Visiting Williwaw Campground is considered one of the most unforgettable experiences in southcentral Alaska. Nestled in the Portage Valley, the famous campground invites campers, day hikers, and occasional travelers to explore natural wonders of the Chugach National Forest.
Last updated: October 14, 2021
A Complete Guide to Visiting Williwaw Campground, Alaska
A vast wilderness embraces you as soon as you hit the Portage Glacier Road, taking you to the small city of Whittier. Tall trees, bathing in early morning sun rays, seduce you to get deeper into the forest and find out all its secrets. Distant mountains and towering glaciers make you wonder if there is a way to get closer to them.
Finally, your curiosity takes over, and you stare intently at the road, looking for entrance to the forest. And sure there is one. If you’ve ever thought that visiting the Williwaw Campground asks for a deeper penetration into the Alaska’s wilderness, this little side road is about to dispel your old beliefs.
Located beside Williwaw Creek, about 20 minute away from Girdwood, the Williwaw Campground is an easy-to-reach destination. The biggest of two campgrounds in the Portage Valley, the place offers stunning views, 60 sites on paved loops, prime hiking and fishing locations.
While visiting the Williwaw Campground, though, keep an eye on Alaska’s wildlife. Who knows, you may make friends with moose or bears roaming in the forest.
To enhance your experience, I’ve compiled a complete guide to visiting the Williwaw Campground. It intends to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and share some of the best things to do during your visit to the Williwaw Campground.
How to Get to the Williwaw Campground
The Williwaw Campground is a perfect destination for both an overnight camping and a short visit on your way from Anchorage to Whittier. From Anchorage, take the Seward Highway and drive 55 miles south to the Portage Glacier Road (milepost 78.9). Continue on along the Portage Glacier Road for another 4.1 miles until you see a sign “Williwaw Campground” on your right.
The Best Time to Visit the Williwaw Campground
The Williwaw Campground is open for summer camping from Memorial Day (end of May) through Labor Day (beginning of September). July and August are considered the busiest season with more people coming to enjoy the warm summer days and stunning nature of Alaska.
Consequently, campground facilities, such as hand pumps and vault toilets, operate only in summer. This certainly makes visiting the Williwaw Campground less convenient during the off-seasons.
The Best Things to Do
It’s likely that you visit the Williwaw Campground to unwind and spend some quality time in nature. With all its scenic trails, water activities, and great opportunities to watch the Alaska’s wildlife, the place lives up to your expectations. What’s more? The paved paths and the wheelchair accessible Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform ensure that all visitors can fully enjoy the campground.
Williwaw Nature Trail
Whether you’re camping or visiting the Williwaw Campground for a few hours, hiking is the best way to see the most of it. The 1.25-mile Williwaw Nature Trail is exactly what you need for a short, scenic hike with little elevation gain.
The path starts at the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform, passes under the highway, and takes you to a few ponds. Later, leaving the ponds behind, the trail crosses the Portage Glacier Road and runs south for 0.5 mile.
Here it connects to the Trail of Blue Ice, a 5-mile path that begins in the Moose Flats Recreation Area and ends near the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. At the trail junction, you can continue east to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. The west fork takes you back to where you started, running through the Williwaw Campground first.
Byron Glacier Trail
For the more adventurous visitors of the Williwaw Campground, head over to snow fields via the Byron Glacier Trial. Be sure to bring your camera, as the trail allows for a close-up view of the glacier. Furthermore, you may even encounter black bears, moose, and marmots that cross the Byron Glacier Trail from time to time.
Mostly running near Byron Creek, the path is short, only 0.9 mile long, with gentle ascents and descents. The best time to hike the trail is June through early July. The winter visits are not recommended, as steep walls of the Byron Valley along with heavy snowfalls create unsafe conditions.
READ MORE: How to Protect Yourself from Bears in the Wild: Tips and Myths
Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform
Crystal-clear waters of Williwaw Creek add another activity to the list of things to do while visiting the Williwaw Campground. From early August till mid-September, spawning salmon, coho, and sockeye fill the creek. You can observe the swimming fish from the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform, adjacent to the Williwaw Campground.
Begich, Boggs Visitor Center
The scenic hikes and panoramic vistas introduce you to flora and fauna of the area. The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center further enhances this experience with its art exhibits and the award-winning film “Retreat and Renewal: Stories from Alaska’s Chugach National Forest”.
So get help of specialists as you virtually explore the glaciers, wildlife, geography, and climate while visiting the official center of the Williwaw Campground. Admission fee is $5 for an adult. Children under 15 visit for free.
Places to Visit Near the Williwaw Campground
Close proximity to other beautiful places enhances your visit to the Williwaw Campground. You can make a few separate trips to see these destinations or explore all of them in one day.
Located about 8 minutes away from the Williwaw Campground, Portage Lake is famous for its Portage Glacier. The lake has been exposed since 1914 due to a rapid retread of the glacier.
In summer, Portage Lake is a top-notch destination for short, usually one-hour, glacier cruises. (Mv Ptarmigan is the only boat that operates on Portage Lake.) The lake freezes in winter, allowing for a safe 3-mile hike all the way to the glacier. Once you’ve worked up the appetite, be sure to stop at Portage Glacier Cafe for hot sandwiches and pies.
Whittier is one of the smallest cities in Alaska. Tiny in size, the place, however, offers ample activities to add to your visit of the Williwaw Campground. Boat cruises, hiking, waterfalls chasing – there is something for everybody.
Whittier has only one land access, through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America.
READ MORE: Whittier Itinerary that doesn’t Include Cruise: Alaska by Road
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The travelers often unintentionally add the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to their trip to the Williwaw Campground. This non-profit organization focuses on providing the best environment for injured and orphaned animals. Among its famous residents are black and brown bears, moose, reindeer, and wood bison.
READ MORE: Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Yes, It’s Worth It
Fees ($18 for a single, $28 for a double per night) are charged during the summer season. There are no fees for visiting the Williwaw Campground during the off-season. Reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your arrival date through recreation.gov.
Helpful Tips for Visiting the Williwaw Campground
- There is no trash service during the off-season. So be sure to pack out all garbage.
- Be mindful of the wild animals and keep all your food out of sight in special containers or locked inside your car. Remove all the food from the area after eating. Access to the human food disrupts animals’ natural diet and makes them dependable on people. This, in its turn, increases chances of the wild animals being killed.
- Purchase firewood only near your camping destination to prevent the spread of tree-killing pests.
What to Pack for a Visit to the Williwaw Campground
While visiting the Williwaw Campground, you can count on spending some time in the woods. Although it’s one of the most popular camping sites, complete isolation and serenity often prevail here. To avoid any unexpected situations, be sure to pack a few things from the recommendations below.
- REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE. Depending on the hiking trail you choose, you can be out of access to fresh water for a while. Bring your reusable water bottle and make sure to refill it before venturing into the woods. To be on a safe side, you can also throw purification tablets and LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle in your backpack.
- RAIN GEAR. With temperamental Alaska’s weather, rain prevails most of the summer and fall months. Even on a sunny day, be sure to have a rain trench, especially if you plan to hike along the Byron Glacier Trail.
- SUNSCREEN. Make it a habit to smear your face with sunscreen before going outside even in Alaska, a place that doesn’t pamper you with the abundance of sunshine.
- BUG REPELLANT. In the forested areas of Alaska, guard yourself from mosquitos and other insects with insect repellent.
- CAMERA. You definitely want to capture the natural beauty of dreamy Alaska! Thus, make a camera and a tripod essential parts of your packing gears when visiting the Williwaw Campground.
READ MORE: 10 Essentials to Pack for Your Next Alaska Road Trip