Whittier to Anchorage it departs in the evening so you’ll have a long day in a tiny community without many places to spend time. I would highly recommend either the 26 Glaciers cruise or a kayaking trip with Lazy Otter. It is critical to reserve these options well in advance and make sure you have all the details of the schedule pinned down.

If you’re going the other way, from Anchorage to Whittier, the Glacier Discovery train leaves in the morning and arrives around noon. It’s too early to board the ship, another good reason to book through your cruise line, otherwise you’ll be dealing with your luggage while waiting around. If your ship schedule permits, you can do a glacier cruise in Whittier to pass this time.

The train trip is absolutely stunning and takes a slightly different route part of the way from the highway. You will still go through the tunnel in the same location (trains and cars/buses take turns going in each direction).

Blue and yellow Alaska Railroad cars and an engine in front of mountains and glaciers
Alaska Railroad between Anchorage and Whittier

Should I include a tour between Anchorage and Whittier with my transportation?

If you choose a motorcoach trip between Anchorage and Whittier (in either direction) there are several options for additional tours as part of the transportation.

I personally love the 26 Glaciers cruise, and if your schedule permits it, this is a fantastic way to spend the day.

a glacier on the edge of a rock. It is white and blue with many crevices.
Loads of glaciers on the 26 glaciers cruise

There are other options including wonderful stops along the highway. Some of the best things to do along the way are the Alyeska Tram (on a clear day the view is incredible) in Girdwood, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (one of the best wildlife experiences in Alaska) and Portage Glacier.

You can book tours that include either the 26 Glaciers cruise or one or more of these stops along the highway through your cruise line or through an independent tour operator. Salmonberry Tours is an excellent company that offers a few options for transportation with tours between Anchorage and Whittier on cruise ship days.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!