Want to approach a glacier? Here’s where to go in south-central Alaska

Whether you live in Alaska or are visiting, glaciers are one of the state’s most awe-inspiring and unique attractions. After all, Alaska is home to most of the glaciers in the United States.

There are glacier tours for people of all ages and abilities. We’ve cut those trips to glaciers within 150 miles – or two or three hours away – from Anchorage.

But before we get into the adventures, let’s talk briefly about glacier safety.

Denali National Park and Preserve Ranger Michelle Dalpes urges all glacier travelers to bring warm, layered clothing, sturdy shoes or boots, and a windproof coat. Glaciers are cooler than the surrounding areas and often windy.

Walking on glaciers can be dangerous unless – and sometimes even – you have the right training and equipment.

“Ice is unpredictable,” said Dalpes.

Crevasses and mills (deep holes) form in the glacier. The crevices in particular are not always visible. If you want to hike on the surface of a glacier, you must either know what you are doing i.e. be an experienced outdoor enthusiast with training in glacier travel or hire a guide.

If you’re on a kayak or boat near a glacier, stay half a mile, as glaciers move and calve without warning and create massive waves, Dalpes said. Land on a beach at least a mile from a glacier and camp 2 miles away.

When you walk around the foot, where the glacier ends, keep a distance of twice the height of the glacier. The same goes for paddling around an iceberg.

And keep in mind that some of these glaciers can be difficult to access depending on the time of year you visit. Be sure to contact local drop-in centers for information on current conditions.

I get it? Phew. Now for the fun stuff.

Disclaimer: This list explores some of the most popular glaciers and ways to see them, but for the sake of brevity it does not include most of the tour operators that offer hikes, boat trips, scenic flights , kayaking, etc. More information about the tours can be found with a simple online search.

Passengers aboard the Klondike Express take photos of Surprise Glacier as they cruise through Prince William Sound on Thursday, June 13, 2019 (Anne Raup / ADN)

About an hour’s drive from Anchorage on the Seward Highway is Portage Valley and the Begich Visitor Center, Boggs. Two glaciers are easily accessible in the valley.

The Byron Glacier is considered very accessible for all ages. The 1.4 mile trail is a flat, easy walk. The first half is well maintained, with a wide path. The second half is rocky, and to get closer to the glacier, visitors have to cross boulders and small streams.

Then there is Portage Glacier. The glacier has moved away from the visitor center, but in the summer there is a daily cruise and a stop where you can see the glacier from the road. A little further up the road, the Portage Pass Trail is a 4 mile round trip hike with views of the glacier.

During the winter, the frozen Portage Lake is a popular spot for skiers and cyclists heading to the foot of the glacier. However, there are no park rangers nearby in case of an emergency, so cross the ice at your own risk.

Note: The Begich Visitor Center, Boggs has been closed for the summer 2020 season. Check the centre’s website for up to date information.

2. Whittier and Prince William Sound

Continue on Portage Glacier Road for a few miles, including a trip through the 4-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, and you’ll find yourself in the town of Whittier.

Whittier is the starting point for many cruises in Prince William Sound, which has more tidal glaciers than any other region in North America. (Valdez is another launch point, about a five-hour drive from Anchorage.)

The Columbia, Meares and Blackstone Glaciers are just three of the most visited glaciers in the region. There are many types of tours, kayaking opportunities, and public use cabins in Prince William Sound.

Visitors get off at the Spencer Whistle stop in the Chugach National Forest at 1:45 p.m. train in time for 4:40 pm pickup). Hike on your own or take a hike guided by a US Forest Service ranger.

Campsites and a cabin are open in mid-June and can be booked via the railway. Tour operators offer guided kayaking, ice climbing or descents on the Placer River.

The route continues past the Spencer Glacier to Grandview, where the Bartlett and Trail Glaciers can be seen. There is a short 20 minute stop before the train loops back to Anchorage. A train ride to Seward offers the same view of the glacier.

Trips from Anchorage to Spencer Glacier begin May 29, 2021; the full course begins on June 5th.

About an hour northeast of Anchorage is the Eklutna Glacier, which supplies most of the drinking water to Alaska’s largest city. Part of Chugach State Park, Lake Eklutna Campground has a large campsite, bicycle and kayak rentals, and a network of trails leading to the glacier.

Accessing the glacier is a bit of a journey – to get close, take the Eklutna Lakeside Trail, 12.9 miles one way. The path runs along the shore of the lake, then towards the river and the glacier. Alternatively, the Bold Ridge Trail is approximately 4 miles long with a steep 3,600 foot drop that rewards you with a view of the glaciers.

A tour of the foot of the Matanuska Glacier includes a view of a cave-like channel on February 23, 2017. Matanuska Glacier Park now requires first-time winter visitors to take a $ 100 guided tour. (Marc Lester / DNA)

The Matanuska Glacier is about a two hour drive on the Glenn Highway northeast of Anchorage. It is billed as one of the few large ice caps in the world that visitors can tour by car and explore on foot. The glacier itself is gigantic – around 26 miles long and 4 miles wide at its end.

The only accessible route by road leading directly to the face of the glacier is through property owned by Matanuska Glacier Park LLC. Tours are sold in a gift shop and information center. Then it’s a short drive and hike to reach the glacier.

According to owner Bill Stevenson, Glacier Park will only allow access via guided tours to visitors during the 2021 summer season (with the exception of those with outdoor experience). It’s worth calling ahead to confirm prices, but at the time of this writing, the cost for tours is $ 65 for out-of-state visitors and $ 35 for out-of-state visitors. residents of Alaska (907-745-2534).

6. South Fork Valley Trail

The South Fork Valley Trail is an easy to moderate level hike to Eagle and Symphony Lakes in Eagle River, about half an hour east of Anchorage. The hike is approximately 12 miles round trip. The Flute Glacier can be reached by walking to Eagle Lake and then climbing another 4 miles up the valley to the foot of the glacier.

Just over two hours north of Anchorage, the town of Talkeetna is the starting point for climbers heading to Denali. It also offers flight options for those who wish to bask in the splendor of North America’s highest peak without climbing it.

There are hundreds of unnamed glaciers on Denali, and 40 named, according to the National Park Service. The longest – Ruth, Kahiltna and Muldrow – each stretch for over 30 miles.

Several Talkeetna air taxi operators offer tours around the mountain. Some land on the various glaciers.

Exit Glacier is the only glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road.

The Exit Glacier Nature Center is the starting point of a network of trails leading to the glacier. Those who want more can take the arduous 8.2-mile round-trip hike on the Harding Icefield Trail for spectacular views of the massive icefield.

There is also a 12-pitch campground, reserved for tents, near the nature center.

The Glacier Road exit is only open to cars in the summer, usually mid-May. In winter, snowmobiles, skiers, dog sleds and fat bikes are still allowed on the road.

Then there is the rest of Kenai Fjords National Park. The park’s website highlights the Bear Glacier Lagoon and a boat for

Visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park experience Exit Glacier on June 15, 2014 (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

urs who take visitors along the park’s tidal glaciers.

Trips to the Knik Glacier in the Matanuska-Susitna district exploded in popularity during the winter, with fat-tire bikers taking a northern route that crosses a river.

Summer access is via the Knik Glacier Trail. There is a 13 km trail from Knik Glacier Tours that requires river crossings. Cycling and boating are common. Tours are also offered by Knik River Lodge.

There are also flights available to Knik and Colony Glacier.

10. Crow Pass Trail and Raven Glacier

Raven Glacier can be seen on the 23 mile Crow Pass Trail, which has trailheads at Girdwood (40 miles from Anchorage on the Seward Highway) and the Eagle River Nature Center (approximately 26 miles east of Anchorage ). This hike is recommended from late June to early September due to the risk of snow and avalanche.

For a glacier view with a 8 mile round trip, start from the Girdwood’s Crow Creek Trailhead. Hikers follow a series of switchbacks uphill, passing Jewel Glacier east of the Crow Pass cabin, and finally arrive at Crow Pass and Raven Glacier. Hikers can continue past the glacier or turn around.

About 80 minutes north of Anchorage is the Hatcher Pass Management Area, a popular recreation area.

The Gold Mint Trail is a 16 mile round trip that follows the Little Susitna River to the Mint Glacier Valley, where at the end hikers can follow a fairly undeveloped trail to the Mint Glacier. There’s also good glacier viewing – and crossing – on the multi-day Mint-Bomber Traverse for more advanced outdoor explorers.


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