Imagine hiking to a Glacial Lake with wildflowers and berries lining the path. If this sounds like the perfect hike to you, then you will love the Portage Glacier trail 🥾. This spectacular hike in Whittier, Alaska is worth adding to your bucket list!
Dylan and I have done a few glacier hikes this summer and this was one of our all time favorites. With ample berry picking, gorgeous fireweed 🌸🌸 lining the shores, and the opportunity to paddle through the water, it simply blew us away!
We have been recommending this hike to everyone we know.
Read this complete guide for all of the details about the Portage Glacier trail! It includes how to get there, what to pack, and everything you need to know before going.
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Table of Contents
Portage Glacier Trail Details
Quick Hike Info
Distance: 2.5-5.5 miles
Elevation: 1000-1400 feet of gain
Type: Out and Back
Length: 1.5-4 hours total (depends on how much you want to explore)
Difficulty: Moderate (It’s a steep climb, but overall it’s easy to follow)
Portage Glacier Location
Portage Glacier is located on 📍 Portage Lake on the Kenai Peninsula in the town of Whittier. This town is situated on the scenic Prince William Sound.
It’s about 1.5 hours from Anchorage by car and 2 hours from Seward. Although this town is small, it’s a very unique place to visit with a 2 mile one way tunnel, the Begich Towers (home to all Whittier residents), and of course the Portage Glacier trail.
How to Get to Whittier
Getting to Whittier requires some planning, but it’s not too difficult if you prepare ahead of time. There are three options to get there:
- Drive through the 2 mile one way tunnel
- Take the Glacier Discovery Train
- Go on a cruise through Alaska
If you want to drive 🚗 to Whittier, then you will need to pass through the 2 mile long one way tunnel. This tunnel only has one way traffic, so there are windows of time for cars to drive in and drive out. You can look at the schedule here.
The tunnel is $13 for regular sized cars, which you only pay on the way in. Then, on the way out you do not have to pay to leave.
It’s an incredibly unique experience to drive this tunnel and it’s so worth it!
During the summer, you can take the train from Anchorage to Whittier and back. This train is called the Glacier Discovery Route 🚞 and it is 2.5 hours one way. There is a morning trip there and an evening trip back.
So, you can spend a whole day doing a tour, exploring the area, or going on the Portage Glacier Trail!
So, you can spend some time exploring Prince William Sound and getting out for a hike in the area. It’s a great short stop to see!
Best Time to Hike Portage Glacier Trail
The best time to hike up to Portage Glacier is in the short summer ☀️. Alaska’s summer usually lasts from around late June to early September. We hiked the trail in mid-August and had a cloudy but beautiful day! In most other times of year, it can be snowy and very cold.
If you are going to hike this trail during the Fall or Spring, just be prepared with plenty of layers and have shoes with good traction.
During the winter, you can skip the tunnel and hike to the Portage Glacier over the lake when it is frozen 🧊. However, you must make sure that the lake is frozen solid and take extra safety precautions! The Alaska winter is very cold and dark.
Things to Know Before You Go
💵 There is no entrance fee to hike the Portage Pass Trail. But, it does cost $13 to enter the tunnel with a regular sized vehicle.
☀️ Weather changes quickly in the mountains and the glaciers have been calving. It’s important to stay alert and have an exit strategy if anything happens.
⛺️ There are two campgrounds on Portage Glacier Road. Black Bear Campground and Williwaw Campground are both very popular for camping in the summer.
🐻 This is grizzly and brown bear country! Make sure that you stay bear aware and carry bear spray with you on the trails.
🦮 Pets are allowed on the Portage Pass Tail, but be extra watchful for other wildlife. Bears and moose can be a threat to them.
⚠️ The Whittier tunnel is open year round, but it follows a strict opening schedule. Make sure to get the latest opening times on the Alaska Department of Transportation website so you don’t get stuck.
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Portage Glacier Trail Description
To Portage Pass
The initial part of the hike is steep as you gain about 700 feet in just under a mile. In August you can pass this time and take breaks by picking the wild berries 🍓 on the bushes that line the trail!
Once you get to the top of this steep ascent you’ll get to the Portage Glacier Lookout.
It’s a fantastic stopping point to take photos 📸 of the glacier and the surrounding area. There are multiple viewpoints to stop and explore, so you can test out all of the angles there.
Onto Portage Lake & Portage Glacier
From the lookout, you’ll have to walk down the hill and continue on the path to the lake. It descends about 600 feet, which means on the way back you’ll have to climb up again.
But, then after walking through the bushy path, you’ll finally make it to the stunning glacial lake and it is absolutely spectacular! Spend some time here sitting by the shoreline and enjoying the views 🤩 of the glacier.
If it’s a super nice day, you could even take a cold plunge in the water or paddle on an inflatable paddleboard (you would have to hike with it though). There’s nothing that compares to getting near a glacier and just taking in these incredible formations.
It’s a spectacular hike. Once you’re done soaking it all in, then you’ll head back the way you came!
This is a short day hike, but Alaska weather is extremely fickle. Plus, at the glacial lake it often gets a bit chillier and windier. So, it’s important to pack layers and be prepared for all types of conditions.
However, if you have good weather on a nice day, then you can even pack an inflatable paddleboard or kayak! Paddling 🚣♀️ through this glacial lake is an incredibly unqiue experience and I wish we had gotten the chance to do it!
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Day Pack
- Hiking poles
- 2-3 Liters of Water
- Snacks and Food
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray (very buggy trail)
- Rain jacket or light winter jacket
- Satellite phone
- Inflatable Paddleboard or Kayak (Optional)
- Downloaded AllTrails Map
Final Tips for the Portage Glacier Trail
If you’re traveling to the Kenai Peninsula, then you need to go on the Portage Glacier trail! It’s a stunning day hike that is perfect for individuals with all abilities. I hope you add this trek to your itinerary.
Let me know if you enjoyed this trail guide in the comments!
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