How to visit Spencer Glacier without a tour: The Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop
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You probably ended up here because you were looking to visit Spencer Glacier, but the tours to Spencer Glacier are, let’s face it, ludicrously expensive. There’s good news for you! You can do it yourself. Simply take the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop train and take a short and 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. The Alaska Railroad charges extortionate prices, so I apologize for that. Now are you seeing why us Alaskans DO NOT take the train anywhere?
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. If that ain’t highway robbery… but you have no other choice.
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
Child (2-11yrs): $40
Infant (0-2yrs) with a seat: $40
Infant (0-2yrs) in lap: FREE
*For summer 2017 kids 12yrs+ ride free with the purchase of one adult fare on the Glacier Discovery from Portage Stop 2 to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Call 800.544.0552 and mention promo code “KIDS RIDE FREE”. This includes a handful of other routes as well.
**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+): $123
Child (2-11yrs): $62
Infant (0-2yrs) with a seat: $62
Infant (0-2yrs) in lap: FREE
*With a valid military ID you will get 20% off ticket prices.
Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Schedule:
The train departs Anchorage at 9:45AM and again departs Portage Stop 2 at 1:40PM and arrives at Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at about 2:00PM.
Upon return the train departs Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at 4:40PM and arrives at Portage Stop 2 at 5:00PM and Then finally arrives in Anchorage at 9:15PM.
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 leftside 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’. Otherwise if you’re planning to take the train from Anchorage, you’ll hop on the train at the downtown depot, however this will cost you even more money.
Bring your luggage up to signs designating where to bring bags. They will first load the passengers on booked tours luggage into one car. They will then load you hobos bags going on a DIY trip into 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… 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.
First stop will be to load up rafts on the train, no one gets off or on here.
Second stop is where you get off. They will make announcements on the train.
First luggage for those on tours are 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 the gravel path meandering to your right 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.
Kayak, raft, or SUP to the glacier
If you brought your kayak, raft or stand up paddleboard along you can go check out the glacier this way. The best time to head out is after 9PM when the wind typically calms down for the evening.
You can safely land to the leftside 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 as 90% of the berg sits beneath the surface and they do roll. And go at your own risk! Falls into the lake can be deadly as hypothermia sets in quick. Glacial water is no joke.
Going onto the glacier
Another go at your own risk. Glaciers can be a dangerous place, they calve, shift and collapse. There are crevasses and you can fall in and die or get pretty mangled. Best to go if you’re experienced or with an experienced guide.
There are tide detergent blue pools up on top the glacier especially in the late spring. There are a couple ice caves on the front face of the glacier. 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 somewhat of a clearing for pitching tents. I do recommend setting up camp a little back from the lake in the trees. The wind usually kicks up and is frigid, the trees will protect you.
There are two camping sites in the Spencer Developed Recreation Area that is 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 in near the raft launching point at the lake (not far from outhouse). You can store food there, or just make sure to store food far from your tent. There are bears around here and they get hungry at night.
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. The last 3 miles are very steep and up the mountain to the leftside of the lake. You can make reservations by calling 1-800-544-0552 mid June through mid September. 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.
Want a guided hike?
Forest Service Park Rangers give guided tours to Spencer Lake daily in the summer.
Want to go on a Kayaking adventure?
Take a guided kayaking tour of Spencer Lake to get up close to the glacier, like safely close.
Want to get out on the glacier?
If you don’t feel confident with your level of glacier trekking experience there is no shame in hiring a glacier guide!
Flights to Spencer Glacier
Check out Alpine Air Alaska for rates and tours. I have flown with these guys and recommend them.
Other important info:
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 by about 4:10 PM.
Need Travel Insurance?
Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.
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