Alaska has an overwhelming amount of glaciers and there are so many different ways to see them. If you’re planning on driving through the state then you’ll have plenty of opportunities, whether it’s from the road, the sky, the deck of a boat, or on a hike.
You won’t be disappointed when you take some time to go on the ultimate Alaska glaciers road trip!
1. Root Glacier
This Alaska glaciers road trip starts all the way out in Alaska’s largest national park, Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Getting there requires you to leave your car at the end of McCarthy Road, cross over a foot bridge, and take a shuttle the rest of the way to Kennecott. The Root Glacier trail starts at the end of the main street in Kennecott, an abandoned mining town. You will follow the trail for two miles and be rewarded with incredible mountain and glacier views. Bring your crampons because you can walk on Root Glacier.
2. Worthington Glacier
Next, we will head out of Wrangell St. Elias National Park towards Valdez. Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site is located in Thompson Pass, 28 miles northeast of Valdez. The hike to Worthington Glacier is only two miles to the foot of the glacier. You can follow a short, paved hike to a viewing platform or go further as you follow along a narrow ridge. This is a popular spot for visitors and there is plenty of parking available. It’s worth a visit!
3. Columbia Glacier
Located in Prince William Sound, this glacier can be seen on a day cruise from Valdez. Continue south towards the city of Valdez and hop on a tour boat. Columbia Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in Southcentral Alaska. It’s 32-miles long and covers an area of 400 square miles. Boat tours usually run 6+ hours. You’ll have a good chance of getting up close to the 200 to 400-foot tall glacier (within 1 mile) and hopefully witness calving in action. You’ll also get to enjoy some incredible wildlife viewing along the way.
4. Matanuska Glacier
As you drive back towards Anchorage, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see this 27-mile long, 4-mile wide glacier from the roadside. Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States. You can drive right up to it in Glacier View but you’ll have to pay to access it. It’s a great opportunity to walk on a glacier in Alaska. My favorite views of Matanuska Glacier are from the top of Lion Head.
5. Knik Glacier
Continue on the Glenn Highway towards Anchorage. Knik Glacier sits on the northern end of the Chugach Mountains. The glacier has an impressive five-mile-wide face and 400-foot ice walls that rise out of a lake. There are no roads to Knik Glacier but you can catch a glimpse of it as you drive south of Palmer. Hiking to the top of Bodenburg Butte, near Palmer, offers views of the Knik Glacier and amazing, 360-degree views of the surrounding area. There are also summer tours that get up close to the glacier by hopping on an ATV. During the wintertime, you can fat bike to the glacier.
6. Raven Glacier
You’ll end up driving past Anchorage to continue on to the Glenn Highway to Girdwood. Raven Glacier sits along the Crow Pass Trail, a 23-mile trail from Girdwood to Eagle River. You can find parking and the trailhead at the end of Crow Creek Road. Raven Glacier is a 4.5-mile hike that gradually climbs 2000 feet up the valley. It’s one of my favorite hikes in Girdwood and you’ll get some incredible views of the glacier and the other side of the valley. If you have the time, I recommend doing the full thru-hike to Eagle River.
7. Explorer Glacier
You’ll leave the town of Girdwood and drive south along the Glenn Highway. You’ll head towards Portage and take a left onto Portage Glacier Road. Follow the road for a few miles and if you look up to the right, you will see a couple of hanging glaciers. Explorer Glacier is small but there are plenty of pullouts in the area to view the glacier. The glacier feeds into the Portage River. Getting up close to this glacier requires a bit of bushwhacking, so I would advise against it.
8. Portage Glacier
Continue down Portage Glacier Road. Keep right to continue on Portage Lake Loop and follow signs for Portage Glacier/Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Unfortunately, you can’t see Portage Glacier from the Begich Boggs Visitor Center anymore. In order to see the glacier, you have a couple of options. You can go on an hour-long Portage Glacier cruise or drive to Whittier and hike Portage Pass Trail to get a view of the glacier.
9. Byron Glacier
From Begich Boggs Visitor Center, you can turn onto Byron Glacier Road. The parking area for Byron Glacier will be one mile down the road. This hike is one of the easiest glacier hikes in Alaska. The trail is 3-miles roundtrip and relatively flat. The most challenging part of the trail is crossing the boulder field, if you want to get to the face of the glacier. There are usually opportunities to explore ice caves here.
10. Blackstone Glacier
Get back on Portage Glacier Road and drive to the town of Whittier. In order to reach Whittier, you will have to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The tunnel runs one direction at a time, so make sure to plan it right or you’ll be waiting for a while. To get to Blackstone Glacier, you will have to take a cruise through Blackstone Bay, a dramatic deep-water fjord where two tidewater glaciers and several alpine glaciers await. The cruise offers views of Blackstone Glacier, Tebenkof Glacie, Beloit Glacier, waterfalls, and opportunities for wildlife sightings.
11. Spencer Glacier
This glacier is a little different because you can only see it by railroad. You’ll leave the town of Whittier back through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, but you won’t be leaving in your car. Instead, you’ll leave on the train. The Alaska Railroad will take you from Whittier to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. From there, you can hop off the train and hike a 1.3 mile well-maintained path to Spencer Glacier.
12. Exit Glacier
Head back to Whittier on the train and drive back to the Glenn Highway. Follow the Glenn Highway south to Seward. You’ll take a right onto Herman Leirer Road and follow Exit Glacier Road to the end. There is plenty of parking available here. The Exit Glacier trail is a short 1-mile loop that offers easy and epic views. You can continue past the Exit Glacier area to make your way to Harding Icefield.
13. Bear Glacier
This is the last glacier on our Alaska glaciers road trip and it’s not the easiest one to visit. You’ll drive into the city of Seward. In order to access Bear Glacier, you will have to get onto the water or see it from the sky. You can take a water taxi to Bear Glacier Lagoon, or go on a guided kayaking tour. On this trip, you’ll be able to admire the beautiful coastline, and see marine life like whales and porpoise.
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