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.
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.
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!