Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
1,400.00 ft (426.72 m)
Trail type
4.75 mi (7.64 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Portage Glacier is one of Alaska’s best-known sights, thanks to frequent boat tours on its glacial lake. On the boat you’ll get very close to the wall of ice which overhangs the water. There is a visitor center on the lake’s far end, where the tours begin, but if you don’t get on the boat you can’t see the actual glacier from there. It’s hidden around the corner of the long, L-shaped basin. Hard to believe that just 100 years ago, the glacier extended almost all the way to where the visitor center now stands. Rapid retreat through the 20th century has left only the lake in its place.

There is another way besides the boat ride to get a view of the glacier, however, and that’s to hike the Portage Pass Trail. A short but steep ascent leads to an overlook between mountains and snowmelt waterfalls, where you can gaze over the upper end of Portage Lake and the sweeping glacier above it. Continue over the pass to eventually reach the shore, where you can dip your toes (or jump all the way in!) among chunks of ice in the glacial water.

The trail is fairly well defined, but includes some potentially challenging sections of loose stones, mud and running water, patches of snow, and overhanging vegetation. Many people go just to the pass to enjoy the well-earned panorama, then turn around. The tougher but more rewarding version is to continue all the way to the lake. You can even bushwhack along the shore and get closer to the glacier if you’re feeling up for it. Remember that this is bear country, and even though the trail is well-traveled, you should practice proper precautions.

Hiking the trail is free of charge, but getting there requires driving through the Whittier Tunnel and paying the toll. The long, narrow tunnel is a bit of an adventure in itself, though, and worth the trip. The final stretch to the trailhead is a potholed gravel road, but passable for most cars. Parking is limited, so get there early if you can. You should also leave time to visit the tiny port town of Whittier, which is just past the turnoff for the trailhead.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Only way to Portage Glacier on foot. Wonderful views.

Trailhead Elevation

130.00 ft (39.62 m)

Highest point

800.00 ft (243.84 m)


Near lake or river
Historically significant
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day


Permit required




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