Take the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Train in Alaska
Updated March 2023, Visit Spencer Glacier on the Whistle Stop Train was originally written in June 2017
You probably ended up here because you were looking to visit Spencer Glacier, but the tours to Spencer Glacier are, let’s face it, pretty expensive.
Not to worry, there’s good news for you- You can do it yourself by simply taking the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop train and a short, easy hike right to Spencer Glacier. You can visit Spencer Glacier as a day trip or plan to camp overnight. I’ll give you all the details in this post.
First off, your largest expense will be train tickets (aside from your airfare to get to Alaska). The Alaska Railroad’s prices are quite high because the train is more a tourist attraction than an actual mode of transportation up here.
The train ride is 16 miles from Portage Stop 2 to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. It takes about 20 minutes to go between the two. So to give you an idea of cost: you’re paying $2.50 per mile per person for this ticket.
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The easiest way to book tickets is through the Alaska Railroad website.
Train costs are as follows:
Portage Stop 2 To Spencer Whistle Stop (Return):
- Adult (12yrs+): $80, US military will receive 20% off
- Child (2-11yrs): $40
- Infant (0-2yrs): Free if the infant rides on your lap, otherwise $40 if they have their own seat
*Sign up for Alaska Railroad’s e-mail list here and be the first to know when they’re offering discounts!
Anchorage To Spencer Whistle Stop (Return):
- Adult (12yrs+): $132, US military will receive 20% off
- Child (2-11yrs): $66
- Infant (0-2yrs): Lap infants free, $66 if they need a seat
Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Schedule
The Glacier Discovery train service is not year-round. Trains operate from late May to mid-September. You can check their schedule here.
The train departs Portage Stop 2 at 1:25 PM and arrives at Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at about 1:45 PM daily. The train that comes from Anchorage and connects to the Glacier Discovery departs Anchorage downtown depot at 9:45 AM.
Upon return, the train departs Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at 4:40 PM and arrives at Portage Stop 2 at 5:15 PM and finally arrives in Anchorage at 9:15 PM.
Getting To The Train Stop
If planning to take the train from Anchorage head to the downtown depot at 411 W 1st Avenue, near the Anchorage Port.
Taking the train from the nearest stop at Portage Stop 2 will be the cheapest. Portage stop 2 is located about 10 miles past Girdwood on the Seward Highway if you’re coming from Anchorage.
Pull into the parking lot on the left side of the road (the side opposite from the ocean if you’re at all confused). There is a building with a red roof in the parking lot with a sign that says ‘Kenai Fjords Tours’.
Bring your luggage up to signs designating where to bring bags. They will first load the passengers on pre-booked tours luggage into one car.
They will then load you mere DIY peasants’ luggage onto the second car. Don’t worry, they’ll make announcements. Just hand your bag to the baggage handler and then get on the train.
You can pretty much bring whatever you want: camping gear, bicycles, kayaks, rafts, SUP, your dog… etc.
*You can bring pets! Just bring their kennel and load them up with the luggage.
The Train Ride
Seats are assigned on your boarding pass, however, if the train isn’t packed you can plop down pretty much wherever. I personally think the views out the left side of the train on the way there (right side on return) are the best, however, both sides are quite spectacular especially for tourists.
The first stop will be to load up rafts on the train, no one gets off or on here.
The second stop is where you get off. They will make announcements on the train.
First, luggage for those on tours is unloaded first. Your luggage will be taken off next. There is a little sheltered area and outhouse at the whistle stop.
Hike To The Lake
You’ll see a gravel path meandering off when you get off the train, there’s even a sign that says ‘Spencer Glacier Trailhead’
Follow the gravel trail 1.2 miles until you arrive at the lake. It’s a flat hike and not difficult whatsoever.
Right before arriving at the lake there is an outhouse and a pump to get water from.
Hike To The Glacier
Follow the gravel path for another 2.1 miles to the glacier. There are several lookouts along the way.
Don’t miss nearby Byron Glacier
Kayak, Raft, Or SUP To Spencer Glacier
If you’ve packed your kayak, raft, or stand-up paddleboard along you can go check out the glacier. We personally thought the best time to head out was after 9 PM when the wind died down for the evening.
You can safely land on the left side of the glacier along the moraine and climb up the scree on the moraine for great views.
Always stay at least 400 ft away from the face of the glacier, it does calve! Keep your distance from icebergs too as 90% of the berg sits beneath the surface and they do roll.
Remember that you are going at your own risk! Falls into the lake can be deadly as hypothermia sets in quickly. If you want to do this and you’re not confident with your own skills, I highly recommend hiring an experienced guide.
Going Onto Spencer Glacier
Another go at your own risk. Glaciers can be a dangerous place, they calve, shift and collapse and there are crevasses where you can fall in and die or get pretty mangled. Best to go if you’re experienced or with an experienced guide.
Get those crampons and ice axes out! There are tide detergent blue pools up on top of the glacier, especially in the late spring.
There were a couple of ice caves on the front face of the glacier in the past. Just know that the one in my photos has since collapsed, however, it sounds like the lower one is still there, but these aren’t really accessible in the summer usually anyways. Ice caving is pretty dangerous so really go at your own risk.
Camping Is FREE!
If you plan to camp and stay overnight, follow the gravel path along the lake. There are 9 spots that have a good clearing for pitching tents. I do recommend setting up camp a little back from the lake in the trees to protect you from the wind as it usually kicks up and is quite frigid.
There are two paid camping sites in the Spencer Developed Recreation Area that are by reservation only. You can reserve a spot by calling 800.544.0552, Campsite A rents for $65.00/n (sleeps 15) and B for $35/n (sleeps 10). These sites are located right along the lake and maintained.
There are bear boxes to place food near the raft launching point at the lake (not far from the outhouse). You can store food there, or make sure to store food far from your tent in a bear vault.
Public Use Cabin
The Bench Cabin is available to rent as well. It is a 5.4 mile hike from the start of the trailhead with the last 3 miles being very steep and up the mountain to the left side of the lake. You can make reservations by calling 1-800-544-0552 mid-June through mid-September and for the offseason, mid-September to mid-June, make a reservation at recreation.gov.
Want To Go Glamping?
Ascending Path offers fully outfitted overnight camping trips to Spencer Glacier. All gear, guides, equipment, and meals are included as well train tickets to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop and a helicopter ride from the glacier to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. It comes in at $799 per person…yikes.
Looking for a guided hike?
Forest Service Park Rangers give guided tours to Spencer Lake daily in the summer for passengers.
Wanna splash out on kayaking adventure?
Take a guided kayaking tour of Spencer Lake to get up close to the glacier, like safely close. Click here to book a kayaking tour, including train tickets.
Flights To Spencer Glacier
Check out this glacier landing helicopter flight from Girdwood. You can also contact Alpine Air Alaska for rates and current tours.
Other Important Info About The Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Train
Make sure to arrive back to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop no later than 4:30 PM, to give enough time to load bags and get on the train. The train usually arrives at about 4:10 PM.
Have Any Questions About Visiting Spencer Glacier?
Ask in the comments section below.
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8 thoughts on “Visit Spencer Glacier On The Whistle Stop Train”
Hi there! Great post!! My question is, is there enough to explore by foot for a whole day? Once you get there by train is there only one departure time back(to anchorage)?
There isn’t a lot to do out there aside from hike walk to the lake, do a kayak trip on the lake, or maybe hike to the Bench Cabin if you’re feeling adventurous. If you have a good group of friends going it is a lot of fun visiting and camping there though (that’s how I visited). THere is only one departure so you’re pretty much stuck out there for 26 ish hours unless you just do the quick visit.
Hi, thanks for these instructions and details. Do you know if need to reserve a place for free camping, or we can go there and just camp, and can we access bear vaults if we are on a free camping?
Thanks so much for all the details on this post! My family and some friends are heading there for the first time in a few weeks to check out the bridge and glacier. Do you remember how far in the bridge was/where it is on the map you posted? Thanks so much!
Hi Sharon, If I’m remembering correctly, the bridge should be about 1/2 a mile from where the train drops you off. As you walk toward the glacier it will be on your righthand side.
Is there a direct access to the glacier itself via trails as you have shown the map above? Or is this more of a viewing point only? We have kids in the party so wanted to ensure what to expect. Thanks in advance.
The end of the trail on the map sign above is to a viewpoint fairly close to the glacier. It’s possible to get up onto the moraine and to the glacier, but it can be a bit tricky, so I wouldn’t really recommend it with younger kids especially if no one in the group has good glacier travel skills.
Thank you for the detailed instructions. I think we will try and go to Spencer Glacier on our upcoming Alaska vacation and spend a night out there!