Alaska Visitors Guide

Cool as ice: Here’s how to get up close to glaciers in Southcentral Alaska

Whether you live in Alaska or are visiting, glaciers are one of the state’s most awe-inspiring and unique attractions.

Home to the most glaciers in the United States, Alaska offers incredible glacier experiences for people of all ages and abilities. We narrowed the trips on this list down to those under 150 miles — or a two- to three-hour drive — from Anchorage.

But before planning your next adventure, let’s talk briefly about glacier safety.

How to enjoy glaciers and stay safe

All visitors to glacial areas will benefit from bringing warm, layered clothes, sturdy shoes or boots, and a windbreak layer. Glaciers are colder than surrounding areas and often breezy.

Walking on glaciers can be dangerous unless — and sometimes even if — you have proper training and equipment.

Crevasses and moulins (deep holes) form in the glacier, some of which aren’t always visible. Only experienced outdoors people with extensive knowledge should trek the surface of a glacier by themselves; otherwise, hire a guide to lead you safely.

Glacier safety while kayaking and boating is crucial. Tidewater glaciers can calve at any moment, causing powerful waves that can overwhelm kayaks and nearby shoreline.


“Sudden waves from calving ice … can hit the shore with surprising power,” the National Park Service writes on the Kenai Fjords National Park website.

Stay at least a half-mile away from the glacier when kayaking or on a boat, the park service recommends. Don’t try to paddle between two large icebergs, and remain as far away from an iceberg as twice its width or height. The same formula applies when walking around the glacier’s terminus, or toe. Maintain awareness of your surroundings.

One last note: Some of Alaska’s glaciers may be hard to access due to certain seasonal conditions. Make sure to contact local visitors centers for current information.

Got it? Phew. Now for the fun stuff.

Disclaimer: This list explores some of the most popular glaciers, but for brevity’s sake does not include many of the tour operators offering hikes, boat trips, scenic flights, kayaking and more. Information about tours can be found with a simple online search.

Portage Valley: Accessible for all ages

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

Byron Glacier is considered highly accessible for all ages. The 1.4-mile trail to the glacier 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 must cross boulders and small streams. The trail can get especially buggy in the summer, so be prepared.

Then there’s Portage Glacier. The glacier has receded out of view from the visitor center, but in the summer there’s a daily cruise and a pull-off where you can see the glacier from the road. A little farther down the road, Portage Pass trail is a 4-mile round-trip hike with glacier views.

During the winter, frozen Portage Lake is a popular spot for skiers and bikers traveling to the toe of the glacier. There are no park rangers around in case of emergency, though, so traverse the ice at your own risk.

According to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center website, the center will open in May 2024. Be sure to check ahead for current information about operating hours and fees.

Whittier and Prince William Sound: Tidewater glacier tours

Continue down Portage Glacier Road another few miles — including a trip through the 2.5-mile-long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel — and you wind up in the town of Whittier.

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

Columbia, Meares and Blackstone glaciers are just three of the oft-visited glaciers in the area. There are many different types of tours, kayaking opportunities and public-use cabins in Prince William Sound.

Spencer Glacier: Take a train ride to a glacier

About 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, Spencer Glacier is only accessible via the Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery Train, which runs daily from May 25 through Sept. 15 in 2024.

Visitors enjoy a scenic ride from Anchorage, getting off the train at Spencer Whistle Stop in Chugach National Forest at 1:45 p.m. Hike about 1.3 miles one way to the glacier viewing platform, or another 1.7 miles to the edge of the glacier (but be mindful of getting back to the train in time for the 4:30 p.m. pickup). Hike on your own or enjoy a hike guided by a U.S. Forest Service ranger.

The route then continues past Spencer Glacier to Grandview, revealing views of Bartlett Glacier and Trail Glacier. After a 20-minute stop, the train heads back to Portage. From there, visitors take a motorcoach back to the Anchorage train depot, arriving around 6:45 p.m.

Campsites and a cabin can be reserved via, but spots fill up fast. Tour operators offer guided kayaking, ice climbing or trips down the Placer River.


Eklutna Glacier and Lake Campground

About an hour northeast of Anchorage is Eklutna Lake, which provides most of the drinking water for Alaska’s largest city. Part of Chugach State Park, Eklutna Lake Campground has a large campsite, bike and kayak rentals, and a trail system that leads out to Eklutna Glacier.

Glacier access is a bit of a journey — to get up close, take the Eklutna Lakeside Trail, 12.9 miles one way. The path follows the shore of the lake, then to the river and glacier. Alternatively, the Bold Ridge Trail is about 4 miles long with a steep 3,600-foot elevation gain that rewards you with glacier views.

Matanuska Glacier, one of the world’s major ice sheets

Matanuska Glacier is about a two-hour drive on the Glenn Highway northeast of Anchorage. It’s touted as one of the few major ice sheets in the world that visitors can drive to and explore on foot. The glacier itself is gigantic — about 26 miles long and 4 miles wide at its terminus.

The Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area has 12 campsites, and it’s a 20-minute walk to glacier-viewing platforms, but there’s no direct access to the glacier.

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

Glacier Park only allows access via guided tours. The cost is $150 for out-of-state visitors, $30 for children 14 and under, and $50 for Alaska residents and military members.

South Fork Valley Trail: Backcountry hiking

The South Fork Valley Trail is an easy- to moderate-level hike to Eagle and Symphony Lakes in Eagle River, about half an hour northeast of Anchorage. The hike is about 12 miles round-trip. Flute Glacier can be reached by hiking to Eagle Lake, then heading another 4 miles up valley to the toe of the glacier — which isn’t a very common destination among visitors due to the amount of backcountry travel involved.

Talkeetna: Glacier flightseeing in the Alaska Range

A little over two hours north of Anchorage, the town of Talkeetna is the staging point for climbers heading to Denali. It also has flightseeing options for those who want to bask in the splendor of North America’s tallest peak without climbing it.


There are hundreds of unnamed glaciers on Denali, and 40 named ones, according to the National Park Service. The longest ones — Ruth, Kahiltna and Muldrow — each span more than 30 miles.

Multiple Talkeetna air taxi operators offer trips around the mountain. Some land on glaciers.

Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park

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

The Exit Glacier Nature Center is the starting point for a system of trails leading to the glacier. Those wanting more can make the strenuous 8.2-mile round-trip hike up the Harding Icefield Trail for spectacular views of the massive ice field.

There’s also a 12-site, tents-only campground near the nature center.

Exit Glacier Road is only open to cars during the summer, usually mid-May. In the winter, snowmachines, skiers, dog sleds and fat bikes are still allowed on the road. Check the park’s website for current conditions.

Then, there’s the rest of Kenai Fjords National Park. The National Park Service highlights Bear Glacier Lagoon and boat tours that take visitors along the park’s tidewater glaciers.

Knik River tours and flightseeing

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

Summer access comes by way of Knik Glacier Trail. There’s an 8-mile trail starting from Knik Glacier Tours that requires river crossings. Biking and boating are common. Tours are offered through nearby lodges.

There’s also flightseeing available to Knik Glacier and Colony Glacier.

Crow Pass Trail: A hike to Raven Glacier

Raven Glacier can be seen along on the historic 21-mile Crow Pass Trail, which has trailheads at Girdwood (40 miles from Anchorage on the Seward Highway) and the Eagle River Nature Center (about 26 miles east of Anchorage). This hike is recommended from late June to early September due to snow and avalanche danger.

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


Hatcher Pass: Backcountry hiking to Mint Glacier

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 journey that follows the Little Susitna River to the Mint Glacier Valley, where at the end, hikers can follow a fairly undeveloped trail up to Mint Glacier. There’s also good glacier viewing — and traversing — on the multiday Mint-Bomber Traverse for more advanced outdoor explorers.