When you think about stereotypical Alaska, what springs to mind? Freezing cold temperatures, miles of untouched wilderness or perhaps wildlife spottings that you would rarely see anywhere else in the world. All of these thoughts are accurate but for the aspiring geologists out there, the presence of glaciers throughout Alaska will be an intriguing attraction. If you are considering taking day trips from Anchorage, there are a number of glaciers worth visiting including the iconic Portage Glacier located along the scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward.
Visiting Alaska is the ultimate experience for those of you that love the outdoors and want to enjoy the adventures of exploring this “untouched wilderness”. Exploring the geological phenomena of glaciers is something that I was particularly excited about before we visited Alaska, so when we decided to take a day trip to Portage Glacier, I was raring to find out more.
For those of you planning to stay in and around Anchorage for a few days, this post will hopefully inspire you take a few day trips and explore the surrounding region. Driving north to Denali is a must but there are certainly enough experiences in the vicinity of Anchorage to make it worthwhile spending a few nights here.
Best Day Trips from Anchorage
Although Anchorage may seem like a relatively small city in comparison to other cities around the country, there are not many that offer such amazing experiences within such short driving distances.
Here are some of the best day trips from Anchorage that are worth considering the next time you visit the Alaskan capital. These are all trips that we would classify as ‘scenic drives’ but there are certainly many other types of excursions that you can consider out of Anchorage.
- Turnagain Arm Drive – Essentially this is the first half of the drive from Anchorage to Seward but offers breathtaking, dramatic views across the Turnagain Arm and Chugach State Park on the opposite side.
- Matanuska Glacier Scenic Drive – The Matanuska River Valley offers yet more breathtaking natural landscapes with the opportunity to take a guided hike on the Matanuska Glacier.
- Hatcher Pass Scenic Drive – The Hatcher Pass is a little over an hour from Anchorage and is yet another opportunity to admire a plethora of stunning Alaskan scenery.
- Old Glenn Highway Scenic Drive – If you are looking to experience “old-time Alaska”, hop on the Old Glenn Highway, a 19-mile country road en route to Palmer, AK through Alaskan farmland communities.
- Eklutna Lake Scenic Drive – Our first experience in Alaska was to drive about 30 minutes north of Anchorage and take a 22-mile drive to the heart of Chugach State Park where we arrived at Eklutna Lake. The glacial lake is amazing with a variety of hiking trails but perhaps the highlight is the scenic drive through gorgeous alpine landscapes from the highway to the lake.
- Arctic Valley Road Scenic Drive – If you are ready to go “off-roading” on a typical Alaskan gravel road, take the Arctic Valley Road scenic drive for the ultimate experience. The views from the summit of this 45-minute drive are possibly the most rewarding in the Anchorage area.
So with so many awesome scenic drives to choose from, where we did we decide to go? After leaving Eklutna Lake, we decided to head south along the Turnagain Arm Drive in search of the Portage Glacier.
Let’s find out why we opted for this alternative when there are so many others to choose from (we were literally spoiled for choice)!
Portage Glacier Road
The drive from Anchorage to Portage Glacier offers a number of scenic lookouts that you will want to experience as you peer across the Turnagain Arm. The moment you arrive in the quirky town of Portage and wind away from the water, you could be forgiven for thinking the gorgeous scenery is left behind.
Don’t worry, the drive along Portage Glacier Road is equally breathtaking and as you stumble across some hidden lakes and lookouts along this road, you may well think this is even more beautiful.
On the way back from Portage Lake, we pulled over a one of the various spots and took a short trail through the trees and were amazed at the sight of a gorgeous glacial lake with the mountains reflecting off the calm surface.
There was literally no one else in sight and this was certainly one of the highlights of our trip as we were able to sit down on the banks of the lake and just breathe in the Alaskan air without fear of anyone interrupting us.
If you have more time and are a little more adventurous, perhaps hiking deep into the realms of the mountains to get a closer look at the various glaciers that are present here will interest you. For us, simply admiring the natural beauty surrounding us was enough before we continued on our journey to uncover more hidden gems.
Although the Portage Glacier is in retreat which makes it impossible to see from the Boggs Visitor Center observation decks, there are still ample opportunities to view this glacier. Take a short drive from the visitor center to the cruise port and take an hour-long sightseeing boat cruise on Portage Lake to get an “up close and personal” look at the glacier.
Daily cruises are available between mid-May and mid-September at five different times with the last cruise departing at 4:30PM. For $39 per person ($19 for children), you can experience the hour-long cruise aboard the “mv Ptarmigan” and be only 300 yards away from the glacier.
Enjoy the ice crashing into Portage Lake as you experience the wonderful natural phenomenon of glacial ice carving. For more information, check out the Portage Glacier Cruises website.
Alternatively, if you prefer to don your hiking boots and take a stroll, you can take one of the many trails that lead to the glacier. As you can see with a little time and effort, you will still have plenty of chances to see Portage Glacier.
Unfortunately, we visited moments after the last cruise left, so we had to head to the visitor center for some further information on the best way to see the glacier. However, we did take some time to capture some great photos of Portage Lake which is an amazing scene with the backdrop of the mountains providing a picture perfect landscape.
After visiting the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, the knowledgeable park ranger informed us that we could drive a short distance through the tunnel and on the other side we could catch a glimpse of the retreating Portage Glacier.
Portage is just one of many retreating glaciers within the region. In addition, Burns Glacier, Byron Glacier and several others surround the Portage Valley and offer an intriguing look into the history of glaciation. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if you are intrigued by glacial formations, this part of Alaska is certainly one that you should consider exploring.
Taking the scenic drive to Portage Glacier is just one of many awesome day trips from Anchorage that you should consider taking. Spectacular scenery is guaranteed and you just never quite know what amazing sight will be around each corner on the Portage Glacier Road.
We look forward to making a return trip and hopefully taking advantage of the cruise around Portage Lake because if the experience of getting close to the glacier is similar to what we experienced at Aialik Glacier during our Kenai Fjords cruise, it will be a moment worth cherishing!
Have you explored the area surrounding the Portage Glacier? Do you like to head ‘off the beaten path’ and stumble across hidden gems like we did in this part of Alaska?