Hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail in Alaska

Castner Glacier is an easily accessible glacier in Alaska that is known for its hidden ice caves that can be accessed all year-round.

To see the ice caves, you will have to hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail.

This short, 1.2-mile trail is found along the Richardson Highway and a visit is worth the 5-hour drive from Anchorage or 2.5 hour drive from Fairbanks.

I first hiked to Castner Glacier during a summer road trip around Southcentral Alaska. Since there aren’t many glaciers in Alaska with easily accessible ice caves, it was so cool to stand inside the ice cave! It was massive!

In this post, I’m going to share how you can visit Castner Glacier Ice Caves during summer and winter.

⚠️ Castner Glacier Ice Cave Collapse

Castner Glacier Ice Cave partially collapsed in 2022, but you can still access the ice cave (as of December 2023). Entering ice caves is dangerous and not recommended without experience or a local guide.

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Hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail

Route Description

Traditional Land: Tanacross (Visit Native-Land.ca to identify whose land you live, work, and play on.)
Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Time: 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: Not recommended

How to Get to Castner Glacier Trail From Anchorage

  1. From Anchorage, head north on the Glenn Highway
  2. Follow the Glenn Highway and exit towards Palmer/Glennallen
  3. Continue for 145 miles and turn left onto Richardson Highway (AK-4 N)
  4. Continue straight for 88 miles until you reach Castner Creek
  5. 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 in the summer. Keep in mind that travel time in winter conditions will be 3+ hours. You will drive through North Pole and Delta Junction along the way.

You can find the trailhead using the Google Maps below.

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.

Castner Creek Castner Glacier Trailhead

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 picture 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.

Keep in mind that after heavy snows or inclement weather, parking may not be available.

Castner Creek Castner Glacier Trailhead parking
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

Along Castner Creek

There are two different hiking trails that you can take to reach Castner Glacier. Neither of them is a marked or maintained trail.

On the north side 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 drive down the road during the summer as far as you can. Then your hike will be even quicker (only 1/2 mile)!

The other trail starts underneath the north side of Castner Creek and 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.

Crossing Creeks

Castner Creek 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

Castner Glacier Ice Cave Alaska

When I hiked here in 2020, it was impossible to see the front of Castner Glacier ice cave. It just looked like a pile of rocks.

To see the opening to the ice cave before it collapsed, you had to follow Castner Creek all the way up, and once you were close to the glacier, you could see the opening to the ice cave around the bend to the right (pictured above).

In late June 2022, the ice cave partially collapsed and collapsed even more later in the year. The ice cave has changed a lot since then as a new entrance was formed.

Now, the ice cave has a wider opening at the front of the glacier and it is *relatively* safe to enter again, especially if you visit in winter.

Exploring Castner Glacier Ice Cave

alaska 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.

Alaska Ice Cave

Enter at your own risk! Take caution as you enter the ice cave. You may have to scramble across some loose rocks and you’ll want to watch out for any rocks that may fall from above. You may want to consider bringing and wearing a helmet, especially in rainy conditions.

There is no cell service in this area, so it’s best to avoid any accidents.

When you are inside the ice cave, you can walk pretty far back on part of the creek that is frozen over. The water level changes throughout the year, but it can be very deep here.

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!

If you don’t want to enter the ice cave in the summer for obvious reasons, Castner Glacier and ice cave is still cool to see from outside of the cave.

Castner Glacier Hike
View Richardson Highway Alaska Range

Hiking Castner Glacier During Winter

It’s possible to see Castner Glacier ice cave during the winter. The winter trail usually follows the southeast side of Castner Creek bridge.

However, winter access is constantly changing through the winter season as different hiking groups blaze their own trails through deep snow, especially after a heavy snowfall.

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 and change day-to-day. There are no signs that tell you where to go and a lot of people rely on snow tracks from other recent visitors.

By December, the route to Castner Glacier is usually covered in deep snow and you’ll want to use snowshoes or skis to get to the ice cave.

If you see a packed trail, make sure to follow it for safety reasons. You do not want to fall through holes in the snow or ice and risk getting hypothermia or frostbite.

Unless you’ve already been to Castner Glacier a couple of times, blizzard snow conditions will make navigation a lot more difficult, especially when there is no packed trail to follow.

Many self-guided groups don’t make it to the ice cave because of bad weather or being under prepared.

Castner Creek is usually frozen over near the ice cave, but you may still find open water inside of the ice cave if you visit early in the winter season. Ice cleats may be useful while exploring inside.

The winter route length is 2.5 miles roundtrip. It’s a short winter hike and should only take about 40 minutes to one hour to reach the ice cave from the parking area.

Daylight is limited in the winter so make sure to start your hike early in the day so you can avoid hiking back in the dark.

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.
  • Check driving conditions for the Richardson Highway on 511.Alaska.Gov.
  • Dress appropriately and plan to be outside for 2 to 3 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.
  • Always test the ice when crossing Castner Creek.
  • Start earlier in the day so you have enough daylight hours to navigate the area.
  • Carry a headlamp or flashlight so you can see inside of the ice cave.

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 at this viewpoint, the views of the mountains in the eastern Alaska Range and looking out to the Richardson Highway are pretty awesome.

If you are more experienced in hiking and glacier travel, you can explore beyond the Castner Glacier terminus in search of the other ice caves that are accessible during summer.

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.

Gulkana glacier near fairbanks
Gulkana Glacier

Castner Glacier Hiking Tours

If you are unfamiliar with winter hiking or glacier travel, I would highly consider booking a tour. Steven Miley Photography is a local guide that offers winter hiking tours to Castner Glacier from October 1 to April 30.

You can choose between standard tours and expert tours. The standard tour durations are typically 3 to 4 hours and 2.5 miles roundtrip whereas the expert tour option is 8 to 12 hours long and more than 5 miles roundtrip. Difficulty ratings vary from easy to difficult, depending on which tour option you choose.

This is a fun experience for larger groups of travelers that want to see a unique part of Alaska.

Happy hiking!


Read More

Hike Gulkana Glacier Trail in Alaska

The Ultimate Alaska Glaciers Road Trip

What to Wear Hiking in Alaska (Summer)

Alaska Travel Guide


Pin For Later

Castner Glacier is a half-mile trail that leads you to a hidden ice cave. Located off the Richardson Highway in #Alaska, you don't want to miss this hike. #alaska #travelalaska #glacierhike #icecave #glacier

Do you have any questions about hiking Castner Glacier Trail? Let me know in the comments.

About Andrea Kuuipo

I was born and raised in Anchorage and have been able to travel to many places around Alaska. As an Alaska Travel Blogger, I love sharing my favorite things to see and do in my home state to help others plan an incredible trip!

27 thoughts on “Hike Castner Glacier Ice Cave Trail in Alaska”

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  2. 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?

    Reply
    • 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 you’re used to. Also, if you are headed into the ice cave, be very careful about standing on top of the creek if it appears to be frozen still. Hope this helps! – Andrea

      Reply
  3. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  4. 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.
    thanks
    Michelle

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  5. 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 lost. This looks like a great adventure. Thanks in advance for the help!!!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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