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Jet Skis & Helicopters to Glaciers in Alaska

While Alaska is home to immense wilderness, it also has many people who call the land within its borders home.  After spending time here, we could feel the draw of this beautiful state. Even though we were far from the rest of the country and the people & places that we were most familiar with, we started to understand why people would choose to live here. Our amazing glacier adventures in Whittier and Anchorage added to awe-inspiring appeal of The Last Frontier.

Alaska Jet Ski & Helicopter Tours to Glaciers, Adventures in Whittier & Anchorage | Go North Ep 16
Whittier, Alaska
As we were leaving Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula we decided to make a detour over to the town of Whittier.
Enroute the road drives through the beautiful Portage Valley, named such for the Portage Glacier that exists at one end. We stopped along the way to take in the sights of a few glacial lakes and the Portage River that flows from the beautiful portage lake. Along the lakeshore stands the Begich Boggs Visitor’s Center that we stopped to explore.
This center is run by the National Forest Service and houses information about Alaska’s glaciers, glacial regions and the Portage Glacier that exists just up the lake. ​From the Visitors Center, Whittier was only a short way further.

Whittier Tunnel

Whittier is only accessible by air, water, or the one way tunnel that shares traffic with a train. This rough rock tunnel is the only ground access to the city and until the early 2000’s this tunnel was for trains only. Each end of the tunnel has long waiting areas where traffic lines up, and if no trains come street vehicles are allowed through the tunnel each half hour after the tunnel has cleared from opposing traffic. We found this schedule was rarely followed due to the presence of trains that have the right of way, and our wait time was significantly longer.
Pro Tip: Check out our ‘Go North’ Alaska Itinerary for help planning your own Alaskan adventure.
The tunnel is 2.5 miles long, drips water on you and is a bit squirrely to drive in because you are driving on train tracks covered by rubber mats and steel plates. Even though its narrow and tight RV’s can drive this tunnel as long as they are not taller than 14 feet or wider than 10.

Whittier Past & Present

Out the other end of the tunnel Whittier immediately comes into view. This town is a popular freight and cruise ship port that utilizes the Alaska Railway to move arriving cargo and passengers inland.
At one end of town sits a very large abandoned building that hints at this town’s unique beginnings as a secret city. During World War II, the site of this town was selected to build a port for shipping supplies and troops to Alaska. Whittier is known for overcast weather that helped hide it and prevent an attack.
The vacant building is the Buckner Building. This was the barracks and main housing facility during the military presence. Because of the military origins, the town has very little private property and most of the residents live in the single large apartment building currently called the Begich Towers.
This building was originally the headquarters for the Army Corps of Engineers, but they too moved out shortly after the war. Over the years this building has become the central hub for Whittier as it houses it residents, a small store, post office, police, and many other essential amenities. We were told that many residents never even need to leave the building during some of the winter months as everything they need is under one roof.
We found ourselves a neat boondocking site for the night with a view of the fjord as the next day we had a very unique adventure planned.

Glacier Jet Ski Adventure!

The morning found us at Glacier Jet Ski Adventures, the first and original jet ski tour operator in Whittier. There, we suited up in full dry-suits, with gloves and helmet for a truly unique and out-of-this world experience – touring the glaciers of Blackstone Bay up-close by jet ski!
We had a group of 6 jet skis, four of us and two guides; one for the front and one at the back of the group. We had radio communications in our ears so we could hear the guides. After figuring out how these awesome jet skis worked, we took off as a group into the bay.
The morning was cool, but the full drysuits and gloves kept us warm even when getting some sea spray on us.
We ran for a while before our guides stopped to make sure everything was okay and everyone was comfortable with their boats before we headed for our first up-close glacier stop where a hanging glacier above dumped a waterfall directly into the ocean!
After the waterfall we headed to the end of Blackstone Bay where two massive glaciers descended into the ocean. We slowly navigated small icebergs until we had an amazing view of the massive wall of ice. We stopped the jet skis to enjoy a snack here while our guides educated us about the glaciers and their recent significant retreat they have been watching day by day. With the skis off we could hear the glacier creaking and groaning, and we even watched a few pieces of ice drop to the water.
After a while we suited back up and completed our 60 mile round-trip journey back to the docks. Being in control of your own small craft out on the waters of Alaska’s coast was an incredible way to experience nature, weather, and wildlife of this spectacular place first-hand! Would highly recommend adding this amazing Glacier Jet Ski Adventures tour to your Alaska itinerary.

Turnagain Arm Bore Tide

After our glacier jet ski experience we left Whittier via the tunnel once again and headed back towards Anchorage. Traveling along the Turnagain Arm we stopped when saw surfers suiting up along the road. While this bay is large no ocean waves make it here, but a natural phenomenon occurs here that pushes up a true tidal wave.

True Tidal Wave?

Tides are caused by tidal forces imparted on the earth due to the gravitational influence of the moon. While it is the moon’s gravity that causes tides, it is not just the gravitational effect but also centrifugal forces that can be simulated as tiny tangential forces over a planet sized body of water that build up pressure and create a planet sized bulge or wave in the ocean of about 2 feet tall. These waves ungulate in perfect harmony with the moon and sun’s position, but the bathymetry, or shape of the shoreline and ocean floor have significant effects on these waves.
Just like a wave coming ashore, tides can get pushed up due to long shallow areas, or trapped in long skinny fjords like the ones that exist along Alaska’s coast. They create much larger swings in water like those we had seen in Homer, Seward, Valdez, and, now, here, with a phenomenon called a bore wave.

Here the incoming tide actually creates a shallow wave that is big enough to surf!

Because tides are quite predictable, one can get in position and wait for the wave. We witnessed many paddleboarders, kayakers and surfers out in the cold muddy waters of Turnagain Arm awaiting the wave.

Anchorage Helicopter Flight

Earlier in the summer, we met the Kaufman family while traveling and camping along the Denali Highway. They live in Anchorage, so as we passed through Alaska’s largest population center, we took the opportunity to visit them again.
While there, Bob Kaufman, professional photographer, pilot and founder-owner of the awesome travel resource guide, offered to take us for a spin in a Robinson R44 helicopter to see a few sites up in the Chugach Mountain range.
After taking off from Merrill Field in downtown Anchorage we headed through thick wildfire smoke from the still-burning Swan Lake Fire towards the Chugach Mountains. Within only a few minutes of being airborne we were in the mountains and visibility started to improve.
Traveling by helicopter was incredible, and we could not wipe the smiles from our faces! This was the first time Caitlin had ever flown in a helicopter, and she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the views all around us as we ascended the mountain peaks and ridges.
Bob flew us out to the high elevation icefields and swooped down glaciers.
At the bottom of one of the glaciers we followed a river valley to a glacial lake accessible only by air, Lake George.
Here we landed to explore the shoreline and watch the enormous icebergs floating around in this remote glacial lake.
We would have never known the wonders of Chugach State Park if not for the local expertise of Bob Kaufman. Be sure to check out to find other local advice on what to see and do in Alaska besides the crowded big-ticket tourist destinations! This trip goes down as one of our most treasured in our Go North adventure.

Heading back North

After our Anchorage adventures we headed north once again this time driving the Parks Highway. Fall was in full swing and the higher elevation tundra had turned a brilliant red.
We loved boondocking in the beautiful fall colors!
We were heading back to Fairbanks now that the sun was finally setting in the evenings and providing dark skies at night. Late one night along our route, we got our first glimpse of the nighttime phenomenon we were heading back north to see!
Little did we know, this was only a small taste of what was to come.

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Deborah Kerr

Sunday 15th of December 2019

Thank you for sharing such an AWESOME adventure!! I want to jet-ski in Alaska now- that looked amazing & fun! I appreciate your articulate explanation about the town of Whittier and the tides, etc. And that you show a map with your location. What a beautiful landscape! And those Northern lights = wow...... You both did such a great job on your videos - thank you!! ?


Wednesday 11th of December 2019

Thank you for bringing back so very fond memories...loved seeing this again!