Byron Glacier has a beautiful ice cave that is easily accessible from Anchorage and you might be planning a visit this weekend. But before you go, please ask yourself, “Is the Byron Glacier ice cave safe?” I’ve been reading a lot of people asking about Byron Glacier on Social Media lately; a few weeks ago people were proudly posting online after going into the cave while it was warm and rainy. Here’s the simple truth; glaciers are unpredictable and dangerous which makes the answer to this question easy right? The Byron Glacier ice cave is not safe.
Is the Byron Glacier ice cave safe?
No, its not safe. Case closed. Right?
If only it was that simple. People do things that are inherently unsafe all the time, from hiking treacherous trails to getting in a car or skiing down a black diamond. Many of us see an unsafe condition, like icy streets or a risky trail and chose the safe alternative. Others know that they have trained and prepared for the danger, understand the risks and willingly venture forth knowing that an unlucky moment or a mistake could mean injury or death.
Some of us will assess the risk and still choose to follow the trail but the important thing is that you are making a conscious choice about taking that risk. If you are thinking about going to Byron please make sure you have experience around glaciers and understand those risks because calving events can happen at any time with lethal effects!
The good news is you can still enjoy Chugach National Forest and the Byron Glacier blue ice trail without risking it all. The Byron Glacier Blue Ice Trail is a gorgeous Alaskan hike with mountain and glacier views and you don’t have to enter the ice cave. The trail follows a beautiful stream through Chugach National Forest with views of Byron Glacier hanging high up in the mountains.
Portage Lake and the Begich Boggs visitor center often have floating ice and you can see other glaciers in the not too distant mountains. At the end of the blue ice trail is a warning sign explaining that going further into the boulder field is very dangerous. The rest of the hike takes you deep into avalanche terrain coupled with glacier risk and the national forest service recommends not going any further.
Photo of avalanche terrain on the Byron Glacier hike AK provided by Chugach Avalanche Center
Looking for a Glacier Cave Alaska?
Consider a Blue Ice Cave Tour to stay safe!
If you’re visiting Alaska or living in Anchorage and want to go see a glacier, Byron can be a beautiful hike but be wary about going into the cave! The drive down the Turnagain Arm is always gorgeous and you can make a great day trip out of it but please don’t enter the cave unless you know what you’re getting yourself into. There are plenty of other glacier tours throughout this state that are a great way to mitigate your risk. Matanuska Glacier has tours all year round and Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park is another great option.
I’ve hiked the Byron glacier trail a dozen or more times but only entered the cave 3 times. Each time I went into the cave I knew the risks well ahead of time and on many more occasions I decided that the conditions were simply too volatile. After hiking for a few miles from the Byron Glacier Trailhead I often turned the corner noticing the avalanche conditions were awful and didn’t go any further. On other days the avalanche chances were low but it had been warm or rainy for a number of days so I walked closer to the glacier but decided NOT to enter the blue ice cave.
I took this shot with my drone on a warm day after hiking the Byron glacier trail Alaska and decided NOT to enter the Byron cave.
The closer you get to a glacier the more risk you’re putting yourself in but if you’re willing to go for it then I recommend taking an avalanche course and going with an experienced guide. In April 2018 a group narrowly escaped an avalanche on the Byron Glacier trail.
In the heart of winter when the cave is frozen solid and there hasn’t been recent snowfall (meaning low chance of avalanche) I’ll consider going in the blue ice cave. I know the risks and choose to go on a day when they are lower than others.
I would not recommend this hike for children, people who might need assistance for any reason or animals that will need assistance. I’ve seen a number of small dogs brought into the ice caves who needed to be carried out. Can you imagine having to run from a calving event or avalanche only to realize your kid or puppy is going to get trapped?
If you fall into any of these categories and still plan to go into the ice cave please, at the very least hire a guide and listen to them if they tell you it’s too dangerous!
Ben and I have done the Byron Glacier Hike a handful of times together but only go into the cave when the conditions are just right.
Byron Glacier Alaska Ice Caves
If I accept the risk and know what I’m doing, can I go into Byron Glacier Ice Caves?
Yes, blue ice caves are some of the most incredible wonders of this world. If you understand the risks involved and have the proper expertise than Byron Glacier certainly makes for an adventurous day trip from Anchorage.
Alaska ice caves draw countless visitors every year and if you’re planning on being one of them then PLEASE check the avalanche forecast.
Looking for some other Alaskan Adventures?
- Backpack through Denali National Park
- Camp at Grewingk Glacier
- Root Glacier Traverse in Wrangell St. Elias National Park
- Cross a frozen lake to Portage Glacier
- Hike Rabbit Lake Trail
- Explore Eklutna Lake Trail
I never posted on here about Byron Glacier Ice Cave in the past because I didn’t want to tempt untrained hikers to head there. But now, I’m looking on social media and seeing that people are going in when its unsafe anyway and felt like this was a good time to share my thoughts.
Just because you see other people going into the ice caves does NOT mean its safe and that you should do it too. If you are going to risk going into any glacier cave you NEED to be prepared and understand the risks and frankly, there are times when the risks are simply too great!
Want to explore some ice caves Alaska style? Byron Glacier Hike Isn’t your only option!
For a family friendly, safer alternative to the Byron Glacier Trail check out the year-round Matanuska Glacier’s guided tours or seasonal Root Glacier and Exit Glacier tours.
If you are unwilling to assume the risks or unprepared for a glacier trek then you can still enjoy the blue ice trail to Byron Glacier, just keep a safe distance from the cave and don’t follow all the tourists you see walking in unknowingly.
It is extremely dangerous to go near the cave and it is not recommended especially in the warmer months. Personally, I only risk going in during winter months but you can safely see the glacier about a mile from the Byron Glacier trailhead. Anything past the warning post should be treated as a glacier traverse.
You can safely view the glacier about a mile after the Byron Glacier Trailhead
A Byron Glacier Trail Map can be found at USDA.Gov under the Chugach National Forest.
The trail starts right at the parking lot; in winter months you’ll have to park a half-mile further away and walk along the road. It follows a stream and has views of Portage Lake for a few moments before you turn the corner and can see the entire Byron valley. In the summer this trail is a giant boulder field that can be navigated by experienced hikers.
When the boulder field is snow-covered you can’t tell where the glacier might have receded to; that might not be snow beneath you! Snowshoes can help tremendously and don’t forget that this entire trail is an avalanche chute on both sides.
Glacier Cave Alaska – Dangerous Attractions
Adventure seekers be careful – blue ice cave tour guides are recommended
If you know how to navigate a glacier traverse and check avalanche conditions than the Byron Glacier Ice cave still isn’t safe. But if you’re willing to take risks with your outdoor adventures then you should know to limit your explorations of the Byron Glacier Ice Cave to the more favorable conditions. Think twice about posting on social media about any trips that you may have taken when it was less safe, we don’t want more people to become a statistic about the dangers of Byron Glacier.
Byron Glacier cave is incredibly volatile and changes every year from summer melt water, earthquakes and the fact that its a freaking glacier. There are jagged rocks and massive boulders in the ceiling, not to mention ice that could fall on you at any moment. You should not linger near the ice and be prepared for a collapse if you choose to go inside.
I hope I didn’t sound too much like a broken record. The truth is you can choose to hike practically anywhere in this great state. That’s one of the many draws to the last frontier. Understand the risks and stay safe out there fellow hikers!
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