The Alaska Railroad has several different daily routes that passenger trains are operated on throughout the summer season. One of the least well known is the Glacier Discovery train which travels a circular route between Anchorage, Whittier, and the Spencer – Grandview area within Chugach National Forest. The Glacier Discovery originates and ends in Anchorage, but passengers can also board the train in Girdwood, Portage, Whittier, Spencer, or Grandview. A return trip from Portage to Anchorage by motorcoach is available for those passengers who have traveled up to Spencer/Grandview for the day. This is a nice feature as it returns you back to the Anchorage Depot about 2 ½ hours earlier then you would have if you traveled by rail.
The Glacier Discovery route travels down the scenic Turnagain Arm bordering Chugach State Park, then into Chugach National Forest just prior to passing through the Portage and Bear Valleys before transiting two long tunnels before arriving into Whittier. For visitors embarking cruise ships for 7-day cruises to Vancouver, this is an excellent option for a cruise transfer from Anchorage to Whittier. The train stops right at the cruise terminal and cruise line representatives even greet the train arrival!
The Glacier Discovery train combined with a Prince William Sound day cruise out of Whittier is an excellent excursion for visitors to Anchorage who are seeking a full day adventure. After your day cruise, you’ll return to the depot for your rail trip back to Anchorage.
After dropping off passengers in Whittier, the train returns through the Portage Valley before heading into the Placer Valley and up into the Chugach Mountains to Spencer and Grandview Pass. For a more adventurous day, a ride on the Glacier Discovery up to Spencer Whistle Stop for a raft trip among the glacier ice of Spencer Lake and down the Placer River is a unique experience for visitors to Alaska, and residents as well. The Spencer Glacier area is deep in Chugach National Forest and is inaccessible except for by rail. The rafting company that provides the service for the gentle float trip is very professional and well organized – providing raingear, rubber boots and a deli-style lunch at their base camp on the shores of beautiful Spencer Lake.
Regardless of why you are riding the Glacier Discovery, the trip provides an incredible opportunity to experience some of Alaska’s most beautiful country, and ample opportunity to see mountain sheep, moose, eagles, and other wildlife such as Beluga whales and bears depending on the time of year.