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Everything You Need to Know About Exploring Ice Caves in Alaska

by ATJ Posted in The Alaska Experience Blog |

Exploring Ice Caves in Alaska

There are many stunning ice caves to explore in Alaska. Read this blog post to learn which ice caves to visit, how to visit them, as well as safety precautions to take.

So, what’s an ice cave?

Glad you asked! If you want to start exploring the majestic ice caves of Alaska, knowing what they are is a good place to start.

There are different kinds of ice caves. The most common is formed when a flowing stream moves beneath a glacier or snowfield and carves a kind of tunnel. When the melted water freezes again, the channel is often preserved as a narrow cave. These are typically smaller caves and more prone to cave-ins.

Ice caves can also be formed from frozen vapor or water inside an existing rock cave. These are the most spectacular. These are created when water or water vapor moves underground, is exposed to lower temperatures, and freezes permanently. This is often called a ponded water formation because of the water “ponds” in the cave, creating thick, blue sheets of ice that can be meters thick. This is the kind of ice that transforms a dark stone cavern into a winter palace.

Are they dangerous?

Short answer: yes! The ice can shift. In an area with varying tectonic pressure, a shift in the rock can mean a deadly shift in the ice. Cave-ins are a constant threat in new, unestablished caves. For caves formed by frozen meltwater, it’s also very possible to break through the ice to the water that isn’t yet frozen or encounter a concealed crevasse.

Never go into an ice cave without a guide. Luckily, they are difficult to discover on your own. Going with a guide also means being led right to some of the most breathtaking sights in all of Alaska! If you go with a guide, you’ll have a safe yet spectacular journey into the frozen heart of the great white north. Don’t forget your camera!

Where are the best ice caves in Alaska?

Ice caves are typically found beneath or beside glaciers. Alaska has the highest concentration of glaciers in America, and so your odds of finding an ice cave here are much better than in the lower 48. Of course, our caves can’t compare with the colossal, limestone-based caves in the Swiss Alps (like the famous Eisriesenwelt, which extends over 26 miles into the earth!). But they’re still amazing! Unless you’re a European spelunker, we can guarantee you’ll be blown away.

Here are the top four ice caves in Alaska:

Matanuska Glacier Cave – This is Alaska’s most accessible glacier. It’s right outside Anchorage, and one of the few you can drive right up to. Explore the many tunnels and sights with a guide (now mandatory for first-time winter visits).

Spencer Glacier, Chugach National Forest – This lake-side glacier is also near Anchorage. Less easy to stroll through than Matanuska, it’s a perfect candidate for ice cave kayaking!

Mendenhall Ice CavesThe Mendenhall Glacier is the jewel of Alaska’s frozen landscapes. A 20-minute drive from Juneau, this 13-mile glacier has the most stunning blue frozen caves in all of Alaska. It’s possible to explore without a guide, but not recommended for novices!

Root & Kennicott Glaciers – These two adjacent glaciers are great together. The Kennicott Glacier might not look too impressive from above ground—it’s covered in dirt and rock. Underneath, there’s white snow and blue ice, but you can easily hike on or around it. Nearby, the Jumbo Creek Ice Cave at the Root Glacier is the perfect opportunity to stand beneath a blue doe of ice.

Ice caves are just one of the many natural wonders in Alaska, but maybe the most magical. You’ll never forget the view from beneath a frozen canopy!

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