The Port of Whittier lies on the northeast shores of the Kenai Peninsula in the Valdez-Cordova census area of the State of Alaska almost 100 kilometers southeast of Anchorage. One of the ports on the Alaska Marine Highway, the Port of Whittier is about 75 nautical miles west-southwest of the Port of Valdez and about 115 nautical miles west-northwest of the Port of Cordova. The Port of Whittier covers about three thousand hectares of land and about 1.8 thousand hectares of water. The town and the nearby glacier were named after American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. In 2000, the population of the Port of Whittier was 182.
The United States Army built a military facility with a port and railroad station near what would become the Whittier Glacier during World War II. Naming the facility Camp Sullivan, the Port of Whittier was the entry point for US soldiers to Alaska in 1943 when the Alaska Railroad spur to Camp Sullivan was finished. Until 1960, the Port of Whittier continued to be a working army facility.
The largest buildings in the Port of Whittier were built after the end of World War II, and for a time they were the biggest buildings in Alaska. One of them ? now the Begich Towers ? was constructed as housing for soldiers, and the other ? the Buckner Building ? was meant to be a "city under one roof." Today, most of the Port of Whittier's citizens live in the Begich Towers, which is a condominium.
The Port of Whittier was incorporated as a city in 1969. Today, it is a popular destination for cruise ships due to its rail and road connections with Anchorage and Alaska's interior. The Denali Express, a non-stop rail service operated by Princess Tours, carries passengers to and from Denali National Park from the Port of Whittier. In addition to cruise traffic, the Port of Whittier is popular with sports fishers and hunters as well as non-cruise tourists.
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel connects the Port of Whittier with the Seward Highway to Anchorage. The second longest tunnel in North America, the tunnel passes through Maynard Mountain, allowing trains and vehicles to get to the Port of Whittier. completed in 1943, it was first dedicated to railroad traffic. In the 1960s, the railroad started offering a shuttle service for automobiles much like Amtrak's Auto Train. Over time, traffic overwhelmed the capacity of the railroad, and the tunnel was converted into a one-lane combined highway and rail tunnel in the late 1990s. With only one lane used by eastbound, westbound, and rail traffic, some travelers must wait some two hours to enter the tunnel to the Port of Whittier.