This easily accessible glacier hike has a huge hidden ice cave that’s worth the 5-hour drive from Anchorage.
If you’re looking for one of the quickest ways to explore an ice cave in Alaska then hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail. This 1.2-mile trail is found along the Richardson Highway and follows a creek that will take you to a stunning ice cave hidden around the bend.
In this post, I’m going to share how to hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail and see the ice caves in the summer and winter.
⚠️ Castern Glacier Ice Cave Collapsed
The entrance of Castner Glacier Ice Cave partially collapsed in late June 2022 and has since collapsed further. It’s very dangerous and not recommended to attempt to enter the ice cave at this time.
Hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail
Traditional Land: Tanacross (Visit Native-Land.ca to identify whose land you live, work, and play on.)
Distance: 1.2 miles one way
Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
How to Get to Castner Glacier Trail From Anchorage
- From Anchorage, head north on the Glenn Highway
- Follow the Glenn Highway and exit towards Palmer/Glennallen
- Continue for 145 miles and turn left onto Richardson Highway (AK-4 N)
- Continue straight for 88 miles until you reach Castner Creek
- Parking is available north and south of the bridge
How Far Is Castner Glacier From Fairbanks?
If you are traveling to Castner Glacier from Fairbanks, it’s 140 miles away and it will take you around 2.5 hours to drive there.
Castner Glacier Trailhead and Parking
The Castner Glacier Trail begins at Castner Creek near Paxson, Alaska. The drive from Anchorage takes 4 hours and 57 minutes and follows a paved road the entire time.
When you reach Castner Creek on the Richardson Highway, you will want to park on the south side of the bridge. You can refer to the graphic below.
Unfortunately, there are no signs that clearly mark where you can’t park but if you want to avoid getting a ticket do not park on the west side of the road near the bridge and do not park along the road if you cannot pull off far enough to clear the white fog line.
Along Castner Creek
There are two different hiking trails that you can take to reach Castner Glacier. Just north of Castner Creek bridge, you will find a dirt road on the right-hand side. You can follow the road until it merges into a smaller trail.
If you have an off-road vehicle, you can actually drive down the road as far as you can and then your hike will be even quicker (only 1/2 mile)!
The other trail starts underneath the north side of the bridge. This is my preferred way to hike to Castner Glacier because it follows the creek the entire time and the views are awesome. You’ll walk along the rocky creekbed and weave in and out of what looks like an actual trail.
As you get closer to the glacier, you will have to cross over two small streams. There are plenty of large, dry rocks that you can use to get across. Continue heading towards the main creek to stay on the path towards the ice cave.
Just Around the Bend
From a distance, it’s impossible to see the Castner Glacier ice cave. It just looks like a pile of rocks. As long as you follow Castner Creek all the way up, you won’t have any problems finding the ice cave.
Once you get closer to the glacier, you will see the opening to the ice cave around the bend to the right.
Exploring Castner Glacier Ice Cave
The trail to Castner Glacier is just over a mile, and it will take you about 30 minutes to reach the ice cave at the toe of the glacier.
There are so many glacier hikes near Anchorage but not all of them lead you to an ice cave like this one.
The ice cave is huge! You can explore the Castner Glacier ice cave by accessing it from the north side, which is also why you should hike along the north side of the creek instead of the south side.
Enter at your own risk! Take caution as you enter the ice cave. You will have to scramble across some loose rock and watch out for any rocks that may fall from above.
When you are inside the ice cave, you can walk pretty far back on part of the creek that is frozen over. You will hear the creek rushing underneath you. I try not to stay in ice caves too long because you just never know what Mother Nature has in store for you!
Beyond Castner Glacier
After taking a few photos in the ice cave, we scrambled up to the top of the glacier to see what it looked like. While there’s not much to see beyond the glacier, the views looking out to the Richardson Highway are pretty awesome. The ice cave is definitely the main attraction of this hike.
If you want to take your adventure to the next level, you can follow the glacier back 7.8 miles to reach the Alaska Alpine Club Thayer Hut. This A-frame hut is located at 4800 feet and requires an understanding of glacier conditions to reach it.
Before you leave the area, make sure to check out Gulkana Glacier Trail. It has a super cool suspension bridge and can be done all in the same day.
Hiking Castner Glacier During Winter
It’s possible to see the Castner Glacier ice cave during the wintertime. The winter trail usually follows the south side of Castner Creek. I haven’t done it myself but after realizing how easy the trail is and seeing photos of the ice cave during winter, I can’t wait to go back. The cave tends to be covered in hoar frost, which makes it sparkle like glitter.
During the wintertime, hiking conditions are a lot different. You may end up hiking in blizzard snow conditions which will make navigation a lot more difficult, especially if you’ve never been to Castner Glacier before. There are no signs telling you where to go and a lot of people rely on snow tracks from other recent visitors.
If you are planning to hike to the ice cave during the winter, here is some advice:
- Check the weather. Any recent snow will cover any tracks leading up to the glacier.
- Dress appropriately and plan to be outside for 3 to 4 hours.
- Wear appropriate winter boots and gaiters to keep snow out.
- Bring snowshoes or skis so you can break trail.
- Beware of thin ice inside of the cave and along the creek.
- Start earlier in the day so you have enough daylight hours to navigate the area.
- Carry a headlamp so you can see inside of the ice cave.
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Do you have any questions about hiking Castner Glacier Trail? Let me know in the comments.
Incredibly insightful article! Thanks
Thanks! It’s a really cool spot. Let me know if you go out there. -Andrea
Just went there this March. Everyone was bundled up. Looking at your summer photos I think I prefer dealing with the snow instead of rushing water if you have younger children.
So cool! Thanks for sharing your photo, Jeffrey. It definitely looks a lot safer for the kiddos with the creek frozen over. During the summer, you actually have to do a little scrambling down to get onto the edge inside of the cave.
We are planning a trip mid April. I wonder if at 44*, snow boots or bundling up is still necessary? And would the roads be cleared by then as well?
Hi Bo, I’m not sure if you are traveling from outside of Alaska but I would plan for snow still. It’s been a heavy snowfall year, and there’s still usually snow on the ground and in the mountains and it can be quite slushy/muddy. The roads should be fine though. You may not have to bundle up so much but every day is different, so make sure to pack layers. I find that there tend to be a lot of sunny bluebird days in April and the weather feels amazing after a long winter. But it really depends on what… Read more »
Where is the good place to stay near glacier?
On the north side along the dirt road there are some areas that can be used for camping.
The Lodge at Black Rapids is very nice.
Thanks for the recommendation, Holly!
Hello! I’m inspired to take the journey to the ice cave. We will be there Oct 5-7, 2021 and I wonder how deep the creek is to enter? We may need to get some different boots! Thanks!
Hey Lisa! I don’t recommend actually walking in the creek near the entrance, and I am unsure how deep it is, but it is flowing. There are some debris rocks over the glacial ice which can be used to climbed down to access the cave. There may be a section of ice to walk further back into the cave as well. Be careful! Andrea
Coming to hopefully see the lights. How easy is the hike usually in late January early February? Do you still go on the left side of the bridge in winter. is the anyone that does guided trips in winter?
any info is helpful.
Hi Michelle! The difficulty of the hike will change every day during winter. It’ll be much easier to hike on days when there is no new snowfall and others have created a trail to follow. I remember seeing a guide who does trips out there. I can’t remember the name at the moment.
Hi Andrea, thanks for the great article. We are here in Fairbanks and thinking about heading out there one day this week. In reading, i’m seeing conflicting information on the length of the hike (some say 1/2 mile, some say 2.6 mi round trip) – can you confirm what the length is and why we are seeing different info. Also reading that the trail is not marked well – is this the case? We are looking at going up with a small group and just want to make sure that we can do the hike as well as not get… Read more »
Hi Karen, I updated some information. The trail can be 1/2 mile one way from the end of the dirt road north of the creek. But, it’s 1.2 miles one way from the road. Your mileage will vary depending on where you park, the route you take and trail conditions. The trail is not marked at all and can be difficult to find after a big snow fall (winter). I would keep up with the local hiking group FB pages to see what current conditions are when you plan on heading out. Have fun!
Hi, I will be going the first week of March, how do you think the weather will be and the hike?
Hard to say with the constant change in weather. I suggest checking some of the local hiking groups for latest conditions!
Your post is so informative and can’t wait to see the ice cave. I am traveling to the ice cave in the beginning of April 2022 from Wasilla and would love any other suggestions for things to see or do along the way. As well as places to stay as the Lodge is fully booked.
Check out my Interior hiking challenge and logbook for other trail in the area: https://andreakuuipoabroad.com/interior-alaska-100-hikes-challenge/
Look for places to stay in Glennallen.
Hi Andrea, thanks for the great article. We (6 adults) are planning to visit Fairbank for five days this September. Is that a good time to visit the ice cave? Can we still walk inside the cave?
You’ll be able to walk on the edge of the inside but it won’t be frozen over.
Hi Andrea! Would it be possible to enter the cave in June “without risk”?
It’s possible to enter the cave in June, but there will always be risk, especially in the summer. From the rocks falling above, the creek underneath, and the melting of the glacier.
Do we need any gear to hike to the cave? Thanks
Just hiking gear.