Saturday, July 23, 2016

Camping in Portage Valley

I've had my eye on the Black Bear Campground in the Portage Valley for years as a place to stay but we usually have places to explore closer to home. With both the kids occupied last week, we decided to make a trip to the Portage Valley and hop over to Whittier for the day.

There are three camping options in the Portage Valley:

The Williwaw Campground is paved, huge and what I call an RV campground as it is set up for RVers to be comfortable with pull-through sites and extra-long parking. Bathrooms are still pit toilets, but nice ones on the relativity scale! Sites are quite private as the brushy trees have grown up densely, which also controls sound, and are nicely spaced so one does not feel like they are camping on top of each other.

The Black Bear Campground just a mile down the road is small and what I call a "tenters" campground as it is a gravel road and parking, sites can handle some smaller RVs, and there are bear containers around for folks to store food in, which they don't usually have in larger campgrounds. There were maybe 15 sites and it was quite wooded so the shade kept it cool, a bonus when camping in hot weather.

A little further along the road are 5 free walk-in campsites. A parking area is provided and a sign saying where it is okay to camp, but beyond that there are no toilets, water, bear containers, etc. No reservations are taken, so it is first-come, first-serve. The walk from the parking area to the sites is a few hundred yards--so backpacking backpacks would make it more convenient, but a wagon would work as well, or just multiple trips hauling things. The main Portage Valley trail goes right by these campsites, so if one was staying they would have to be comfortable leaving their things in their tent while they were away each day.

Part of the Portage Valley trail

The trail through the valley is nicely developed
A hiking or biking trail runs a few miles between campgrounds and day use areas, parallel to the road. It is mostly flat and easy walking. We did come across some berry-filled bear scat on the trail--no surprise because there are bear everywhere. We just talked as usual and kept our eyes open.

Portage Valley is about an hour from Anchorage, so in a pinch, it could be a place to stay when needing to make a cheaper trip to Anchorage happen (I'm thinking about our aborted camping trip to Anchorage a few weeks ago...and that exciting campground in the city!). For some reason I'd always viewed the Portage Valley as a not-a-destination, because there's not much right there in the valley, but with Whittier just through the tunnel and Girdwood 20 minutes down the road, it has some redeeming qualities.

The Portage Glacier, which not too many years ago had a huge presence in the area, has now retreated out of sight of the Portage Visitor's Center, so that changes things a bit, and probably makes the valley a bit warmer than it used to be as well. We drove to Whittier to get a glimpse of it, opting to hike rather than take the boat ride up to the base of the glacier, which is one option.

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