Skip to content

Visiting the Portage Glacier

The Portage Glacier is one of the most-visited destinations in Alaska and for good reason. The large valley glacier can be found just 50 miles away from downtown Anchorage. Travelers who make the journey can view the natural spectacle of the Portage Glacier by hiking nearby trails or taking a boat cruise right up the glacier itself.

The History of the Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier was named in 1898 by Thomas Corwin Mendenhall for its home on the portage route between Prince William Sound and Turnagain Arm. Centuries ago, the Portage Glacier filled the entire 14 miles of the Portage Valley. The massive glacier has since retreated and separated leaving several smaller glaciers nearby the main Portage Glacier.

Located on the south end of Portage Lake, the glacier can be reached by way of the Seward Highway that once led to the town of Portage. In 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake flooded and destroyed the town along with damaging many other Alaskan communities. With a magnitude of 9.2, the earthquake was the second largest earthquake in recorded history at the time.

Today, the Portage Glacier has continued to retreat, leaving large chunks of icebergs in Portage Lake as a result of ice calving, the sudden release and breaking away of ice mass. The glacier continues to gradually shrink in size, but it still appears massive at its face on Portage Lake. Walking the shore of the lake, you can watch the calved icebergs float.

Portage Glacier Tours

From Anchorage, a 50-mile journey down the Seward Highway will lead visitors to the Portage Glacier’s home on the Kenai Peninsula. Your first stop might be the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. Built in the 1990s, it showcases the glacier and provides information about its home in the second largest national forest in the United States, Chugach National Forest. Explore the interactive exhibits at the visitor center to:

  • Walk through a simulated ice cave.
  • View live ice worms.
  • Touch an iceberg.

As the Portage Glacier has continued to retreat into the valley over the last decades, however, it is no longer visible from the visitor center. To get up close and personal with the natural wonder, visitors can take a boat cruise out the face of the glacier on Portage Lake.

Climb aboard the mv Ptarmigan for an hour-long Portage Glacier cruise to view the ten-story-high glacier. Get up close to the spectacle on the Ptarmigan, and enjoy the view from the heated cabins or topside deck. The knowledgeable Ptarmigan crew will give insight to the history of the glacier, as well as the retreating and ice calving processes.

Visit the Portage Glacier for an unforgettable Alaskan experience.

Back to Blog