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I’ve now made three trips to Alaska – two with the kids and one alone. I’ve seen several glaciers from afar. They are beautiful, blue and mysterious.
Until the most recent trip, I had never been very close to a glacier. I’d never touched a glacier and had not even seen from closer than about a half mile away. They are truly massive, and just not that easy to access. You can get near them on boats, but if they are actively calving it can be dangerous to get too close.
I wanted to take the kids to a close encounter with a glacier. All the ones in close proximity are just too much of a hike, and we had my friend’s daughter with us as well. She’s younger than my kids, so she’s even more limited in her ability to walk. Matanuska is about two and a half hours outside of Anchorage and accessible by car, but almost six hours roundtrip in the car seemed like too much after a week full of activities.
I lucked into finding Byron Glacier, in the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula. It is not well publicized, but it is right next to the more popular Portage Glacier.
It is an easy hike that is only a little under two miles round-trip, and the path is almost completely even. There is only about a 100 ft elevation change during the hike. There was some foot traffic, but it wasn’t what I would consider crowded. Definitely family friendly!
The path to the glacier meanders along a stream. The kids stopped often, taking the time to skip rocks across the stream. They had so much fun doing that, they probably would have forgotten the glacier if I hadn’t been prodding them to keep going.
When you reach the end of the trail, the stream is on your left and is wider than much of the hike. A wide snowfield lies ahead of you with a glacial wall leading vertically from the snow. To get to the snow, you have to walk over a small section of rocks.
We stayed on the snowfield and didn’t venture onto the icy vertical section. There were families higher than us, but I’m from Texas. I’ve got zero glacier experience. I didn’t think it was too prudent for me to go higher. I’ve been subjected to enough Man vs Wild-type TV shows by my husband to know glaciers aren’t a great idea to run around on all willy-nilly.
I wish we would have allotted more time to play at the glacier. The kids really enjoyed it, and I did too. There are few completely free activities in Alaska, and this is a must experience adventure I would have done even if we had to pay to play. Definitely add it to your list of things to do if you are in either Anchorage or Seward.
Getting to Byron Glacier
At mile 79, Seward Highway (49 miles south of Anchorage), turn north onto Portage Valley Road. Travel 6 miles (past Begich, Boggs Visitor Center) to trailhead parking. It is just prior to the Portage Glacier boat dock. Parking was free. Map and more information at the Chugach National Forest website.