How To: Float Portage Creek, Alaska
Portage Creek is the outflow of Portage Lake, which is formed by Portage Glacier. One of the closest glaciers to the city of Anchorage, which makes it the ideal float trip. Whether you’re a tourist or a local, this is a pleasant river containing only Class 1 rapids and offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The flow of the river relies directly on the amount of water discharging form the glacier. This means that early in the season the river is shallow and might even be too shallow to run in a canoe. I ran it late-May and I did bump along in a couple of spots, I would argue this is the earliest time to hit it.
Getting to the Portage Creek Boat Launch
Begich Boggs Visitors Center offers the closest landmark to the boat launch. If your watercraft is relatively lightweight, such as a “pack-raft” many people choose to put-in right a the parking lot. On a calm day, you’ll have a good opportunity to paddle around Portage Lake. Most of the time it is extremely windy and putting in on the down-flow side of the visitors center is generally a better idea. There is a nice parking lot available there as well.
If you choose to use the “official” launch point, do not follow signs off the highway to the visitors center, instead you need to continue toward the bridge and make a right turn onto an unmarked gravel road. There is ample parking here. I embedded a Google map of the parking area below:
Portage Creek Conditions
The water near the boat launch will most likely have chunks of ice floating in it. These are pieces of the glacier that are now floating downstream toward the ocean. The ice melts and virtually disappears within 30 minutes of paddling. The creek does split up into two branches with the left one following the road and the right one getting a bit more wild. With the flow a bit low, I opted to use the left one but later in the summer either option will offer spectacular views and wildlife sighting.
Wildlife Around Portage Creek
Along the entire stretch is brown bear habitat. When I floated, I didn’t see any but that doesn’t mean they are not around. Moose are also fairly common and there is always the possibility of the idyllic Alaska shot. There are a ton of birds and eagles that fly and swim in the river. And depending on the time of year, you might even see fish running up-stream. I’ve heard rumors of a late season silver salmon run on Portage Creek – but I haven’t confirmed.
Fees and Logistics
There are no fees or permits required for this float. The end of the float is relatively straight forward, follow the river until you cross underneath the highway. There will be a small drainage and mud beach to your left. At high-tide, there will be less of a beach but shouldn’t be a problem. There is a small parking lot here.
What I did was tie up my canoe and walked up to the highway. It was only about a 10 minute jaunt to the turn-off road which leads to Whittier. Putting out my thumb with a lifejacket on took about 10 seconds to get a ride back to the parking area. I embedded a map of the pull-out area.