Southcentral Alaska’s Prince William Sound is an area famous for both scenery and wildlife. Dotted with islands, this 70-mile-wide gulf extends 30 miles north and west from the Gulf of Alaska to the Kenai Peninsula. It is bordered on the southeast by Montague and Hinchinbrook islands, which form Hinchinbrook Entrance, the 10-mile-long water passage from the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William Sound. To the north, the sound is edged by a glaciated coastline and the Chugach Mountains.
The most prominent glacial feature in the glacier-ringed Prince William Sound is the Columbia Glacier, one of the largest and most magnificent of the tidewater glaciers along the Alaska coast. Columbia Glacier is also the second fastest moving glacier in the world. It travels about 80 feet per day and discharges 2 cubic miles of ice into the Sound annually. It has receded more than 12 miles since 1986. The glacier is currently 34 miles in length, 3 miles wide and more than 3,000 feet thick in some places. It is the greatest glacial contributor in North America. Visitors to Prince William Sound see its tidewater terminus 6 miles away. How close you get to the glacier’s face depends on iceberg production: the more icebergs, the greater the danger.
The glacier was named by the Harriman Alaska expedition in 1899 for Columbia University in New York City. The glacier’s source is Mount Einstein (elev. 11,552 feet) in the Chugach Mountains. Columbia Glacier is off of College Fjord and is part of what is known as the “College Glaciers.” Neighboring glaciers include Harvard and Yale.
There are several ways to explore Prince William Sound. From Anchorage, drive (or take the Alaska Railroad) south on the Seward Highway 47 miles and take the Whittier/Portage Glacier Access Road 11.4 miles east to Whittier on Prince William Sound. From Whittier, you may take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system (drive-on or passenger-only) across the Sound to Valdez or Cordova and return the same route.
Embark on a ferry/drive combo of the Sound by driving 304 miles from Anchorage to Valdez via the Glenn Highway and Richardson Highway. From Valdez, take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Cordova, then to Whittier, to complete the loop back to Anchorage.
Glacier cruises and kayaking adventure companies tour Prince William Sound from each port.
All-inclusive tours of Prince William Sound are also available out of Anchorage. Depending on itinerary and transportation, you may return to Anchorage the same day or overnight along the way.
However you choose to see Prince William Sound, it is spectacular! On a clear day, you are surrounded by a pristine wilderness of snow-capped mountains, glaciers and emerald-hued islands. And don’t forget to watch for wildlife: Humpback whales and porpoises are star attractions.