The Chugach Whistle Stop Project

The Chugach Whistle Stop Project

The DMU traveling along Turnagain Arm

A partnership between the Alaska Railroad Corporation and the U.S. Forest Service provides the public with a distinctive travel and recreational experience found nowhere else in the United States. And the only way to get there is on the Alaska Railroad.

The Alaska Railroad and Chugach National Forest have worked together since 2004 to create world-class recreational opportunities for visitors of all abilities in the Chugach National Forest backcountry.  The Whistle Stop Project will eventually include five whistle stop stations, over 30 miles of new trails, cabins, and campsites in the rugged Kenai Mountains.  Since the first of the whistle stops was completed at Spencer Glacier in 2007, over 10,000 visitors have enjoyed this spectacular landscape.  To learn more about planned developments, take a look at the project’s Record of Decision..

Spencer Whistle Stop

The Chugach Whistle Stop service to Spencer Glacier officially opened August 2007. The Spencer Glacier stop is the first of five whistle-stops planned for the future. The whistle-stop service to Spencer Glacier is offered on the existing Glacier Discovery Train schedule.

Passengers can hop off the train at the Spencer Whistle Stop for a guided 1.3-mile hike with a U.S. Forest Service ranger or can hike on their own. The trail leads to Spencer Lake for spectacular glacier viewing. The area is open to overnight use by either staying at the Spencer Bench Cabin (5.4 mile hike), dispersal camping outside the Developed Recreation area, or in the group campground.

There is a 1.7 mile trail that extends from Spencer Lake to Spencer Glacier. The free, dispersed camping opportunities are available along this portion of the trail. Within the Developed Recreation area, camping is available by reservation and fee at a group campsite. The group campsite has two pods, one accommodating 10 people, the other accommodating 15 people. Sturdy beams were installed in 2015 to allow for temporary canopies to be created with tarps.

Get on Board!

The train conductor standing in front of the Chugach Explorer

A justifiably proud conductor.

Activities at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop

The Whistlestop Diesel rest on the rail tracks near Portage

 

Ride the Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery Train from Anchorage, Whittier, or Portage, to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop . You can get tickets on-line at The Alaska Railroad.    Once at Spencer, enjoy the scenic backcountry through hiking, camping, or water-based activities.

 

Hiking

Day hikers walking up toward Spencer Lake and Glacier

Some day-hikers along the route to Spencer Glacier

Forest Service rangers offer daily guided hikes to learn about the natural and cultural history of area. This guided hike (1.3 miles one-way) takes you to a scenic overlook providing outstanding views of Spencer Glacier. For those seeking a longer hike without a ranger, the trail continues another 1.7 miles to the edge of the glacier. The 6 mile round trip hike can be done by fast hikers in the time you have on a day trip. The train usually arrives at Spencer between 1:45-2:00pm. Remember that you need to be back at the Spencer Whistle Stop no later than 4:30 to catch the Glacier Discovery Train back to Portage. Hikers need to evaluate their own abilities before attempting to hike the entire 6 miles.

 

Camping

Fire ring at the Spencer whistle stop group campsite

The stonehenge-like firepit at the group campsite

To extend your stay, you can reserve space in the group campsite or venture out to dispersed sites further down the trail. The group campsite is located about 1.1 miles from the Whistle Stop. Camping in the Developed Recreation Area (see the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop map) is by reservation only and only allowed in the group campsite, (reservations at www.alaskarailroad.com). Amenities include well water, restroom, food storage lockers, picnic benches, and fire ring. You should plan to bring your own firewood because there is not much dead and down wood to gather on site, and it cannot be purchased on site.

Dispersed camping is allowed outside of the Developed Recreation Area at no charge. Nine tent pads are available on a first-come, first-serve basis approximately 2.3 miles from the trailhead. You are encouraged to use these pads to help 'leave no trace' on the landscape.

The Spencer Bench Cabin is also available for your enjoyment. To access the cabin you will need to hike 5.4 miles from the trailhead, including a rigorous climb for the last 3 miles to Spencer Bench. However the views are well-worth your efforts. To reserve in the summer season contact the Alaska Railroad at 1-800-544-0552. For reservations in the off-season (Mid-September though mid June) it is reservable through Recreation.gov.

Rafting, Canoeing, Kayaking

Rafters and their guide drift across Spencer lake with the Glacier in the background

Rafters and their local guide drift across Spencer Lake in front of the glacier

Explore Spencer Lake and Placer River through a ride and float combination. Guided rafting and canoeing trips are available at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, but must be booked in advance at www.alaskarailroad.com. You may also bring your own inflatable watercraft, but make sure to check out the Alaska Railroad's baggage policy beforehand.

Be prepared before you arrive at Spencer, as weather can change rapidly and the area is bear country. Review the Alaska Railroad's baggage policy to see what you can bring on the train.

Beginning in 2010, cooking fuel is permitted on the Chugach Explorer. Declare it to the conductor to ensure proper storage of the fuel. Contact the Glacier Ranger District at 783-3242 for more information before you go, and pick up a bear-proof food container at our office in Girdwood.

Grandview Whistle Stop

The second installment of the Whistle Stop project is Grandview. This whistle stop is the end of the line for the Glacier Discovery train. Passengers are able to enjoy a short interpretive trail should they choose to stretch their legs. After passengers get back on board, the train heads back north to Portage and Anchorage. The next phase of the project will include a trail to connect the Grandview and Spencer Whistle Stops. This will expand the opportunites for recreators. Stay tuned for more information.