If you read our Ultimate Alaska Roadtrip blog, you know that at the very top of my list for Things I Must Do was to Kayak To and Climb on Glaciers. Basically up until this point, I was just scouring the Alaska MilePost Book looking for random glaciers that we could hike or paddle to. When we found Portage Glacier, we were beside ourselves. It is an absolute must for anyone looking for fun and Adventure. I totally recommend Kayaking To Portage Glacier.
We literally took out an entire fleet of boats. I know we looked like a tour, in fact, several people asked if we were a school or a tour. We took out 11 Jackson Kayaks and two Shaboomee SUP’s. Our Jackson Kayak fleet consisted of one Nirvana, two Zen’s, one Antix, two Sidekicks, three Rockstars, and two Fun 1’s. Our Shaboomee fleet consisted of two awesome Shaboomee River Slayers. For more information on ALL the gear we use to kayak and SUP, check out our Ultimate Gear List!!
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Portage Glacier & Portage Lake
Portage Glacier is one of the more popular roadside attractions as it is located just one hour from Anchorage, between the ski town of Girdwood and the road to Whittier.
This Glacier is in located in Chugach National Forest and access is via the Seward Highway, about 50 miles south of Anchorage. The Access Road winds about 5.4 miles from the highway. Also here is the “not-so” impressive Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. It is widely acclaimed, but exhibits and films are a pricey $5 per person. I can’t speak as to their quality, because we were on a mission for free things to do in Alaska.
Sadly, Portage Glacier is retreating, and is no longer visible from the Visitor Center’s observation decks and telescopes. In order to actually see the glacier one must either paddle, as we did, OR take an hour-long boring sightseeing boat cruise on the Lake. Again, we wouldn’t recommend this boat as you probably would need binoculars for how far it remained. I have read too, that you may hike on any number of hiking trails that lead to the glacier.
But, paddling to Portage Glacier was FREE, incredible exercise and way more fun!!!
Paddling Portage Glacier
The paddle itself is around a 3 mile paddle, often against headwinds, possibly in both directions as we experienced. You can paddle alongside breathtaking water falls on the east side of the lake or head down, paddle hard along the west side to lessen the headwinds. Once you’re one mile in you can see Portage Glacier, and it gets more and more massive the closer you get.
Portage Glacier Paddle
We put on the lake immediately behind the Visitor’s Center. The water is, obviously, glacial water and is therefore ridiculously cold. Warm paddling gear is a necessity, especially for kids. In fact, Elly who was 7 at the time, flipped over while playing around and while she didn’t swim, we were uber thankful for our Kokatat Dry Gear! She remained dry and relatively warm.
I’ve read that in the past it was illegal to paddle on Portage Lake due to the risk of rolling icebergs and the consistent calving of Portage Glacier. But, as of 2009 the National Forest allows people to launch non-motorized vessels from the viewpoint and parking area on the northeast side of the lake, just past Placer Creek.
Precautions should be taken when approaching icebergs, when you hear the obnoxious cruise ship heading your way and of course near the face of Portage Glacier.
Round trip, it probably took us about 4 hours. Estimated, we took about 1.5 hours to paddle out in massive headwinds and 1.5 hours to paddle back, also in massive headwinds. We spend about one hour taking photos and being completely and utterly in awe of this relic from the ice age.
At one point we had paddled off afar from the glacier and had a little snack on the rocks along the shore. We were treated to the awesome sound of the iceberg snap crackling and popping. What an incredible experience when you are safely away and chomping on trail mix. If you plan well you can even hike up a portion of the Portage Pass Trail where you’ll get stunning views of the entire glacial valley, sadly we didn’t plan enough time for this.
This paddle was phenomenal. It was absolutely as challenging as I’d hoped it would be. In Alaska I wanted to experience the extreme independence and the struggle. Due to the weather, we really did have one heckuva paddle out. Paddling Portage Glacier was stunning, educational and timeless. This experience is absolutely one of our favorite things to do in Alaska.
Check out the video for the entire trip, from start to finish, and find out why we really don’t like the Boat Captain. 🙂
Paddling Portage Glacier? Things To Know
- No Fees. No Permits. 100% Free
- Flotation Devices Highly Recommended
- Wear Dry Gear or at the very least a wetsuit.
Drive one hour south (5.4 miles) along the Seward Highway. You drive past Girdwood and Alyeska. You will see there is a turnoff to Portage Glacier and Whittier clearly marked. Be warned: it is a left hand turn across traffic, which can be high on the Seward.
Follow the park road signs to the Begich Boggs Visitors Center, which is off to the right. They have facilities and a map available showing the kayaking zone that they prefer boaters stay inside of.