The Byron Glacier Trail is scenic and easy to traverse. Whether you’re there to play in the icy water with your dog or relax for a picnic, this is a fantastic hike. If you visit in the winter you can explore the beautiful ice cave below the glacier.
Location: Portage Valley (an hour from Anchorage), Alaska
Kid Friendly: yes
Dog Friendly: yes
Distance: 1.5 miles round-trip
Lat/Long: 60°46'25.4"N 148°50'37.2"W
Directions: If you have GPS look up “Byron Glacier Trail.” From Anchorage, drive south on Seward Highway towards Girdwood (which is the last place to fill up on gas and snacks). Continue on the freeway until you see the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and take a left onto Portage Glacier Rd. You’ll follow this road for roughly 5 miles and then keep on the right side to continue on Portage Lake Loop. Follow the signs toward Portage Glacier/Begich as if you were driving to the visitor center. Take a right on Byron Glacier Rd and continue for a few minutes until you reach the parking lot on the right. If you visit in the winter, Byron Glacier Rd will be closed so just park along the road or near the visitor center. The walk from the visitor center to the trailhead is under 30 minutes.
Kevin and I absolutely love this hike. In the summer it’s an easy walk with lush green scenery and in the winter there’s thick snow for dogs to play in and a massive ice cave to explore. Since it’s such a short and easy hike, you can take your family here no problem.
The drive from Anchorage is beautiful along the Turnagain Arm and offers views of the ocean, faraway mountains, moose, eagles, and sometimes dall sheep on the cliffs. We even watched giant pods of beluga whales swimming near shore once in September, but don’t hold your breath if you’re hoping to see them on the way to Byron Glacier.
The Byron Glacier trailhead is outside a small parking area off the road. We signed the traveler’s visitor log and followed the winding trail through the trees. Every now and then we walked next to the river and Zuko ran to it happily. Once the trees thinned out, we could see Byron Glacier in the distance. The trail ends at a small wooden wall near a mass of rocks. We ended up needing our jackets here because the wind chill was too cold, but Zuko didn’t mind at all.
If you want to make the trek to the faraway glacier in the summer like we did, it'll add about an hour each direction since you have to hike through some snow. Or to cut down on time, you can always sled down half of it!
There are ice caves inside the glacier itself, but we don’t recommend climbing inside them because it can be really dangerous. There are the obvious slipping hazards, but the biggest danger is glacial calving, which is when massive ice chunks that weigh hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds break loose and crash to the ground below. The glacier doesn't care if you happen to be standing there when it lets one of these deadly chunks fall. With that being said, we did explore the dripping glacier and ice caves in the summer and had a great time. But in doing so we heard tons of cracks in the ice, and even had a close encounter with a giant boulder-sized ice chunk crashing down a few yards in front of us. If you have experience with glaciers, it can definitely be fun to see it up close, but be extremely careful and aware of the dangers. Especially when you're near the face of the glacier or when entering or exiting any ice caves.
It's obviously safer to explore inside the glacier during winter when everything is frozen, but I highly doubt you’ll enjoy the trek through the thick snow. But luckily we found a massive, frozen cavern near the viewing point at the end of the trail instead.
When we hiked the trail in winter, we expected to see the faraway glacier and turn around shortly after. Instead, we enjoyed the frozen ice cave below and watched Zuko frolic in the snow. We visited that massive ice cave three different times because it was so beautiful. There are no guarantees that this cave will be there every winter, but if regardless you should bring hot cocoa or coffee (or beer if you have warm gloves), coats and footies for the dogs, and waterproof snow gear. We also brought our Kachula Adventure Blanket for the dogs to lie down on.
Overall, Byron Glacier is a fun little hike to enjoy in Portage Valley. There are tons of other hikes nearby but luckily this one is less crowded than the rest.