Photo Credit: Eklutna Lake, Paxson Woelber

Alaska Ice Skating

With its extensive wetlands and lakes, Southern Alaska may be one of the best places in the world for skating wild ice.

These frozen passageways meander along sloughs. They crisscross pond-to-pond over wetlands. Some follow frozen river channels for miles, offering slick access to territory only reachable by boat in summer. Others center on vast lakes, some freshwater fiords beneath stunning mountain walls.

The sport becomes especially satisfying during that in-between season when the world has frozen solid but snow has not yet become too deep.

Depending upon snow depth, the season for skating wild ice can be short—ranging from a week or two to a couple of months. Many people find that skating remains fun even with a couple of inches of snow on the ice. A lot depends on the texture and density of the snow cover, and the underlying smoothness of the ice surface. Most winters, snow does eventually become too deep, and you have shift your skating adventures to ice that’s been shoveled off or mopped.

Still, even after snow blankets most ice, a mid-winter meltdown can sometimes strip the cover and rehab the frozen surface for a new round of skating.

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Ice Skating

These frozen chan­nels wind for miles across the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge off the Glenn High­way in the mouth of the Matanus­ka and Knik riv­er val­leys, just 35 miles north of Anchor­age. Either trav­el the streams or explore exten­sive pond net­works on the flats.

Explore the wild ice of Pot­ter Marsh along the Seward High­way in South Anchor­age. After a hard freeze-up, the marsh morphs from bird-nest­ing habi­tat into an intrigu­ing maze, with miles of twisty routes lead­ing to unex­pect­ed rinks. Very pop­u­lar with families. 

Dur­ing the sum­mer months it’s a great spot for canoe­ing, kayak­ing, pad­dle board­ing, even pad­dle­board yoga. The cold­er months are just as live­ly as the warmer ones. There’s a skat­ing loop on the lake’s perime­ter, as well as sev­er­al skat­ing areas on the lake. The City offers free pub­lic skates Sat­ur­day after­noons, ice con­di­tions depen­dent, Decem­ber through February.

For the clas­sic city ice skat­ing expe­ri­ence where hun­dreds of peo­ple might spend the after­noon careen­ing along smooth, wind­ing paths or warm­ing them­selves at burn bar­rels, try out Westch­ester Lagoon at the west end of the Chester Creek green­belt off the L Street / Min­neso­ta Dri­ve corridor.

Freeze-up turns this sev­en-mile long fresh-water fiord in Chugach State Park into a mul­ti-mode trav­el cor­ri­dor for ice skaters, hik­ers, skiers and bik­ers. Adven­ture skat­ing can be good before snow gets too deep, or after mid-win­ter thaws or wind rehabs the surface. 

For an oth­er­world­ly encounter with a famous glac­i­er you can’t eas­i­ly approach or even glimpse dur­ing sum­mer, lead the fam­i­ly across frozen Portage Lake to a fan­tas­tic wall of jum­bled, blue ice. Once the lake sur­face has frozen sol­id, peo­ple flock across on foot, ice skates, skis and bikes. 50 miles from Anchorage.

A pre­mier pad­dling des­ti­na­tion in sum­mer, the eight-mile loop canoe trail through 14 lakes can be skat­ed after freeze-up and before sig­nif­i­cant snow­fall. Peo­ple often cruise the entire route in one long day, or skate out a few lakes and return. Be pre­pared to hike portages up to a half-mile between lakes. 71 miles north of Anchorage.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 3 miles

This 1.5‑mile hike is an easy stroll down to the lake that offers a great pay­off in the form of a gor­geous glac­i­er. If you’re here in win­ter and the con­di­tions are right, it’s a great spot for wilder­ness ice skat­ing, fat bik­ing, or cross-coun­try skiing!

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