In late autumn of last year, Kat, our photographer friend JJ, and I went on a last-minute trip to Alaska’s Anchorage area. It was an incredible trip, with giant mountains and glaciers as a backdrop and golden fall leaves everywhere.
We weren’t sure what the trip had in store for us, but we knew we definitely wanted to see a glacier. We were fortunate enough to be staying with the amazing people over at Into the Woods Alaska. After hearing we were itching for a glacier, they graciously offered to take us on a hike to one. Also, be sure to check out the Instagram page for more photos from these Alaska glacier hikes!
Into the Girdwood area in Southern Alaska is the start of the 6-7 mile Crow’s Pass Trail! I’d recommend if you aren’t going with a local, definitely download the AllTrails map and have a GPS. There are many switchbacks on this trail, and honestly, it’d be pretty easy for someone unfamiliar to get frustrated and lost. This is not an easy hike! I’d recommend that you are somewhat in shape, have outdoor shoes, and bring food and water for the trek. If you’re fast and aren’t stopping to take pictures like us, you can do it in 4-5 hours. Depending on whether you want to hike all the way to Raven Glacier is also essential to take note. The ground goes from a dirt trail to loose rock terrain, so be prepared to do a little scrambling.
First half of Crow’s Pass (also known as the hike to the old mine):
The beginning of the trail in September when we went almost feels like a rainforest. Green plants surrounding you for about 30 minutes as you being to climb. It is also more humid than the rest of the trail in this section, and I was afraid I might’ve brought too many layers (it gets colder later). As we moved out of the “rainforest” layer, we’re on the side of these beautiful orange and red hills, the craggy mountains in front of us. This was one of the most beautiful views I think I’ve experienced in nature. And it just surrounded us everywhere you looked. At one point, JJ ran to the top of one of the hills, and we got the epic shot above.
Eventually, we made it to the old mine. Remnants of rusted machinery are all that’s left. This was really the first time we took a quick break since starting. We had a snack and then prepared for the first, I’d say, challenging climb up the trail.
Second Half: To the Glacier
After stopping for the quick snack, we continued on our trek. At this point, the trail started increasing in elevation, and switchbacks were more common. There are a few glaciers in this trail area, and it being toward the end of summer, we had to cross a glacial stream and a couple of beautiful waterfalls. After crossing the stream, we arrived where a small cabin existed alongside a lake fed directly from a higher up glacier. We stopped again for a snack, about 2 hours into our hike at this point. The glacial lake interested JJ thoroughly, and after make up his mind that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim in glacier water, he went for the icy plunge. I skipped this, as I didn’t want to freeze my butt off!
The next 30 minutes of the hike were majestic. It felt like I was in Middle Earth; sweeping mountains that were towering over us as we walked between them. Suddenly, the terrain changed to loose rock, but the thing that caught my attention was the sudden view of Raven Glacier’s blue ice giant. The final part of the hike to Raven Glacier was the most challenging, involving a lot of scrambling over the loose rocks, and after almost 2 hours of hiking, I was definitely a little tired.
However, after another 20-30 minutes, we made it to Raven Glacier. I don’t think any of the pictures we took did it justice. The glacier was so blue when viewed up close! Being late summer/early autumn, there was a fair amount of melting water, creating beautiful waterfalls off the side of the mountain. This encounter with such an ancient formation felt like being in the past. It was worth every step of the hike, and I would recommend this to anyone visiting the Alaska region once the snow has gone away.
My last note on this hike: hiking poles are beneficial! They made it so much easier to do and if I was to do anymore Alaska glacier hikes, I’d bring my own personal poles. And the return hike, which is downhill, was challenging on my knees (I have some old injuries) and made it much more accessible.
The Crow’s Pass Hike to Raven Glacier on AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/alaska/crow-pass-trail-to-crystal-lake-and-barnes-mountain
Exit Glacier: An easier Glacial Encounter
The other glacier we went to was Exit Glacier, in the Seward Region of Alaska. This glacier is much more accessible to get too. Staying in Anchorage, Alaska, it took around 2.5 to 3 hours to drive, however, it is a beautiful drive and well worth it. Once you arrive at the Kenai Fjords National Park, you will drive along the river stemming from Exit Glacier. At the end of the road, there’s a parking lot for the various trailheads. We choose one of the easier paths, mostly because we were tired from Crow’s Pass the day before.
After a 15-20 minute walk on a paved pathway with signs, we reached a rocky field along a river. There was actually a more direct path, but there had been bear sightings recently so it was closed. Walking a bit further on this will land you pretty close to the glacier base, which is feeding the river. BEWARE: the river can be swift! This path doesn’t get you right to the glacier (it is possible to go all the way), but you can get some good photos. We also saw a few juvenile bald eagles while we were hiking in the area, so be sure to look around if you head to Exit Glacier.
Exit Glacier has some spectacular viewpoints, and if you are looking for a more challenging hike, you can hike all the way up to the ice fields on top of the glacier. If you do, just make sure you are prepared as it is a long hike and in elevation (similar to Crow’s Pass)! Exit Glacier also is a fascinating visual representation of how climate change has affected the Earth. Along the glacier’s path are signs denoting the year at which the glacier’s length was at during that point. And sadly, it seems the melt is increasing. It is a beautiful reminder to help take care of this earth!
These two Alaska glacier hikes are some of the most beautiful and approachable in southern Alaska. Whether you want to take a long trek to Raven Glacier or the Exit Glacier ice fields, there are some fantastic ways to get up close and personal. Make sure to head over to Instagram as we’ve been posting some excellent photos from these Alaska glacier hikes! And I’ll be adding some Alaska inspired recipes as well!