The Ultimate Guide To Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound, a spectacular slice of remarkable & unsurpassable nature!
Prince William Sound, an ocean inlet on the southern coast of Alaska, is home to a fascinating landscape comprised of glaciers, waterfalls, sea rocks, and wildlife!
Prince William Sound, a calm and sheltered ocean inlet located on the southern coast of Alaska, is detached from the Gulf of Alaska by several barrier islands. The Prince William Sound is popularly known for its several glaciers as it’s home to more than a hundred glaciers, of which approximately 17 are tidewater glaciers – glaciers that start in the mountain and end in the ocean and often calve, producing chunks of floating icebergs. Prince William Sound is also home to several fjords, islands, spectacular waterfalls, towering sea rocks, and a variety of wildlife, making it a true icon of must-see nature!
Prince William Sound, located about 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, was explored by many British and Spanish explorers, who initially called it the “Sandwich Sound” but later renamed it to “Prince William Sound,” to honor Prince William Henry, son of George III, the king of Great Britain (1760 – 1801). The majority of the land area surrounding Prince William Sound is part of the Chugach National Forest, and the native Chugach people made their living by fishing, fur trading, mining, and logging. The Sound and the coastal villages suffered two major catastrophic events – the Good Friday earthquake & tsunami in 1964 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, impacting wildlife in the Sound. However, the Sound and the coastal towns have made a significant recovery since then and are now open for tourism!
Take a cruise, ferry, kayak, or fly over the glaciers and land on an ice field on a glacier landing tour of Prince William Sound!
While the day cruises departing from Whittier are the most popular way of exploring the spectacular nature at Prince William Sound, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could explore the Sound on a guided kayak tour or take a helicopter ride and fly over Prince William Sound and land on one of the hardened ice fields for a lifetime experience! Prince William Sound, located about 60 miles from Anchorage, can easily be reached by car or a train ride offered by Alaska Railroad, connecting Anchorage to Whittier, offering a perfect connection for several Prince William Sound glaciers and wildlife tours departing from Whittier.
Here is my ultimate guide to Prince William Sound, featuring essential trip-planning information, best ways to explore Prince William Sound, including cruises, train rides, & flights, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants near Prince William Sound!
Planning Your Trip To Prince William Sound
Visiting outside the brutal winter months, flying into Anchorage and then driving or taking a train to Whittier, and taking one of the day cruises is the best way to explore Prince William Sound!
Best Time To Visit Prince William Sound: Winters are pretty long and brutal in Alaska, and unless you’re going skiing or snowmobiling, you should avoid winter and spring for sightseeing and outdoor activities in Prince William Sound or anywhere in Alaska. Summer, particularly June through August, is the peak season in Alaska, with most cruises and parks open for the season. However, summer is also the busiest season, and a summer trip to Alaska or Prince William Sound should be planned ahead of time. If you don’t mind slightly cooler temperatures, visiting during the shoulder months, May & September, is a great way to beat the crowd at Prince William Sound.
Time Required At Prince William Sound: One of the most popular ways to explore Prince William Sound is onboard a day cruise departing from Whittier that takes about 4 hours. However, if you’re driving to Whittier or taking a train to Whittier from Anchorage, you will almost need an entire day for your commute and the day cruise of Prince William Sound. There’re a couple of other exciting ways to explore Prince William Sound, including guided kayak tours and helicopter rides, which I have discussed in detail in the later section of the post, but you would definitely need more time for those activities.
Getting To Prince William Sound: The best and most convenient way to get to Prince William Sound is by flying into Anchorage International Airport and driving or taking a train to Prince William Sound.
- Flight: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC), Anchorage, Alaska, located approximately 60 miles from Whittier, is the closest international airport to Prince William Sound.
- Train: The Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery route offers seasonal services to Whittier, which takes about 2 hours 30 minutes and is a great sightseeing experience in itself.
- Bus: The Park Connection offers motorcoach trips to Whittier from Anchorage and takes about 2 hours. Some of the Prince William Sound cruise companies offer cruise packages that include coach services from a few select hotels in Anchorage – Philips Cruises.
Guided Tours In Prince William Sound: There’re primarily three ways to explore the fjords and glaciers of Prince William Sound (1) Prince William Sound Day Cruises offered by – Phillips Cruises & Tours, Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises, and Lu-Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruises (2) Helicopter Tours with ice field landing offered by Alpine Air Alaska and (3) Guided Kayak Tours offered by Alaska Sea Kayakers.
Lodging & Dining Near Prince William Sound: While there a quite a few campgrounds and cabins near Prince William Sound, the closest decent hotels and bread and breakfasts are located in Anchorage, about 60 miles from Prince William Sound and Seward, approximately 88 miles west of Prince William Sound. Most of the Prince William Sound day cruises offer lunch and have concessions on board, but the dining options in the town of Whittier are limited to its few local eateries. In a later section of this post, I have reviewed the lodging and dining options near Prince William Sound in detail.
Things To Do In Prince William Sound
While the day cruises are the most popular & comfortable way to explore Prince William Sound, if you’re more adventurous, you could kayak the waters of the Sound or land on the ice fields on a helicopter tour of the Sound!
Prince William Sound Day Cruise: The sightseeing cruises departing from Whittier and Valdez are the most popular way to explore Prince William Sound as they feature spectacular views of the deep fjord, waterfalls, wildlife and takes you up close to a couple of glaciers, all in the comfort of heated decks and ample open viewing space on the bow, aft and promenade decks on both sides of the ship. The sightseeing day cruise lasts about 4 hours and does include a freshly prepared meal.
While we used Phillips Cruises & Tours and have firsthand experience of their Glacier Quest Cruise, the other tour companies also follow an almost similar route and offer a similar experience. The Glacier Quest Cruise offered by Philips Cruises departs from Whittier and takes you into Blackstone Bay, located south of Whittier, featuring dramatic views of several tidewater and alpine glaciers, rock formations, a brief stop at a shipwreck site in Shotgun Cove, a couple of stops close to the glaciers with enough time to admire and photograph the glaciers, and wildlife, including sea lions, whales, and harbor seals. Here’s the list of companies that offer sightseeing cruises of Prince William Sound –
- Phillips Cruises & Tours (Whittier)
- Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises (Valdez)
- Lu-Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruises (Valdez)
Prince William Sound Kayak Tours: if you’re up for an adventure, there’s nothing better than paddling the waters of Prince William Sound and exploring some of the pristine areas of the Sound, including rugged coastlines, rock formations, gorgeous waterfalls, hidden coves, glaciers, and float along with the sea lions and harbor seals. However, navigating the Sound requires proper gear and knowledge of the area, and I highly recommend using one of the guided kayak tours offered by Alaska Sea Kayakers. Alaska Sea Kayakers offers four primary kayak tours, originating from Whittier
- Kittiwake Tour: 3 hours tour guided kayak tour offers spectacular views of the coastline
- Passage Canal: 4 hours guided kayak and hiking tour, features waterfalls, hidden coves, and glaciers
- Shotgun Cove: 5 hours trip, includes transportation using a charter ferry and then kayaking several serene coves
- Blackstone Bay: The most extensive kayak tour, lasts about 6 -7 hours, includes transportation to Blackstone Bay via charter boat and then kayaking the waters of Blackstone Bay featuring up-close views of glaciers
Prince William Sound Air Tours: Undeniably, the helicopter rides with ice field landing is a lifetime experience and one of the best ways to explore the glaciers of Prince William Sound! Alpine Air Alaska offers a 90 minutes helicopter ride which includes glacier landing and up-close views of the several glaciers of Prince William Sound. The ride consists of a 15 minutes stop on an ice field, where you’re allowed to step out of the helicopter and explore the ice field on foot.
Suggested Itinerary, Lodging & Dining In Prince William Sound
Reach Whittier via a scenic drive or train ride, enjoy great seafood served onboard the sightseeing cruises, and stay overnight at Seward or drive back to Anchorage!
Suggested Itinerary: Most people board the day cruises to Prince William Sound from Whittier, approximately 60 miles from Anchorage, and can be reached by car or train. The seasonal train ride to Whittier is a great experience, but you would need to stick to the timing, and it involves a bit of walking to get to the cruise terminal from the train station. The drive to Whittier is very picturesque and my preferred way to get to Whittier, as you could make brief stops along the way. However, on the drive to Whittier, you will be crossing the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest tunnel in North Amera shared by rail and cars/automobiles, and it requires a little bit of planning as the tunnel is open only during certain times. Here’s a suggested Suggested Itinerary –
- 9:00 AM: Depart from Anchorage, leisurely drive to Whittier, stopping at the designated vista points along the way
- 11:30 AM: Take the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to enter Whittier
- 12:00 Noon: After arriving in Whittier, first collect your boarding pass, park your car, and explore nearby areas in Whittier
- 12:30 PM: Come back to the cruise terminal for boarding the cruise
- 1:00 PM: Glacier Quest Cruise starts
- 4:45 PM: Return to the dock, head back to Anchorage or your destination
Hotels Near Prince William Sound: There a quite a few campgrounds and cabins near Prince William Sound, and while some can be reserved online, most of them are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. You can find the entire list of campgrounds and cabins near Prince William Sound on the Alaska.org website. However, when it comes to hotels, your best option is the hotels in Anchorage, which is around 60 miles from Prince William Sound, or the bread and breakfasts in Seward, approximately 88 miles west of Prince William Sound. Here’re my top picks for hotels near Prince William Sound –
- Alyeska Resort & Hotel Alyeska, Anchorage
- Marriott Anchorage Downtown
- Seward Gateway Hotel, Seward
- Harbor 360 Hotel, Seward
Restaurants Near Prince William Sound: Most of the sightseeing day cruises of Prince William Sound last about 4 – 5 hours and include freshly prepared meals served on board along with concessions serving beverages and snacks. However, the dining options in the town of Whittier are limited to a handful of local eateries – Wild Catch Cafe and Inn At Whittier, located right next to the Phillips Cruises & Tours cruise terminal. If you’re looking for more dining options, your best options are in the town of Anchorage or Seward.
Other Alaska Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Prince William Sound, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Prince William Sound. You can find other Alaska attractions in my Alaska Travel Guide.
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