We had our very first up close and personal encounter with a glacier along Canada’s incredible Icefields Parkway, on our trip North to Alaska and from that moment on we’ve been hooked on ancient ice.

Among the very long list of things we wanted to see during our summer in Alaska, Glaciers were at the very top.  Our first few weeks in the 49th State had us exploring The Richardson Highway, where we found out there wasn’t one but two epically amazing glaicers, each boasting their own version of an ice cave.

You can probably guess what happened next…

Gulkana Glacier

 

Want to know the ingredients for an epically awesome day hike? Take one part sketchy suspension bridge, add in 360 degrees of stunning mountain views, and top it off with an incredible ice arch at the foot of a glacier; that’s exactly what you’ll get and more when you make the trek out to the Gulkana Glacier.

 

 

 

We spent 4 hours on this amazing trail and could have easily spent more if we hadn’t gotten such a late start in the day.  You can check out the video of our hike on the Gulkana Glacier here:

 

 

A hike to the Gulkana winds through thickets of alder, brings you across the aforementioned sketchy suspension bridge ( if you’re looking for a place to practice your Indiana Jones impressions this is it), and up a gravel bar into the medial moraine, and right up to the ice arches,  from there it’s a trip across the river to the toe of the glacier. There was once a second suspension bridge located here that is no longer in place so if you want to actually get on the glacier you’re going to need to cross a very, very cold river. Is it worth it?  For sure!  Use caution, bring extra clothing, and dry footwear! You’ll thank us for that bit of advice later!

 

Trail Details:

 

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Distance: 4 Miles Round-trip (according to the BLM), though we found ourselves questioning this measurement. Other sources have it closer to 6. Keep in mind the further down the road you park the further the distance of the hike.

 

Route Type: Out and Back.  This is a mostly unmarked trail, we passed the occasional cairn along the way but it’s not easy to get to where you’re going just keep the glacier in your forward vision and you’ll find your way!

 

Trail Surface: Gravel Bar

 

Trailhead: Mile Marker 197.5 on the Richardson Highway, just past the Richardson Monument heading South. Turn left onto the gravel road, and drive as far back as you feel comfortable before parking. The glacier is visible in the distance.

 

Traveler’s Tip: There are excellent off the “road” camping spots along the gravel bar for anyone looking to camp in solitude.

 

Castner Glacier

 

There is a good chance that if you’ve done any research about Glaciers hikes in Alaska you’ve heard about the Castner. What makes this one special, even borderline famous is it’s massive ice caves; some of which runs 500 miles deep into the heart of the ice.

 

Ice Cave Inside Glacier

 

After having had the most incredible time hiking the Gulkana Glacier we of course had to give this one a shot too!

 

 

Our first attempt to find the massive Castner ice cave ended in disappointment, after hours of searching we never found the cave. But we’re not quitters. So after heading home, and nursing our bruised ego’s we tried again. This time we found the cave! And it was nothing at all like we expected. But if you want to know more about that, you’ll just have to watch the video:

 

Trail Details:

 

Castner Creek Alaska

 

Distance: .50 Miles

 

Route Type: Out and Back.  This is a mostly unmarked trail, we passed the occasional cairn along the way but it’s not easy to get to where you’re going just keep the glacier in your forward vision and you’ll find your way!

 

Trail Surface: Gravel Bar

 

Trailhead: Mile Marker 217.3 on the Richardson Highway. On the North side of Castner Creek a gravel road leads a half mile back until dissolving into a trailhead.

GPS Coordinates To The Ice Cave: 63°24’13.1″N 145°41’56.8″W

 

Where We Parked It

 

Fielding Lake State Recreation Site is just a stone’s throw away from both of these incredible hikes. The best part? It’s entirely free!

 

Fielding Lake State Park Alaska

You won’t find any hookups, or even trash cans here, but for what you lose in amenities you gain in pure and perfect nature. In the 3 nights we spent here, we only had one neighbor, and rarely ever saw anyone else even drive through the area.

 

Fielding Lake SRA

 

Because of its remoteness Fielding Lake is also known as a hotspot for wildlife spotting.  We left feeling a little bummed we didn’t spot a moose in the lake, but our neighbors did report that one came right past our campsite the night before we got there and a lynx was also spotted nearby. Even though we missed out on the moose we did have nightly visits from a local beaver.

 

Essential Gear For Glacier Hiking:

 

Hiking On The Richardson Highway AK

 

It goes without saying that the more prepared you are when heading out into the backcountry the better your experience will be. Glaciers can be wild and unpredictable places. We always say it’s better to have and not need that to need and wish you had. Here is a list of items we carried when heading out on our glacier hikes to get you started on your own packing list:

 

  • Backpack- This one is pretty obvious, where else are you going to put all your snacks? These are what we carry:
    • Men’s Pack– The actual pack DJ carries is an oldie but a goodie so while it still working its too hard to part with. This pack is very simlar though.
    • Women’s Pack–  The need for a new pack arose our very first week in Alaska so we picked this one up at the local REI and have loved it ever since.

 

  • Bear Bells & Bear Spray- Are essential items when trying to not get eaten by bears in the backcountry. If you want to know more about how not to get eaten by a bear while hiking you can check out our post and video on that here.

 

  • First Aid Kit- A small light weight first aid kit is something no hiker should ever be without.
    • This is what we carry on short hikes-

 

  • Sturdy Pair of Hiking Shoes With Good Grip- You’re going to want to leave the sandals at home for this one. Closed toe grippy hiking shoes will save your toes from the chaucey surface of the gravel bar. This is what we wore:

 

  • Water Bottle- You can never go wrong with a reusable water bottle we are big fans of both of these for hiking:

 

 

  • Several Layers of Clothing- Layering is key on any hike. Think lightweight breathable clothing, if you start sweating ditch a layer, as it evaporates off your body it can quickly affect your body temperature and in the wrong conditions cause hypothermia.

 

  • Rain Jacket- We’re big fans of carrying a rain jacket, even on a sunny day it can come in handy as a windbreaker, and if you’re venturing onto a glacier you will always encounter wind! These are our favorites for lightweight hiking

 

  • Good Camera- Glaciers hikes are awesome, and chances are you’ll want to remember how awesome they are by taking lots of bad a$$ pics while on your adventure. We love our Go Pro for rugged adventuring.

 

  • Microspikes- Anytime we are headed anywhere we think we might find ice, we always make sure to have our microspikes stashed in our packs.
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