Photo Credit: Charles Woodfin
Portage Glacier Cruise

Board the MV Ptarmigan to get close to the face of Portage Glacier

It’s easy to view or explore glaciers on the peninsula—known for its rugged terrain, coastal fiords and deep winter snows. Use our guide to plan your journey or day trip to see Kenai’s active ice.

By road, rail and foot

A half-dozen front-country glaciers can reached by car or train, and then approached by relatively short hikes or (in one case) a quick boat ride. These tongues of ice are among the most popular natural attractions in Alaska.

Portage Glacier

About 50 miles southeast of Anchorage

This very active glacier now hidden inside a lobe of Portage Lake has undergone what may be the most closely watched retreat of any glacier in Alaska. Decades after it exposed its own deep lake, the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center was built specifically to showcase a stunning head-on view of its rugged, collapsing face. Though the glacier finally slipped from easy view in the 1990s and became largely a tour boat destination in summer, Portage continues to generate icebergs that ground within sight of lakeshore parking

Hiking option: Portage Glacier can be approached under human power via the Portage Pass Trail from the Whittier side of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Non-motorized boats like kayaks are permitted along the north shore of Portage Lake to the beach at the base of Portage Pass, with a great view of the ice. During winter—once Portage Lake freezes solid—people also walk, ski, ice skate and snow bike about three miles to the vicinity of the glacier’s active face.

Explorer and Middle Glacier

View of Explorer Glacier from Portage Valley

Byron Glacier

About 50 miles southeast of Anchorage

Only a short hike on a flat trail south of Portage Lake near the head of Turnagain Arm, Byron dominates its own gorge-like valley, offering a rugged, remote atmosphere that feels as though you’ve traveled deep into the backcountry. It also hosts a population of ice worms.

Explorer & Middle glaciers

About 50 miles southeast of Anchorage

This pair of classic mountain glaciers gleam from the mountains overlooking Portage Valley, anchoring several spectacular vistas from highway pullouts and the valley’s popular multi-use trail. Both glaciers feed the valley’s stream-and-pond system, creating habitat for migrating salmon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout.

Ascending Path Guided Glacier Trek

Hike on Spencer Glacier with Ascending Path as your Guide

Spencer Glacier

About 10 miles south of Turnagain Arm on the Alaska Railroad

For a unique, European-style excursion that offers direct access to an active glacier that clogs its lake with amazing icebergs, take a train to the Spencer Glacier Whistlestop station during the summer visiting season. Guides offer activities such as sea kayaking and rafting, hiking and climbing. The U.S. Forest Service maintains a campground (reservations required.) You can backpack a new trail system, rent a public use cabin on a mountain ridge, or explore a basin recently emerging from beneath ice.

Exit Glacier Harding Icefield Trail

View of Exit Glacier from the Harding Icefield Trail

Exit Glacier

About 12 miles outside Seward on a paved road

This dramatic cascade of ice descends from the massive Harding Ice Field to a visitor center with curated trail system, located inside the only portion of Kenai Fjords National Park reachable by road. Signage identifies the glacier’s terminal locations during its retreat over the decades, making the access trail a real-time index into the dynamics of climate warming. The easy lower trail leads to overlooks of crevasses.

By Boat

Marine tours out of Seward into Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords outer coast deliver exhilarating encounters with tidewater (or near tidewater) glaciers, often calving icebergs while you watch. Several other glittering gems perch in hanging valleys on surrounding slopes. Almost all tours stop at Bear Glacier, the largest of the park’s 38 glaciers, just 17-miles from Seward. Depending upon the trip’s itinerary, you might also see Aialik, Holgate, Pedersen, and Northwestern. And don’t forget—A trip to Kenai Fjords coast also includes world-class viewing of marine wildlife!

Grewingk Glacier Trail

View of Glacier from the Grewingk Glacier Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park

Backcountry Glaciers

Backcountry trips into the Kenai Mountains lead to more glaciers still. Just about every peak and alpine nook between Portage and Seward, or along the upper Kenai River corridor, contains flowing ribbons of ice or stranded remnants—or, sometimes, persistent snowfields on the verge of becoming their own, new glacier. Many can be reached during day hikes. Most have no names.

Other glaciers—perhaps more difficult or requiring a boat to approach—spill from the mountains looming at the head of Skilak and Tustumena lakes, fed by the immense Harding Ice Field. This 700-square-mile ice cap—mother of 38 glaciers that spill from Kenai’s mountainous spine—is most easily accessible by ski plane or a 3,000-foot ascent of the Harding Icefield Trail beside Exit Glacier. In Kachemack Bay State Park, a water taxi ride from Homer will deliver you to the Grewingk Glacier Trail, the most popular attraction in the state park.

Show Map

Glaciers

The must-see glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula

Gor­geous Portage Glac­i­er lies just 48 miles south of Anchor­age. Explore the glac­i­er, vis­it the muse­um, and go for a boat ride.

Spencer Glac­i­er ris­es 3,500 feet in a stun­ning, nat­ur­al ramp from a lake of roy­al-blue ice­bergs in the Chugach Nation­al For­est just 60 miles south of Anchor­age. It’s a fam­i­ly-friend­ly recre­ation des­ti­na­tion fea­tur­ing camp­ing, hik­ing, glac­i­er explo­ration, nature walks, pad­dling and sight­see­ing. Maybe best of all: You have to take a train to get there!

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile Elevation Gain: 100 feet

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.

These gleam­ing val­ley glac­i­ers perch in the moun­tains above Portage Val­ley, easy to view from high­way pull­outs. They feed the near­by stream sys­tems that har­bor many species of salmon and trout. Tan­gle Pond and Tan­gle Creek are favorite fish­ing spots for locals, and there are lots of places to camp in Portage Val­ley itself.

You can hike right up to Seward’s Exit Glac­i­er and feel the dense blue ice while lis­ten­ing to it crack­le. Walk the low­er trail to get a good pho­to in front of the glac­i­er face. Or, choose the more chal­leng­ing 7‑mile round-trip Hard­ing Ice­field Trail. There is a short ranger-led walk dai­ly at 11am and 3pm, from Memo­r­i­al Day through Labor Day. 

By Boat

Glaciers you'll see on a day cruise from Seward

Aia­lik Glac­i­er is the largest glac­i­er in Aia­lik Bay, locat­ed in Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park. While fair­ly sta­ble, the glac­i­er calves most active­ly in May and June. The glac­i­er is very acces­si­ble on a kayak tour or day cruise from Seward. 

Ped­er­sen Glac­i­er, locat­ed in Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park, reced­ed through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry expos­ing Ped­er­sen Spit and Ped­er­sen Lagoon. In the 1980s, the lagoon was des­ig­nat­ed as the Ped­er­sen Lagoon Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, a 1,700-acre sanc­tu­ary meant to pre­serve and pro­tect the area’s wildlife and land. Take a cruise from Seward to see Ped­er­sen Glac­i­er, and the beau­ti­ful habi­tat sur­round­ing it just under 20 miles away. 

Bear Glac­i­er, found in Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park, is a tide­wa­ter glac­i­er and a pop­u­lar spot for kayak­ers, but you can eas­i­ly see it on a cruise from Seward. With mas­sive ice­bergs and blue waters, see­ing the glac­i­er up close is a thrilling expe­ri­ence. Many peo­ple camp on the out­er beach near Bear Glac­i­er, and enjoy the glac­i­er views in the back­ground. This is also a great area to check for whales, sea otters, puffins, and oth­er wildlife.   ...more

This glac­i­er, named after North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in 1909, can be found at the head of North­west­ern Fjord in Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park, just under 30 miles south­west of Seward. By the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry, North­west­ern Glac­i­er’s reces­sion revealed a num­ber of islands in the Fjord that had pre­vi­ous­ly been cov­ered in ice. Take a cruise from Seward and envi­sion the entire­ty of of North­west­ern Fjord filled with ice, as you make your way  ...more

Hol­gate Glac­i­er, found in Hol­gate Arm in Aia­lik Bay, with­in Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park, is a tide­wa­ter and moun­tain glac­i­er. While it is one of the small­er glac­i­ers in Aia­lik Bay, Hol­gate Glac­i­er is still a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion to see calv­ing glac­i­ers. And it is actu­al­ly advanc­ing! Hol­gate Arm is often filled with ice, but on a good day you can get to a close and safe dis­tance from the glac­i­er. Catch a cruise from Seward, or go kayaking! 

One hun­dred and fifty years ago the val­ley now occu­pied by the ship facil­i­ty and cor­rec­tion­al cen­ter was filled with the ice of God­win Glac­i­er. If you look just below the 4 moun­tain peaks to the left side of the val­ley you can see the ice of God­win glac­i­er. In the year 1850 this glac­i­er calved ice­bergs into Res­ur­rec­tion Bay waters. Now a days God­win glac­i­er is a val­ley glac­i­er and behind the low hills you see in the fore­ground God­win glacier…  ...more

Both of these pho­tographs were tak­en from the same loca­tion in Nuka Pas­sage, about 6 kilo­me­ters (3.7 miles) south of the posi­tion of the 1909 ter­mi­nus of the glac­i­er. The first pho­to­graph by D.F. Hig­gins, is an August 6, 1909 view of the then retreat­ing north­ern part of the ter­mi­nus. The absence of any ice­bergs indi­cates that by 1909, the glac­i­er was no longer tide­wa­ter. When pho­tographed, Yalik Glac­i­er had a gen­tly slop­ing ter­mi­nus with…  ...more

Look for three alpine glac­i­ers back in Thumb Cove. Alpine glac­i­ers keep their ice in the alpine region of a moun­tain and don’t descend to a val­ley floor or the tide­wa­ter’s edge. From the left the three are Prospect, Spoon and Por­cu­pine glac­i­ers. Notice the love­ly cab­in on the edge of Thumb Cove. The land of the Res­ur­rec­tion Penin­su­la is divid­ed between state park, nation­al for­est and pri­vate in-hold­ings. You will see sev­er­al pri­vate cabins.…  ...more

Backcountry Glaciers

Remote, trail accessible glaciers

13-mile glac­i­er in the Kenai Mountains. 

The 700-square-mile Hard­ing Ice­field, one of four major ice caps in the Unit­ed States, crowns Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park. The ice­field may be a rem­nant of the Pleis­tocene ice mass­es once cov­er­ing half of Alas­ka. The mag­nif­i­cent coast­line of Kenai Fjords is steep val­leys that were carved by glac­i­ers in retreat. Active glac­i­ers still calve and crash into the sea as vis­i­tors watch from tour boats here. Sea stacks, islets, and tagged shoreline…  ...more