Trip to Alaska Reasons: #6 – Melting Glaciers
No matter how you feel about global warming or greenhouse gas emissions, there’s no denying that most of Alaska’s (and the world’s) glaciers are getting smaller. It’s been happening for more than a century. That doesn’t mean we’ll see a world without glaciers anytime soon. But, it does mean that they’ll be less impressive, the longer you wait to see one.
Alaska has numerous icefields that feed multiple glaciers, and several of them are very easy to visit. Just outside of Seward, you can drive into Kenai Fjords National Park, then take a short hike to see Exit Glacier. This melting glacier is one of the tongues protruding from the Harding Icefield, which covers the tops of the surrounding mountains. On the hike in, you’ll pass dated markers showing the glacier’s former extent. While its current expanse is dramatically smaller than it was, it’s still an impressive, immense hunk of ice.
East of Anchorage, at the top of the Matanuska Valley (half of the Mat-Su valley which contains Anchorage and surrounding towns), The Matanuska Glacier is big and impressive. You can see it from the Glenn Highway, or pay an admission fee to a private attraction for an up-close look. Actually hiking on the glacier is an option, with the proper precautions.
South of Anchorage, there’s a glacier that can be seen by hike or by scenic cruise. If you’d prefer the hike, drive out to Whittier (passing through the one-lane railroad/auto tunnel), then set out on the Portage Pass Trail. It’s a short uphill hike, and at the pass, you’ll be able to look over onto Portage Glacier. You can also hike down the other side of the pass to Portage Lake, where icebergs that have broken off from the glacier float in the chilly water.
If you’d rather float than hike, you can take a scenic cruise on Portage Lake. This option will get you even closer to the glacier — but you’ll miss out on the incredible views from Portage Pass.