Glacier Hiking in Alaska | Tordrillo Mountain Lodge

Guide to Glacier Hiking in Alaska

August 9, 2022

Did you know glaciers are found on every continent in the world except Australia? In fact, these slow-moving rivers of ice cover 10% of Earth’s surface—yet the opportunity to see one up close doesn’t come around often, if ever. And, as Earth’s temperature gradually rises, glaciers are retreating across the globe, making the opportunity to witness these remnants of the ice age even more spectacular. It’s quite an experience to stand on something so large, so old, and that’s changing so much.

If you’re looking for one of the coolest activities you can do on two feet, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge offers some pretty cool info on everything you need to know about glacier hiking.

Glacier Hiking in Alaska

Did you know that a majority of glaciers in the United States can be found in Alaska? In fact, Alaska has 616 officially named glaciers and tens of thousands more that are unnamed (some estimates account for 100,000 glaciers in Alaska) with opportunities for both guided and unguided glacier hiking. 

However, not all glaciers are created equal, and not all can be hiked – let alone accessed. Since hiking on a giant piece of moving ice certainly has its dangers, most national parks strongly discourage or prohibit glacier trekking. But, since Alaska has the highest quantity of glaciers around, there’s more opportunity to lace up your hiking boots to adventure.

Two people stand between a cracked glacier with white and bright blue ice in Alaska.

Here are some of the most popular spots for glacier hiking:   

  • Exit Glacier: Located in Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier has a multitude of hikes. Some of the most popular include the easily accessible Edge of the Glacier Trail (aka the Lower Trail) and the nine-mile round trip Harding Icefield Trail. 
  • Columbia Glacier: Alaska’s most popular glacier. You can weather this 400 square mile piece of ice by foot, boat, or helicopter.
  • Mendenhall Glacier: Sitting just 12 miles outside of Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier has a popular four mile trail that’s advised for hikers (The West Glacier Trail). It isn’t the most established or maintained trail, so you may want to bring a guide along with you!   
  • Byron Glacier: This glacier offers a short and sweet trail that gives stellar views! It’s less than a mile from the top to bottom and is relatively flat, but once you get to the foot of the glacier, you may hit some rocky patches or cross a few shallow streams depending on the time of the year. Either way, this short walk gives a big experience! 
  • Spencer Glacier: This glacier is especially cool because it’s only accessible by the Alaska Railroad. With walls of ice rising over 3,500 feet and a ton of waterfalls, you’ll be amazed by its beauty. 
  • Triumvirate Glacier: Located in the Tordrillo Mountains, this glacier is composed of three glaciers and totals about 14 miles. Just a short helicopter ride away, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge can bring you to the heart of these ice masses and safely explore moulins (massive glacial sinkholes), ice caves, and crevasses. Learn more about heli hiking with our awesome group of experienced guides.

What is the Best Time of Year to Go Glacier Hiking?

The best time to see glaciers—and hike on them—is in the summer, when most of the winter snow has melted away and temperatures are more comfortable. Another bonus of a summer trip to Alaska is the sun never sets (during June, anyway), which means you can pack more into each day. Late May to mid-September is a great time to visit Alaska.

A group of three hikers stand near a glacier crevasse with mountains in the background.

What to Wear Glacier Hiking

The basic equipment for glacier hiking includes standard hiking equipment, like comfortable hiking boots, layered clothing, sun protection, and anything else you would bring for a day hike. However, depending on the hike, level of difficulty—and the innate dangers of glacier hiking—additional equipment might be needed and recommended to ensure your safety.

What to Bring

The supplies you should bring on a glacier hike largely depends on the season, but in general, there are a few essential items you’ll want to have handy:

  • A secure backpack
  • Micro-spikes (crampons) to wear on the outside of your shoes to assist with gripping the ice 
  • Helmet
  • Appropriate attire, such as warm layers, extra socks, sturdy footwear, etc.
  • Sunglasses or other eye protection
  • Water and light, compact snacks

There’s no better time to see glaciers than when you’re already in Alaska. As they continue to recede, there’s no telling how easy it will be to glacier trek in the future. If you’re ready to book it to Alaska, take a look at the summer packages at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge and get ready for the trip of a lifetime.

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