Portage Valley may be one of the most popular visitor destinations in Alaska, but don't let that scare you away. The truth is that most people stop at the visitor’s center for a quick walkthrough, take a photo on the deck and then get back on the road, to Whittier or elsewhere. And while it’s true that the valley's blue ice and glacial scenery is outstanding from Portage Glacier Rd, it gets even better if you take the short hike to Byron Glacier. This short day hike—with an easily accessible trailhead a few hundred meters from the Begich Boggs Visitor Center—offers you big views of the Byron Glacier.
How to Get There
The trail starts at a well-marked pullout, about half a mile from the end of the road. When the trees were shorter, you could see the glacier well from the road, but now you have to hike a ways before the ice face comes into view. Follow the winding, mostly flat trail through a rocky, verdant alluvial plain that is now interspersed with tall alders and a smattering of cottonwood and aspen trees. Much of the trail is close to Byron Creek, where kids can play among the smooth stones, but keep an eye because the water is cold and sometimes rapid. As you approach the glacier, the forest thins out to display views of the rugged cliffs and glacier and—if you turn around—Portage Lake and Valley. It’s fun to have an impromptu snowball fight in snowfields left over from winter avalanches, or take one of the multiple side trails that will lead you to the edge of the valley where bouldering opportunities abound.
Be sure to bring rain gear: this valley is known to trap clouds that produce everything from slow drizzles to the less-frequent (but pelting) cloudbursts.
Forest service warns against winter travel due to steep walls of Byron Valley and high snowfall, which makes the area prone to avalanche risks.