Visiting ice caves should not be passed up among Alaska’s many charms. The largest state also has the highest concentration of ice caves in the US. Fortunately, there are some ice caves near Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
Several of the ice caves listed here are within national parks. It makes sense to make plans to explore the caves and enjoy Alaska’s incredible wilderness while you’re at it. The national parks provide an ideal opportunity to do so.
Ice caves are a real treat for those visiting the region. They are beautiful to behold, even if it does take some work to get to them. Unique shapes created by ice, and colours created by the waters from which it is sourced, make for breathtaking experiences.
One thing is certain: If you are visiting the region and nature is your thing, you should try to get to one of these amazing ice waves near Anchorage.
Things to Book in Anchorage Before You Leave Home
Few things are more frustrating on vacation than missing out on that amazing hotel or tour because it is sold out. Here are my top things to book in Anchorage before your vacation.
🏔️ Most Popular Tours in Anchorage:
1. Northern Lights Tour from Anchorage– if you’re determined to see the Northern Lights this is your best chance (I did)
2. Matanuska Ice Caves
3. Mendenhall Ice Caves Tour from Anchorage
4. Helicopter Tour with Glacier Landing – unforgettable bucket list experience
🛏️Where to Stay in Anchorage:
1. Marriott Downtown – surprisingly stylish and great location
2. The Lakefront – stunning location on Lake Spenard and great food
What is an Ice Cave?
Table of Contents
- What is an Ice Cave?
- Why Visit an Alaskan Ice Cave?
- Exploring Ice Caves Near Anchorage
- 1. Spencer Glacier Caves
- 2. Matanuska Glacier Cave
- 3. Byron Glacier Ice Cave
- 4. Kennicott Glacier Ice Caves
- 5. Mendenhall Ice Caves
- FAQs About Ice Caves
- Is It Cold in an Ice Cave?
- Are Ice Caves Dark?
- Why Are Ice Caves Dangerous?
- Where to Stay in Anchorage
- Marriott Anchorage Downtown
- The Lakefront Anchorage
- Final Thoughts on Alaska Ice Caves Near Anchorage
It seems obvious to think that an ice cave is a cave made from ice. In the most basic sense, it is. However, you might be fascinated to know that there are different types of ice caves.
Ice caves and glacier ice caves are formed quite differently. In addition, ice caves change their shape and appearance frequently due to their changeable nature.
The first kind — a standard ice cave — is formed when water or water vapour moves underground and becomes frozen due to rapid freezing.
Because the water often forms into ponds before it freezes, these caves are sometimes called ponded water formations. The ice formed can be very thick and quite spectacular in its structure and colour.
The second ice cave form happens when a water stream flows underneath a glacier. In the process, it carves a tunnel, which then becomes a cave-like structure. These are generally smaller than the first kind mentioned above and are called glacier ice caves. These are the types found in Alaska’s glaciers.
With that said, a word of caution: ice caves are not the safest geological formations to navigate. With safety-first knowledge, common sense, and an experienced guide, you should be safe when exploring one or more of these amazing Ice Caves Near Anchorage, Alaska.
Why Visit an Alaskan Ice Cave?
Aside from the decidedly unique experience of seeing one up close, visiting a glacier ice cave in Alaska must be treasured. To emphasize a point, Alaska is one of the most beautiful states in the US. Its glaciers and wilderness play a large role in that.
Sadly, due to climate change, scientists anticipate that the glaciers and their caves will likely disappear within a few generations. This makes seeing them extra valuable as an experience today.
Exploring Ice Caves Near Anchorage
In Alaska, you may be a little surprised by what is implied by “close” and “near”. A 500 km road trip is not uncommonly distant in this, the largest state in the US, so plan for some time spent in transit, whether by car, train, or plane.
1. Spencer Glacier Caves
Spencer Glacier caves may be the most fun option, as it involves a train. The Glacier Discovery train runs daily from Anchorage, connecting directly to the stop at Spencer, about 95 km away. Departing at 9:45 am, the train arrives in Spencer at 1:45 pm.
The train returns at 4:30 pm if you want to return on the same day. But you may want to stay overnight to enjoy this area fully.
The glacier sits inside Chugach National Forest. I suggest joining a hiking or kayaking tour to get to the glacier and its caves, as they may also be more informational.
2. Matanuska Glacier Cave
The best way to experience a tour of the Matanuska Ice Cave is with a guided tour, which departs from either Anchorage or the Matanuska Glacier terminus.
Getting to the Matanuska Glacier takes around two hours by car from Anchorage. Along the way, you will be impressed with superb visits and views of the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges.
The Matanuska Glacier cave excursions may be more suitable for first-timers, younger visitors and less physically able people, as parts of it are slightly less strenuous to explore. That said, guides typically plan a walk based on the group’s abilities, so be prepared to do a bit of work.
Matanuska Glacier itself is an impressive 6.5km wide and 43 km long. Aside from ice cave adventures, visitors can opt for helicopter and hiking tours of the glacier.
3. Byron Glacier Ice Cave
Byron Bay Glacier sits to the southeast of Anchorage, just over an hour by car. The closest town to the glacier on the main route is Girdwood. I recommend the short hike from the Byron Glacier trailhead to the viewpoint. This gives you a superb view of the glacier before you actually head out onto the ice.
Byron Glacier is known to be relatively unstable, so be cautious if you decide to explore the glacier. Getting to the glacier is also somewhat tricky, as you may need to navigate a creek, slippery rocks, and even watch for avalanches from the nearby hills.
With all that said, the ice caves on Byron are spectacular. You may need to look for them, but when you find them, you’ll be amazed by the gorgeous blue hue. It’s worth noting that there are no permanent locations for these caves. They collapse and reform frequently.
The best advice is to never go exploring alone and, if possible, to take an experienced glacier hiker with you.
Read more about Anchorage and Alaska:
2 Day Anchorage Itinerary
Anchorage Itinerary 4 Days
Best Time of Year to Visit Anchorage Alaska
Facts about Alaska
How to see the Northern Lights in Anchorage
Things to do in Downtown Anchorage
3 Days in Anchorage
4. Kennicott Glacier Ice Caves
The Kennicott glacier and caves are slightly further afield, about 500 km from Anchorage, in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Getting to the glacier involves walking a footbridge across the Kennicott River.
Plenty of ice caves around the Kennicott Glacier, but the glacier itself is constantly shifting shape, so they may not be the easiest to find.
Once again, the best advice is to take a guided tour of the glacier and its caves, as they can be dangerous to navigate as a novice. Guides who regularly walk the trails and caves can establish which are safer to explore.
5. Mendenhall Ice Caves
The Mendenhall Ice Caves are the farthest from Anchorage in terms of distance and will best be reached by plane (90 minutes) to Juneau. From Juneau take an organised tour to see the Mendenhall Ice Caves. By car, the Mendenhall Glacier takes two days to reach.
The trip is well worth it, though. This is one of the world’s most beautiful caves. That is unless you are extremely unfortunate to visit at a time when there are no caves to explore. Due to constantly shifting ice formations, caves appear, collapse and move.
Tip: At the glacier’s base is a waterfall, the Nugget Falls. The view of the waterfall is spectacular and makes for a superb photo op.
FAQs About Ice Caves
Got more questions? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about ice caves.
Is It Cold in an Ice Cave?
It can get pretty cold in an ice cave. On an average day, you should expect temperatures down to -10°C. In addition, consider that ice and snow can make things pretty wet. Aside from warm thermals and good basic gear to traverse the ice, you’ll need waterproof outer layers and a good sense of humour.
Are Ice Caves Dark?
There’s no guarantee of natural light in ice caves, though the surfaces are sometimes quite reflective. Ice caves are interesting in that they can show as different colours. Some reflect as blue, others seem white, and sometimes even black.
That said, it’s not recommended you wander into one without some sort of light. Conditions can change very rapidly, depending on the weather.
Why Are Ice Caves Dangerous?
It is not wise to try to navigate your way into an ice cave or ice glacier cave without a guide. Ice caves are very dangerous to those who do not have some experience getting around them.
Ice shifts and can do so unexpectedly. The cave structures are also prone to cave-ins. In addition, the icy cold and dark produce hidden dangers that a guide may be able to anticipate. Even then, know that exploring ice caves is a serious business with little room for being reckless or irresponsible.
Where to Stay in Anchorage
🌟Rating: 7.6/10 I 📍Location: Downtown Anchorage I 🏩View on Booking.com
I really enjoyed my stay at the Marriott Anchorage Downtown. Normally I am all about boutique hotels but there weren’t many boutique hotel options in Anchorage and I was getting a special media rate at the Marriott so I decided to give it a go – and I loved it!
The Marriott Anchorage Downtown has a fantastic location in the middle of downtown. All the main things to see and do in downtown Anchorage can be accessed on foot even in the snow (as you might imagine Anchorage is very good at shoveling sidewalks etc).
My room was on the eighth floor and I had beautiful views of Anchorage and the surrounding mountains – most of the rooms at the Marriott have great views but make sure you request this so you don’t end up on one of the lower floors.
The rooms are a great size and decorated in a modern style with calming stone blues and greys. My room had two huge queen size beds with mattress toppers and many many pillows. It was extremely comfortable.
The room also had a lovely chaise lounge by the window with a light where I got some work done. The room also had a desk but it was under the television and faced the wall.
I was delighted to find power sockets and USB charge points in multiple places across the room. And even better the coffee in the room was actually quite good quality which was a welcome surprise.
There is a large room service menu for in room dining and a QR code makes ordering easier. I only had room service on one evening and it was delicious. It is also possible to order wine and have it brought up to the room.
The ground floor has a stylish and very comfortable bar with lots of different seating options. The bar has high ceilings and lots of windows which gives it nice lighting.
🌟Rating: 7.2/10 I 📍Location: Anchorage I 🏩View on Booking.com
I also stayed at The Lakefront Hotel which is near Anchorage Airport and of course on a lake. The weather was pretty awful the one night I stayed so I wasn’t able to get a clear view of Lake Spenard – I am sure it is beautiful. Apparently, Lake Spenard is the busiest lake in the world for seaplanes.
This is a large hotel and my room was a good size. The hotel has a strong taxidermy theme so if you don’t like wall-mounted animals this might not be the best choice of accommodation for you. My room was absolutely fine but fairly plain and the decor was a bit dated.
The Lakefront has a couple of restaurant options. There is an outdoor restaurant which was closed when I visited in February but I imagine it is wonderful in the summer. I had a fantastic meal of halibut at the Fancy Moose Lounge.
Final Thoughts on Alaska Ice Caves Near Anchorage
The glacier ice caves of Alaska hold a unique appeal because they are unlikely to last forever. Climate change may lead to the permanent loss of these marvels of nature.
In the meantime, a visit to Alaska must include at least one excursion to see these incredibly beautiful structures. Hopefully, this short list will help you decide which ones you’d like to visit.
The GoWest Summit and Visit Anchorage subsidized part of my trip to Alaska – thanks guys! But I paid for my flights and a media rate at my Anchorage hotel. As always my opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in this article and end up making a purchase I may receive a small commission.