Visiting Alaska’s glaciers with kids

If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, witnessing the glaciers should be at the top of your list. Alaska is home to some of the most magnificent glaciers in the world. As enormous masses of ancient ice slowly flow down mountain valleys, glaciers shape the very landscape of Alaska. Did you know there are tens of thousands of glaciers in Alaska?

Over the past few years, our family has been fortunate to visit several of Alaska’s renowned glaciers, such as Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau and the Exit Glacier within the Kenai Fjords National Park. Thus, we decided to create a small guide to share some useful tips for families who are planning to visit some of Alaska’s glaciers. Keep on reading!

What is a glacier?

Glaciers are essentially rivers of ice that form from compressed layers of fallen snow. As each year’s snowfall piles up, the weight of the new snow compresses the previous years’ snow into ice, allowing the ice mass to grow over centuries. This continual process forms a dense ice mass that begins to slowly flow, thanks to gravity.

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What to pack for Alaska?

To help you prepare for your Alaskan journey, we’ve put together a comprehensive family packing list to Alaska that covers everything you’ll need to make the most of your family adventure.

Exit Glacier

Where is Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier is situated on the Kenai Peninsula, not far from the charming town of Seward, Alaska. Nestled within the breathtaking Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier descends from the Harding Icefield, offering visitors a unique opportunity to witness the beauty and power of nature up close.

Exit Glacier, Alaska
Exit Glacier, Alaska

Getting to Exit Glacier

Getting to Exit Glacier with your family is an adventure in itself. If you’re traveling from Anchorage, you can opt for a scenic drive along the Seward Highway, which offers breathtaking views of the Chugach Mountains, pristine lakes, and lush forests. The drive typically takes around 2.5 to 3 hours.

Alternatively, you can take the Alaska Railroad, which offers picturesque views and a stress-free way to reach Seward.

If you are staying in Seward, Exit Glacier is just a short drive away (about 40 minutes) in the Kenai Fjords National Park.

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The park is well-marked, and you’ll find ample parking at the Exit Glacier Nature Center. The glacier is just a short walk from the Visitor Center along a paved trail.

Cost of visiting Exit Glacier

The great news is that visiting Exit Glacier won’t break the bank, especially for families. The entrance to Kenai Fjords National Park is free, making it a cost-effective family adventure.

Exit Glacier, Alaska
Exit Glacier, Alaska

Family-friendly activities at Exit Glacier

Once you’ve arrived at Exit Glacier, it’s time to explore the stunning natural beauty surrounding you. Here are some family-friendly activities:

Junior Ranger Badge

Since Exit Glacier is located in the Kenai Fjords National Park, this means your kids can participate in the Junior Ranger Program and earn a Badge by completing a Junior Ranger book and answering some questions about the park and Exit Glacier. This engaging activity is completely free and provides a fantastic opportunity to educate your children about nature and the importance of protecting it.

Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park

Exit Glacier Overlook Trail

A short, 0.8-mile round trip trail that leads to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking Exit Glacier. It’s a perfect option for families, and kids will be fascinated by the close-up views of the glacier.

Lower Trail to Glacier View

A slightly longer 1.4-mile round trip hike offers a gentle stroll with extraordinary views of the glacier and its meltwater river.

Harding Icefield Trail

For the more adventurous families, consider tackling the strenuous 8.2-mile round trip Harding Icefield Trail. The reward at the end is the awe-inspiring sight of the massive icefield, an experience your kids will remember for a lifetime.

Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park
Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park

Nonetheless, we decided to embark on this challenging hike. We knew we wouldn’t be able to complete the entire hike, so we planned to hike as much as we could and then turn back once we got to see the glacier up close. Ultimately, we managed to hike 6.5 miles in 3.5 hours and gained 1620 feet in elevation!

💡 Good to know

While visiting Kenai Fjords National Park in July, we expected much colder weather, but it was actually hot and humid, with lots of mosquitos, so don’t forget your bug spray.

Portage Glacier

Where is Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier is located on the scenic Seward Highway in the Chugach National Forest, a convenient 50-mile drive from Anchorage. This remarkable glacier flows from the massive ice field of the Chugach Mountains, offering visitors a glimpse into the majesty of Alaska’s wilderness.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
Portage Glacier, Alaska

How to get to Portage Glacier

To get to Portage Glacier, drive south from Anchorage along the Seward Highway, a route renowned for its breathtaking beauty. The drive typically takes around one hour, making it a manageable day trip for families. Along the way, you’ll be captivated by the lush forests, shimmering lakes, and the rugged peaks of the Chugach Mountains.

Once you arrive at the Portage Glacier Visitor Center, you can access several family-friendly activities and opportunities to explore the glacier.

We opted for the cruise on Portage Lake, and we booked the Portage Glacier cruise in advance (with different time slots to choose from). The cruise is only one hour long and takes you up close to the glacier.

Cost of visiting Portage Glacier

Access to the Portage Glacier Visitor Center is typically covered by the National Park Service fee, which is $5 per adult (16+). The visitor center offers an excellent starting point for your family adventure and provides educational exhibits and information about the glacier and its surroundings.

Additional activities or guided tours, such as boat trips or kayaking, come with separate fees, but these experiences can be well worth the investment for an unforgettable family experience.

Portage Glacier, Alaska
Portage Glacier, Alaska

Family-friendly activities at Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier offers numerous activities suitable for families with kids:

Portage Glacier Boat Tour

Embark on a boat tour from the visitor center to get up close and personal with the glacier. Your kids will be amazed as they watch chunks of ice calving into the lake.

The glacier is retreating rapidly, and as a result, Portage Lake is getting deeper and deeper. Interestingly, just about a century ago, the lake was not even visible, and there was only a glacier sitting in the valley.

Portage Lake, Alaska
Portage Lake, Alaska

💡 Good to know

Remember to dress warmly, as even in the summer, it can be chilly near the glacier. Layers, waterproof clothing, and comfortable hiking shoes are a must for a memorable and comfortable visit.

Begich, Boggs Visitor Center

Take your family to the visitor center where you can watch an informative film about the glacier and its history, view exhibits, and enjoy stunning views from the center’s observation deck.

Wildlife viewing

Keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that calls the area home, including eagles, salmon, and sometimes even bears.

Canoeing and kayaking

Rent canoes or kayaks for a peaceful paddle on the serene Portage Lake, offering unique glacier views from the water.

Byron Glacier

Where is Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier is located along the Seward Highway, just a short drive from the town of Girdwood, Alaska. This magnificent glacier is a part of the Chugach Mountains and offers visitors a chance to witness the wonders of Alaska’s natural landscape up close.

Byron Glacier, Alaska
Byron Glacier, Alaska

How to get to Byron Glacier

Getting to Byron Glacier is relatively straightforward. If you’re traveling from Anchorage, take a scenic drive south along the Seward Highway. The journey will take you through picturesque landscapes, from thick forests to mountainous terrain, and takes around an hour.

Once you arrive at the Byron Glacier Trailhead, you’ll have access to a family-friendly trail leading to the glacier and other activities.

Cost of visiting Byron Glacier

The parking and access to the Byron Glacier Trailhead are free, as it’s located within the Chugach National Forest.

Byron Glacier
Byron Glacier, Alaska

Family-friendly activities at Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier offers a variety of activities suitable for families with kids.

Byron Glacier Trail

This easy, 1.4-mile round-trip hike is perfect for families. The trail takes you through a lush forest and offers glimpses of the glacier along the way. Kids will love exploring the ice caves and getting close to the glacier’s edge.


The natural beauty around Byron Glacier is a photographer’s dream. Capture the stunning scenery, ice formations, and your family’s smiles against the backdrop of the glacier.

Byron Glacier, Alaska
Byron Glacier, Alaska


Pack a picnic and enjoy a meal in the peaceful surroundings near the glacier. It’s a fantastic opportunity to soak in the scenery and have a relaxing family lunch.

Wildlife watching

Keep an eye out for wildlife, as the area is known for birdwatching and possible wildlife sightings, including mountain goats and marmots.

💡 Good to know

Remember to bring essentials like water, snacks, and extra clothing layers. Even in the summer, it can be cooler near the glacier, and the weather can change quickly.

Mendenhall Glacier

Where is Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is situated just 12 miles from the capital city of Juneau, Alaska. This impressive glacier flows from the immense Juneau Icefield, offering visitors a breathtaking glimpse of the state’s untouched wilderness.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

How to get to Mendenhall Glacier

Reaching Mendenhall Glacier is easy. If you’re flying into Juneau, you’ll find it’s just a short drive from the airport or the downtown area.

If arriving by cruise ship, there are various transportation options available to take you to the glacier. Once at the visitor center, you’ll have easy access to a range of family-friendly activities and opportunities to explore the glacier.

Cost of visiting Mendenhall Glacier

Visiting Mendenhall Glacier is not only an incredible experience but also budget-friendly. Day passes cost $5 per adult (15+), and season passes are $15 for cardholders and one guest. And federal passes like “America the Beautiful” Senior Pass or Military Pass are also accepted.

Additional activities such as guided tours, ice cave visits, or boat trips may incur extra fees, but they can add an extra layer of excitement to your visit.

Family-friendly activities at Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier offers numerous activities suitable for families with kids:

💡 Good to know

Ensure your family is dressed appropriately for the changing weather, as even in the summer, it can get chilly near the glacier. Layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy hiking shoes are essential for a comfortable and enjoyable visit.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center

Start your adventure at the visitor center where your family can explore interactive exhibits, enjoy a film about the glacier, and access information about glacier safety and the day’s activities.

Junior Ranger Badge

Kids would definitely enjoy earning a Junior Ranger Badge after completing the Junior Ranger Book and answering questions about the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier Viewpoint Trail

A short and accessible trail leads to a scenic viewpoint, offering panoramic views of the glacier, the lake, and the surrounding mountains.

Nugget Falls Trail

A family-friendly trail takes you on a 2-mile round trip hike to the base of the impressive Nugget Falls, offering stunning views of Mendenhall Glacier along the way.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

Canoeing and kayaking

Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle on Mendenhall Lake for a unique perspective of the glacier, its icebergs, and the serene waters.

Bottom line

In conclusion, if you’re planning a trip to Alaska, witnessing the glaciers should be at the top of your list. Alaska’s glaciers are not only awe-inspiring but also accessible for families. We’ve shared our experiences and tips for visiting Exit Glacier, Portage Glacier, Byron Glacier, and Mendenhall Glacier, all of which offer fantastic family-friendly activities.

While glaciers may seem timeless and unchanging, they are actually sensitive to climate shifts. Rising global temperatures are now causing many glaciers worldwide to melt at unprecedented rates. Scientists warn that glaciers could shrink dramatically or even disappear within decades! Seeing them up close reveals their fragility and the impacts of a warming climate.

So don’t miss the chance to explore these natural wonders and create unforgettable memories with your loved ones in the Last Frontier!

2 thoughts on “Visiting Alaska’s glaciers with kids”

  1. Matanuska Glacier isn’t far from where you were. Big upvote for MICA. Great guides, taught kids a lot. very safe expedition to areas where we would not take kids without guides. The hike out to Portage Glacier is a great hike and manageable with kids.


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