The Chugach National Forest Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop area offers something for everyone and including every level of hiker from an easy one-half mile flatland wheelchair/stroller friendly path to a gorgeous wooden bridge spanning the Placer River and to Spencer Glacier Lake. - Taz Tally

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Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop a starting point for adventure

June 15th | Taz Tally Print this article   Email this article  

Fun begins at the train platform located just off the Seward Highway

The Chugach National Forest Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop area offers something for everyone and including every level of hiker from an easy one-half mile flatland wheelchair/stroller friendly path to a gorgeous wooden bridge spanning the Placer River and to Spencer Glacier Lake, to a 2.7-mile long lakeside hike around Spencer Glacier Lake to the glacier, to an extended 5.5-mile long, 2,000-foot climb to a reservable ridge line cabin and glorious views of the entire Spencer Glacier countryside.

Additionally, you can bring your own pack raft or kayak, or join an outfitter, to enjoy paddle and floating adventures across Spencer Glacier Lake and/or down the Placer River.

Getting there

Your Spencer Glacier fun begins at the train platform located just off the Seward Highway, about one-quarter mile west of the turnoff to Portage Valley, with a 20-minute Alaska Railroad Chugach Whistle Stop train ride to the Spencer Glacier trailhead, which is the first of five whistle-stops planned as part of a cooperative partnership between the Alaska Railroad and the U.S. Forest Service. For Glacier Discovery Train schedule information, go to:

https://www.alaskarailroad.com/ride-a-train/our-trains/glacier-discovery. Place any large gear in the baggage car and ride in the food and drink-stocked passenger section, while listening to a ranger-guide informs you about the scenery. Your train travels east along the floodplain of the Placer River in front of the snow and glacier covered peaks of the Northern Kenai Mountains, while you enjoy views of numerous waterfalls, the Shookum and several unnamed hanging glaciers, as well as steep spruce-covered slopes that intersect willow and grass wetlands, which sport subtle multicolored hues of yellows, greens, and golds in the fall. Look for golden eagles perched on isolated earthquake-formed aspen and cottonwood snags and flocks of sand hill cranes. For a short trip, you can stay just half a day, catching a ride back on the train's return trip. For longer adventures, obtain a permit to stay overnight in the campground near Spencer Lake or at the Spencer Bench forest service cabin located 2,000 feet up on top of the Spencer Bench ridge, or plan a backcountry hike and camping experience. Access this link for current information on the Whistle Stop program: https://www.alaskarailroad.com/travel-planning/destinations/spencer-glacier-whistle-stop

The Trails

Placer River Bridge and Glacier Discovery Hike: This easy, wheelchair-accessible trail begins at the first Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. (Note: Plans are in place for construction of a second Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop station located on the south side of the Placer River.) Hike one-half mile to a side trip across a beautiful 280 foot-long wooden bridge that spans the lovely Placer River. Continue across the bridge to take the Glacier Discovery Trail for approximately 1.5 easy miles along the Placer River to the Upper Placer River bridge site.

Spencer Lake Viewing Platform: From the turnoff to the cross-bridge hike continue 1.3 miles over the flat glacial outwash plain, formed by the recent retreat of the Spencer Glacier, past the group campsite to the Spencer Glacier Viewing Platform. This is a dandy site for a picnic and some serious lollygagging along the edge of Spencer Lake while you enjoy thrilling views of the glacier, located about 1.5 miles across the often iceberg-filled lake?

Spencer Glacier Trail: For a closer view of Spencer Glacier, hike another 1.7 miles along the easy-to-moderate in difficulty Spencer Lake Trail, past three established tent campsites, to the Spencer Glacier Viewing Platform. The trail rolls across modest grades around the northern margin of Spencer Lake to near the glacier terminus. Due to its recent retreat, the glacier is no longer accessible from trail's end, however, you can deploy your pack raft to paddle among the icebergs on Spencer Glacier Lake (away from the front of the glacier of course.) As you hike along the trail notice how the plant life becomes smaller and the soil profiles skimpier until you are eventually on soil-free rock, because you are crossing increasingly younger land surfaces that have only recently been exposed to sunlight, rain, and soil-forming processes as the glacier has retreated.

Spencer Bench Trail: This 3 mile-long continuously climbing trail begins at Mile 2 on the Spencer Glacier Trail, gains approximately 2,000 feet in elevation, has modest 15 percent grades due to some 30 switchbacks, and takes you to the ridge-top Spencer Bench and cabin.

As you climb, notice the slopes have been rounded off and smoothed, evidence that the once much mightier Spencer Glacier completely filled the valley, and indeed overtopped, the current ridge line. From the Spencer Bench enjoy glorious cross-tundra trekking and spectacular views of the glacially carved Spencer River, glacier and valley, the northern Kenai Mountains, and the eastern half of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.

 

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