Located near Seward, Alaska, Exit Glacier is the only glacier in Alaska accessible by road. Take advantage of this accessibility to get up close to a magnificent river of ice, with various trails that vary in difficulty. But how long is the hike to Exit Glacier?
The Glacier View Loop Trail is one mile long and takes around 30 minutes to hike. You can also continue for 0.6 miles on the Glacier Overlook Trail, which will take about 1 hour for the round trip. The best time to access the trails is during summer, as the access road is closed during winter.
With climate change causing glaciers to shrink, Exit Glacier is rapidly retreating, more and more each year. We recommend taking the opportunity to see how glaciers shape the land, watch the blue ice slowly moving, and hear it crackle as it does so. It is a magnificent glacier, and a fairly easy, short trail will bring you to an excellent viewing overlook.
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The Time It Takes To Hike To Exit Glacier
The route to Exit Glacier Overlook is partially paved, and the paved section (the Glacier View Loop Trail) is wheelchair and stroller friendly. Most people consider it to be an easy route. The distance to Glacier View is 1 mile and will take you around 30 minutes.
In the summer, the trail is popular, attracting hikers, families on outings, and people looking to enjoy the many wildflowers. Be aware that you will be sharing the path with many other people unless you make an early start (or go much later, around dinner time).
Park officials rate the unpaved section (the Glacier Overlook Trail) as moderately strenuous. This section is 2.2 miles long for the round trip to Exit Glacier Overlook and will take about an hour to complete. The elevation gain on this route is 308 feet.
The Exit Glacier area is open all year round, but in the winter months (from approximately November through to as late as May), the access road is closed for part of its length.
As a result, the best time of year to access these trails is during summer. You will have to snowshoe in for a considerably longer distance during winter. However, the Exit Glacier area remains open for snowshoeing, skiing, dog-sledding, and snowmobiling activities.
The Route To Glacier View
Turn left from the Exit Glacier Nature Center (where the parking lot is), and follow the paved, wheelchair, and stroller-accessible Glacier View Loop Trail. This trail makes its way through towering cottonwoods and alders before arriving at Glacier View, which overlooks the Outwash Plain and offers panoramic views of Exit Glacier as it descends from the Harding Icefield.
Park officials have placed markers showing the location of the glacier’s toe over the last 120 years, as it has gradually retreated. There are also interpretive signs explaining the return of plant life after the ice’s retreat, or you can take a self-guided audio tour on The Alaska App.
You can follow this trail as it loops back to the parking area, for a total distance of 1 mile that will take around 30 minutes.
Alternatively, you can turn left at the kiosk on the trail and continue on the Glacier Overlook Trail.
The Route To Exit Glacier Overlook
The Glacier Overlook Trail is a network of paths that make this route partially out-and-back and partially a loop trail, giving you options for how you want to walk it. This trail covers 0.6 miles from the Glacier View Loop Trail turnoff, for a total round trip distance of 2.2 miles.
Park officials rate this well-maintained trail as moderately strenuous; it allows you to get closer to Exit Glacier in its carved valley.
Take the Lower Trail, also known as the Edge of the Glacier Trail, to get a photo before the glacier.
Tips For Hiking To Exit Glacier
Despite summer being when you will encounter the most other visitors, we recommend visiting in summer.
During the winter, a state road closure results in the access road being closed. It is 7 miles from the state gate to the Exit Glacier Area and a further 1 mile to the Overlook.
If you are accessing the area during winter, wear sufficient protective clothing to deal with the winter weather conditions. Be prepared for very short days with visibility possibly limited by weather. Pay attention to what weather forecasts say.
However, you will have ideal hiking conditions during the summer, and you should thoroughly enjoy your trip.
Bring a camera, with a wide-angle lens if you have one, to capture the panoramic vistas of the glacier and the icefield above.
Camping at the 12-site tent campground near the nature center will enable you to make an early start and beat the crowds. However, you should exercise precautions against bears, as there has been an increase in unfortunate bear incidents in the Exit Glacier Area in recent years.
You can take advantage of daily ranger-led walks from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Be aware that the glacier’s toe is off-limits, as it is full of crevasses, ice caves, and other hazards. Ice hazard signs are posted, marking off the area. For your safety, do not go beyond these.
The canyon between Exit Glacier and the Outwash Plain is subject to emergency closures due to the risk of flash flooding from glacial meltwater. If the canyon is open when you visit, exercise caution if you venture in, and seek high ground immediately if water levels begin rising.
Additional Information About Hiking To Exit Glacier
There are flush toilets near the nature center that operate from Memorial Day through Labor Day; pit toilets are available during the rest of the year. Potable water is available, and there is a bookstore for you to pick up a souvenir.
Bicycles and pets are allowed on the access road and in the parking lot, but not on the trails.
Exit Glacier is located in Kenai Fjords National Park, near Seward, Alaska. Access is along the Herman Leirer Road, known informally as the Exit Glacier Road.
To get there, proceed along the Seward Highway (AK-9), and turn onto Herman Leirer Road at mile 3. After 8.4 miles, the road ends at the Exit Glacier Nature Center parking lot, the starting point for the Glacier View Loop Trail.
Parking is limited, especially from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. If you use a shuttle or taxi, remember that there is no WiFi or cellphone reception at Exit Glacier, and you will have to arrange a pickup time in advance.
There are not many glaciers this accessible, and the chance to get up close to a creaking, crackling river of blue ice makes this an unforgettable experience.