Fall Fun in Portage Valley: Alaska family fun continues after school starts

AK Kid in a Portage Valley cottonwood tree.

It’s not often Labor Day weekend delivers blue sky and warmish temperatures. In fact, I think I can recall one or two in the 10 years we’ve lived in Alaska. So call me crazy, but the thought of packing up my kid and kaboodle last weekend and purposely driving into the heart of Portage Valley to camp with the ‘maybe’ forecast of rain, clouds, and partial non-rain did not especially appeal to me.

However, on Thursday evening the clouds parted like magic and my weather app buzzed happily with sunny-sky forecasts. Get out, it said.

So we did. Straight up that Portage Valley Road, trailer and all.

Yup, that's the AKontheGO family truckster and trailer. Go us.

With no reservations in hand for a campsite, we figured odds were better driving south on the Seward Highway, then hanging a left at Portage, and indeed they were. Williwaw Campground, operated by the Chugach National Forest, had plenty of sites for our 22-foot trailer and lots of room for scooter-loving AK Kid and friends. Settling in with dogs and kids and a healthy stack of firewood (our last trip to Williwaw was fire-free, thanks to a burn ban on the Kenai Peninsula), AKontheGO enjoyed a peaceful weekend of hiking, marshmallow-roasting, and summertime reminiscing. Ahhhh. Alaska.

Labor Day, while on the iffy side of weather, does merit certain advantages for travelers to Alaska. It’s less crowded, making for quieter environments and shorter lines for just about everything. It’s beautiful, with yellowing leaves and honking geese, and occasional sightings of bear or moose getting ready for winter’s slow and steady approach. Most campgrounds in the Chugach NF will remain open until Sunday, September 14, allowing for plenty of outdoor time with the family.

Byron Glacier Trail in Portage Valley. Pretty nice.

For all the easiness getting there, hikers do need to be aware of snowfield hazards!


Portage Valley's grasses and trees are starting to go pale for autumn.

Byron Glacier in the background as AK Kid and Dogs take a break with mom.


A favorite fall hike is the easy Byron Glacier trail, located just beyond the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Lake. At just over a mile, the tread is level and graded, the scenery is spectacular, and the access is such that anyone from babies to grandparents can safely navigate the length of trail stretching up to the fingers of snowfields and the beautiful glacier itself. 

Byron Creek, adjacent to the trail, is a great spot to toss stones in the water and feel the frigid temperature of a glacially-fed stream. The cottonwood and alder forest is old, so old in some spots that trees look like spooky witches and scarecrows, perfect for welcoming fall and Halloween. At the “official” end of Byron Glacier trail is a bench with a waist-high stone wall, where hundreds of family photos have been captured to retain the essence of Portage Valley.

While the trail is a simple one, and easy to find, it is also smack in the middle of bear country, so remind kids to make noise and stay with the grownups. Adults should remember to carry bear spray and leash up pets. Prepare for Portage Valley’s wild weather swings; sunny one minute, pouring rain and windy the next. Dress in layers, bring a pack for extra clothing, and don’t forget the trail snacks!

Stop by the Portage Glacier Daylodge for a treat before or after your hike!

We like to stop at the Portage Glacier Daylodge, not open much longer for the 2014 season, but still holding out for a few more weeks. The day lodge is also where visitors can purchase tickets for the MV Ptarmigan and a cruise up to the face of Portage Glacier.  Grab a latte, ice cream cone, or browse the gift shop while using the public restroooms (another bonus). And of course, Begich, Boggs Visitor Center is a wonderful experience pre-or post-hike. Thank the Chugach National Forest for taking such good care of the trails nearby, and spot a floating iceberg from nearby Portage Glacier.  The visitor center will remain open through Sunday, September 14.

Yes, I did indeed roast up last year's gingerbread man marshmallows. Mighty tasty, too, they were.

Enjoy this creeping Alaska autumn; Portage Valley will be covered in snow soon enough!


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