Alaska is filled with countless natural wonders making it a top destination in the USA for any nature lover. I moved to this incredible state in 2017 and have spent as much time as possible exploring the mountains, all the while, falling in love with Alaskan glacier adventures I didn’t even know were possible.
Written by Mike from Live Travel Teach
So let me take this time to share some of my fondest memories filled with blue ice and stunning photos that will have you booking a trip to the last frontier tonight.
My best recommendation for a safe and unforgettable Alaskan Glacier adventure is to book a tour with a guide who knows how to safely access, and when to avoid the glacier. But before I get into those here are some of the high adventure glacier treks that I’ve embarked on.
1. Byron Glacier
Byron Glacier was my first Alaskan adventure and I’ve visited countless times since. The main glacier hangs high up in a valley but down below you’ll find Byron Glacier ice caves that have a special beauty. The caves themselves can be quite dangerous and the valley is an avalanche chute so be prepared for the worst on this trek.
The good news is you can safely enjoy this glacier from a distance and when the conditions are just right, you can venture into the blue chasm.
Byron Glacier is just a short drive from Anchorage and an even shorter 1-mile hike from the road. I’ve opted NOT to go in the ice caves more times than I’ve actually explored them. When the conditions are just right, blue light illuminates you as a wave of ice engulfs every sense.
2. Knik Glacier
Knik Glacier is a more stable cousin to Byron but much harder to access. There are often caves and crevasses that you can find but I wouldn’t dare risk exploring them. The beauty of Knik Glacier is its vast size and icebergs floating in the lake next to it.
You can take a summer boat or plane tour to this gorgeous landmark, but we’ve always waited for the conditions to line up just right and biked 20 miles along the frozen river to see the massive ice chunks frozen in the lake.
I’ve been out to Knik Glacier twice so far and hope to make it an annual spring break tradition. The bike ride is relatively flat with two stream crossings.
Combine that with snow and ice, and you’ll want to have a set of fat tire studs before embarking on an adventure to Knik Glacier. Be careful near the icebergs themselves since they can flip even in the winter and stay away from pressure ridges where you might see water overflowing above the ice.
3. Portage Glacier
Portage Glacier is another favorite among the locals since it’s much easier to access than Knik. In the summer you can hike over Portage Pass and get a grand view. Follow the Portage Lake along the edge and you can get face to face with this massif.
In late winter, Portage Lake freezes, and daring adventurers bike, ski, or walk across. It’s only a mile or so to the glacier but please take care! Last year an ice chunk the size of a house calved off while onlookers fled.
4. Guided Glacier Tours – Matanuska & Root Glaciers
Matanuska Glacier is the easiest glacier to access with tours all year long. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Anchorage to Glacier View where you’ll find Matanuska Glacier.
The glacier is relatively stable and you can book a guided tour to suit your adventure. With everything from caves and crevasses to ice climbing, Matanuska has it all.
Another excellent option for guided glacier tours is Root Glacier in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. Both Root and Matanuska glaciers are relatively stable without an active calving face and provide visitors with a safe way to enjoy an Alaskan Glacier adventure!
Root Glacier is the best destination for a glacier that is truly out in the wilderness. The mountains around Wrangell – St Elias provide visitors with America’s largest national park, yet it remains one of the least visited national parks due to its remoteness.
If you’re up for a real adventure then Root glacier is perfect for you. The Stairway Icefall feeds this natural wonder and stretches thousands of feet high making the tallest icefall outside of the Himalayas!
Mount Blackburn and Donoho rise well above the glacier and provide mountaineers with yet another adventure. Donoho can be submitted with relatively little technical climbing and offers a panorama of Root Glacier that I hope to see one day. But, until then I’ll have to keep training by exploring other glaciers.
5. Tidewater Glaciers
Alaska is also home to many tidewater glaciers. Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park offer countless tidewater glaciers that you can see with just an hour or two of driving from Anchorage. Book a boat tour into Prince William Sound and you might catch Beloit Glacier or Blackstone Glacier calving and be back home in Anchorage before dark.
One of the most popular trips into Prince William Sound is the aptly named 26 glacier cruise. Prince William Sound is home to plenty of exotic wildlife and the guides will help you spot every spectacular sight. I haven’t been on another cruise yet but can confidently say you will enjoy this trip.
6. Glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is a 2-hour drive from Anchorage south to Seward but one of the most picturesque roads I’ve ever seen.
Once you arrive in Seward you’ll have to decide between tours out to Aialik or Northwestern Glacier or heading along the trail up to Exit Glacier. Both options are positively wonderful but if you want to see some whales, sea lions, and seals along the way then check out Major Marine Tours!
If you’d rather have a simple stroll to a glacier then visit Kenai Fjords National Park’s Exit Glacier. There is an easy loop to the toe of Exit Glacier. Along the way, you’ll see signposts showing how far the glacier has receded with years dating into the 1800s.
I’ve done this walk on separate occasions with my retired parents and a very pregnant friend and can safely say it’s the most accessible glacier hike out there.
If you’re looking for the most extraordinary hike along the ridge above a glacier then hike deeper into Kenai Fjords National Park along the Harding Ice Fields Trail!
You can even book a kayak tour out to Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National park and spend the day paddling through picturesque landscapes. However you choose to enjoy Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park, you’re bound to have an incredible time!
More Glaciers in Alaska
Valdez sports its own unique glacier adventures with kayak trips to Valdez Glacier and an easterly access point to Prince William Sound. Worthington Glacier is on the Richardson Highway just north of Valdez. You’ll find beautiful waterfalls and picturesque mountains throughout the region.
You can walk to a viewpoint of both Worthington and Valdez glaciers but if you’re looking for a bigger adventure then I recommend finding a guide in Valdez.
Homer sports even more adventures in Kachemak Bay State Park. You’ll have to book a water taxi or a tour to see Grewingk Glacier and I assure you it’s well worth it!
There are incredible campsites along Grewingk Lake where you’ll wake up to floating icebergs and the blue ice filling the valley beyond. This remote park is full of wildlife and natural splendor, but that means lots of bears too, so come prepared with bear spray!
Girdwood is a short drive from Anchorage and most visitors come for Alyeska Ski Resort. At the top of the mountain, you can eat at Seven Glaciers with a view of seven different glaciers hanging in the mountains around you.
Hikers can skip the ski resort and head up to Crow Pass for a glimpse at Raven Glacier. You can book the nearby public use cabin or bring a tent to spend the night near this hanging glacier.
Juneau sports the world-famous Mendenhall Glacier caves and Castner Glacier has caves much further north. These two are still on my Alaskan bucket list along with a trip through Glacier Bay. Cruise ships frequent the icy Glacier Bay and often catch massive calving events.
Denali National Park is known for its wildlife and massive mountains but here in the Arctic, mountains often mean glaciers! Ruth Glacier is the most famous of these ice palaces at the base of Denali itself but you’re bound to see more ice-filled valleys creating blue glaciers throughout the national park.
Glaciers provide a unique glimpse into the magical powers of Mother Earth and drive many travelers to destinations around the world. Alaska is home to so many adventures and testaments to nature’s beauty.
I’m sure there are countless other glacier adventures that I haven’t even heard of in the rest of Alaska. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to explore them all. Which one will you aim for first?