Want to visit Grewingk Glacier Lake at Kachemak Bay State Park? We’re sharing everything you need to know!
One of our big goals for our time in Alaska was to backpack! We have backpacked many times, including in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, New York’s Adirondacks, and Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and while we love a good day hike, backpacking gives us the chance to experience more solitude, immerse ourselves in nature, and enjoy hikes at a slower pace.
And for our first of three backpacking adventures in Alaska we decided to visit Grewingk Glacier Lake at Kachemak Bay State Park. While this is not a long hike that requires overnight camping, getting to this lake requires some logistics, so we decided that in order to not rush, we’d camp overnight. And it was SO worth it!
Watch our experience at Kachemak Bay State Park where we camped by Grewingk Lake and crossed a river by tram!
Not only did we sleep with a glacier and icebergs out of our tent, but we lucked out and had the lake to ourselves for the entire evening. Combine that with a side trip to ride a tram across a glacial river, plus the boat ride to even get to the trailhead, and it felt like the ultimate Alaskan adventure!
In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to visit Grewingk Glacier Lake, either by a day trip or backpacking trip, including how to get to Kachemak Bay State Park (it requires a boat!), what gear to bring, and more!
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- All of our Alaska guides
- About Kachemak Bay State Park
- When to visit Kachemak Bay State Park
- How to get to Kachemak Bay State Park
- Things to know before visiting Kachemak Bay State Park
- How to hike to Grewingk Glacier Lake
- Camping at Grewingk Glacier Lake
- More things to do near Grewingk Glacier Lake
- Grewingk Glacier Lake day hike itinerary
- Grewingk Glacier Lake backpacking itinerary
- What to bring to Kachemak Bay State Park
About Kachemak Bay State Park
Kachemak Bay State Park became Alaska’s first state park in 1972 and combined with the adjoining Kachemak Bay State Wilderness park, it consists of almost 400,000 acres of forest, mountains, glaciers, rocky coves and ocean, and tons of wildlife, including sea otters, whales, black bears, and more!
The park is only accessible by plane or boat, with over 80 miles of hiking trails to explore once on land, many of which require different drop off points by boat. While there are tons of amazing spots to check out in the park (and we hope to return to see more!), for this guide we’ll be focusing on the area around Grewingk Glacier.
The Grewingk Glacier is over 13 miles long and is one of the over 30 glaciers that flow off of the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park, which is the largest icefield contained entirely in the United States. And at the base of the glacier is the Grewingk Glacier Lake, which has milky, glacial water and large icebergs floating around. It is one of the most popular spots in the park!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
When to visit Kachemak Bay State Park
As you can imagine, winters in Alaska can be a bit snowy, so we’d suggest visiting Kachemak Bay State Park in the summer for the best experience.
Temperatures range from the 50s to 60s in the summer and you’ll have the best chance for sunny weather in June and July, although it’s good to plan for rain! During our visit in July we encountered rain, fog and clouds, sunshine, and temperatures getting as low as in the 30s. So you’ll want to be prepared for anything!
How to get to Kachemak Bay State Park
Kachemak Bay State Park is located on the Kenai Peninsula in Southcentral Alaska and the first step to get to Kachemak Bay State Park is to get to the charming, coastal town of Homer. And then from there, you’ll hop onto a water taxi across Kachemak Bay (the most common method) or you can catch a flight.
Get to homer
Homer, Alaska is located on the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula and to get there, you’ll take AK-1, which is about a 4.5 hour scenic drive from Anchorage. Visiting from somewhere else on the Kenai Peninsula? Here’s how long you can expect to drive:
Soldotna: 1.5 hours (75 miles)
Cooper Landing: 2 hours 20 minutes (121 miles)
Seward: 3.5 hours (169 miles)
Water taxi options
After arriving in Homer, you’ll need to take a water taxi (unless you want to fly, which is a lot more expensive) the rest of the way to Kachemak Bay State Park.
There are several companies that can take you across and drop you off at a variety of destinations in the park:
- Kachemak Bay Adventures – Alan’s Water Taxi: We used Alan’s Water Taxi to get to Kachemak Bay State Park. On their website it is a Green route and we paid $86.88 roundtrip per person, which includes the park fee. Note: Prices may vary
- Mako’s Water Taxi
- Ashore Water Taxi
- 49 North Alaskan Adventures
For this specific trip, you’ll tell the taxi company you hire that you want to hike to Grewingk Glacier Lake and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. There are two different trailheads, which we will cover below, and which one you’ll start and finish at depends on what time you take the taxi and what time they pick you up.
As for the water taxi schedule, most of the taxi services operate on demand. They might have a set schedule, but the schedule is adjusted as other reservations are made. The earlier reservations take priority and other reservations are worked in, but in our experience they will work with you to find the best time that works for you. The best way to put it is “if you reserve early, you travel on your schedule. If you reserve late, you travel on their schedule.”
The ride itself is such a fun experience! The boats are very small and have a small indoor seating area, but a larger outdoor area. The ride is usually about 30 minutes each way, but can be longer if they have to drop people off at other spots as well. Along the way you’ll likely see some wildlife and have amazing mountain views. Well, unless you go on a foggy day like we did…thankfully our ride back was more scenic!
Things to know before visiting Kachemak Bay State Park
One awesome thing about both the park and water taxis is that dogs are allowed (and are free on the water taxis)! Since this is bear country, make sure to keep your pets leashed in order to protect wildlife and ALWAYS pick up after them (and pack it out).
There is a $6/person fee for Kachemak Bay State Park. However, this fee is paid to the taxi companies, so you will not have to pay anyone at the park.
There is a good amount of free parking on the Homer Spit and many of the parking lots allow up to 7 nights of overnight parking for free. We parked in this parking lot while we were in the state park and had no issues. There have been some recent reports on iOverlander about people getting warnings for sleeping in the parking lot. The parking lot is intended for visitors to keep their vehicle there while on adventures, but not to sleep.
Some of the water taxi’s do offer paid parking next to their office for a nightly fee, but you should have no issue finding a free place to park. You can drop off your gear at the office then find free parking and walk back to the boat.
There is a pit toilet near Grewingk Glacier Lake, but there is not one near the Saddle Trailhead. Since we did not visit the Glacier Spit Trailhead, where the Glacier Lake Trail starts, we cannot speak to if that one has a restroom.
We had sporadic cell service while at Grewingk Glacier at Kachemak Bay State Park, but to be safe, we suggest downloading the offline AllTrails map for this hike, which requires an AllTrails+ membership. There are a few junctions, plus multiple trailheads, so you’ll want to be able to double check where to go!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
How to hike to Grewingk Glacier Lake
There are two trails that can take you to Grewingk Glacier Lake: the Saddle Trail and the Glacier Lake Trail (which starts at the Glacier Spit Trailhead). As we mentioned above, the time of day that you take a water taxi to the park (and return) will likely determine which one you’ll start and end at. From our understanding talking to water taxi companies, the Glacier Spit Trailhead is best accessed in the morning, as it’s too windy in the afternoon.
So for most day trips, you’ll start at the Glacier Lake Trail and return via the Saddle Trail, which gives you the chance to experience different scenery the entire day. For our backpacking trip, we took a water taxi to the park in the afternoon and returned the following afternoon, hiking the Saddle Trail in both directions.
Below is a run down of what to expect on each trail, as well as once you’re at the lake!
Glacier Lake Trail
Distance (roundtrip): 3.2 miles (one way) to Grewingk Glacier Lake, 5 miles round trip if coming back the Saddle Trail afterwards.
Elevation gain: ~200 feet to Grewingk Glacier Lake, 625 feet if coming back the Saddle Trail afterwards.
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Glacier Lake Trail is the easiest way to get to and from Grewingk Lake. While we did not hike the full trail, since we got dropped off and picked up at the Saddle Trail, we did hike a good portion of it on our way to the tram (more on that later!) and it was a very straightforward, flat hike.
You are mostly hiking through low trees and brush, which enables you to have a good view of your surroundings, including some mountain views. The trail connects with the Saddle Trail about 0.5 miles from the lake!
Distance (roundtrip): 4.5 miles
Elevation gain: 820 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The drop off point for the Saddle Trail is right along a beach in a beautiful, rocky cove. The scenery just from here is stunning and well worth taking in before hitting the trail!
You will want to go towards the north on the beach to find the trailhead, which is easy to spot, as you’ll see a tall wooden staircase you have to climb.
Once on the official trail, you’ll have a solid climb for the first 0.6 miles, gaining 400+ feet. When we hiked, it had been raining all day and the trail was very slick, making it even harder. As you climb, make sure to look to your left a few times to see the cove you just started at from above!
After making it up this incline you can pat yourself on the back for completing the hardest part of the trail…from here it’s a mostly flat or downhill walk through the forest! While the trail is very clear, the vegetation around it is a bit thick, so make sure to make noises in case any bears are around.
About 0.5 miles from the lake you’ll reach a junction with the Glacier Lake Trail and you’ll want to keep going straight to get to the lake, passing a pit toilet along the way. At this point, if you have clear weather, you’ll start to get some glimpses of the massive Grewingk Glacier and Grewingk Lake. Which is a stunning sight after a mostly wooded hike!
Once at Grewingk Glacier Lake
When you get to Grewingk Glacier Lake there will be a large beach surrounded by mountains and forest, with Grewingk Glacier right in front of you! As we mentioned earlier, Grewingk Glacier is 13 miles long, but you’re only seeing a tiny part of it!
The glacier itself is tucked in some really unique, sharp mountains and is pretty far from the lake, but you’ll very likely get to see chunks of ice from the glacier floating around the lake in front of you, with some right by the shore!
When we arrived at the lake it was in the late afternoon on a very foggy day and we couldn’t see the glacier at all, but throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, the clouds started to part a bit. But even just seeing the icebergs was really cool!
The lakeshore, especially right by where the trail ends, does get pretty busy during peak times, which is around lunchtime or so, but there is a lot of beach and you can always find a spot to escape the crowds. However, if you camp at the lake, like we did, there is a chance you’ll have the lake to yourself!
Camping at Grewingk Glacier Lake
While a day trip to Grewingk Glacier Lake is worth it on its own, for a more secluded and magical experience, we highly recommend camping by the lake!
Once arriving at the lake, there is a sign that points to the right, where the camping area is. These campsites are not marked, but it’s easy to figure out where to camp, as there will be open areas along the beach, between the trees.
The camping area also has a food storage locker, which is located right by the trailhead and we were glad to be able to store all of our scented items and food here during the day and night, for extra protection from bears. And as we mentioned above, there is a pit toilet close to the lake if you want to use that!
We chose one of the first couple “sites” and it was amazing! While we had some privacy behind our tent, with trees around, the front part of our tent faced the glacier and lake, which is a pretty epic way to wake up!
We aren’t sure if it was the weather that kept other campers away, or if it’s just not that popular for camping, but we were the only ones camping along the lake that night. It was a surreal experience to be at a lake, which you can only reach by water taxi and hiking, and have it all to ourselves. We fell asleep to the sound of birds, the water, and icebergs moving around. And when we woke up, the sun was out, giving us our first true glimpse of our “backyard.”
Having our morning coffee, as the ice around us glistened in the sun, with no one else around, was one of the most surreal experiences we had in Alaska.
More things to do near Grewingk Glacier Lake
While Grewingk Glacier Lake alone is worth the trek to Kachemak Bay State Park, there are some other things to do near the lake, which you can add on to your visit!
Hike to a tram
One of the top highlights of our trip to Grewingk Glacier Lake and Kachemak Bay State Park was a tram that carries you over a glacial river!
This tram is located a flat 1 mile (each way) detour off the Glacier Lake Trail, along the Emerald Lake Trail, so if you get off the water taxi at this trailhead, it will be best to do this on your way to Grewingk Glacier Lake. Or if you’re backpacking like us, this was a great morning activity before heading back to the lake to pack up and get to our water taxi.
This tram is a ton of fun to ride and the coolest part? You get to operate it yourself!
The tram itself is very small and fit the two of us, plus Kona (who was secured), plus a couple small bags, but it was tight! If the tram is on your side of the river, then you can just get in and close the gate behind you. To get across you pull on the ropes. It’s a pretty easy ride the first half because the rope is sloped down to the middle, but once you get to the middle you’ve got to pull yourself up to the tram platform on the other side! It is a great arm workout!
While you’re in the middle be sure to admire the glacial water running below and the mountains surrounding you! It is a bit nerve wracking knowing that you are just hanging over a rushing river, but the tram felt very sturdy!
Once you get to the other side you can keep following the trails or pull yourself back to the other side! After you’re done having fun with the tram and you’re safely back on the platform, if no one is around waiting for it the courteous thing to do is leave it in the middle of the river so if someone shows up on the opposite side they don’t have to pull it all the way across.
Hike the Alpine Ridge Trail
Distance (roundtrip): 5.2 miles
Elevation gain: 2,332 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Alpine Ridge Trail takes you to above the treeline to view Kachemak Bay, Grewingk Glacier, and many mountains from above! Unlike at the lake, where you get to view just a small portion of the glacier from a head on view, on Alpine Ridge you get to look down onto the glacier and see much more of it!
We unfortunately didn’t have enough time for this hike, but if we had another night camping at Grewingk Glacier Lake we would’ve done a day hike here.
Kayaking is a popular thing to do in the park, both on Kachemak Bay and also on Grewingk Glacier Lake! If you want to kayak the bay, you can rent a kayak in Homer and take it across the bay on the water taxis, so you can paddle through the calm coves along the shore of the park.
But if you want to kayak on Grewingk Glacier Lake itself you can either bring out an inflatable kayak or paddleboard or go on a tour with Kachemak Bay Adventures!
Take a flightseeing tour
If hiking isn’t for you, you can see Grewingk Glacier and its lake from the sky! Beluga Air offers flightseeing tours that will take you over the park’s stunning scenery, including the glacier!
Grewingk Glacier Lake day hike itinerary
If you have decided that a day hike is the right choice for you to visit Grewingk Glacier Lake, here is how we’d suggest spending your day! If you take an early water taxi you’ll have plenty of time to hike the trail, visit the tram and lake, and taxi back in time for dinner.
- Take the water taxi to the Glacier Lake Trail drop off point
- Hike to the lake along Glacier Lake Trail, with a detour to the tram
- Continue back on the Glacier Lake Trail, connecting with the Saddle Trail, the rest of the way to the lake
- Enjoy lunch at the lake
- Hike back on the Saddle Trail to the water taxi pick up point
- Take the water taxi back to Homer
Grewingk Glacier Lake backpacking itinerary
If we’ve convinced you to backpack at Kachemak Bay State Park, here is our exact itinerary to help you structure a 2 day, 1 night trip to Grewingk Glacier Lake.
- Take an afternoon water taxi to the Saddle Trailhead drop off point
- Hike the Saddle Trail to Grewingk Glacier Lake
- Set up camp at the lake and enjoy a quiet night of dinner and relaxing
- Wake up and have breakfast and coffee overlooking the lake
- Hike to the tram and ride it over Grewingk Creek
- Hike back to Grewingk Glacier Lake to pack up your tent and other items
- Hike back out the Saddle Trail to the water taxi pick up point
- Take the water taxi back to Homer
What to bring to Kachemak Bay State Park
Since most of Kachemak Bay State Park is undeveloped, you’ll want to be well prepared for your time in the park. If you need help, it likely won’t arrive for a long time so being prepared to help yourself is key.
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear and backpacking gear, as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit, but here are a few key items we want to stress bringing with you to Kachemak Bay State Park!
You’ll want good hiking shoes, especially if it has rained, as the trail can be slick. Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots, but still great for the trail.
You will be in a remote area where the only way to get help is via boat or helicopter and having some sort of satellite device, like a Garmin inReach Mini, will be extremely helpful in case you need help. We take this with us everywhere and it has come in handy several times on our adventures, mostly to text family (not for SOS reasons thankfully)!
Trekking poles can really be a big help, especially for the steeper portions of this hike. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!
Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. One minute it feels like a cold, windy winter day and the next the clouds part, the sun is beaming, and it feels like summer. Carrying some layers helps you be prepared for a day in Alaska.
Rain jacket and rain pants
Similar to above, it can rain or snow any day of the year, so having rain gear is recommended. Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears a Columbia rain jacket.
Rain pants or waterproof pants are another highly recommended item that we did not have, but will hopefully have in the future for Alaska trips. The reason being that many trails in Alaska require you to go through brush, which can often be wet and soak your pants.
If camping, don’t forget some food! For this trip we brought a few backpacking meals, including Peak ReFuel Chicken Coconut Curry and Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, plus a couple others. You can see all of the food we like to bring backpacking here!
Water filter and storage
We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go. Since you will be hiking to a lake, you can fill up with more water there, just make sure to filter it before drinking it. We use the Sawyer water filtration kit!
Kachemak Bay State Park and Alaska are home to a variety of wildlife, including both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.
Although we didn’t see any bears in Kachemak Bay State Park, people reported seeing them before we went (we saw their scat!), so carrying bear spray is highly recommended. We always have our bear spray strapped to our hip or chest when hiking on trails, plus next to us in our tent at night.
Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar.
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, there are a few junctions, plus multiple trailheads to visit Grewingk Glacier Lake and we suggest downloading the offline AllTrails map for this hike, which requires an AllTrails+ membership. You can save 30% off a membership by using our code aplusk30!
If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Although we didn’t have an issue with mosquitos during our visit to Kachemak Bay State Park, we may have just gotten lucky. In order to not have a miserable time swatting mosquitoes all day, make sure to bring bug spray with DEET!
The beach area of the lake is very exposed and even on cloudy days you’ll want to have sun protection. Sunscreen and a hat will be very helpful!
Seeing the glacier and mountains with the naked eye is fantastic on its own, but you’ll be able to see even more epic views (and maybe even wildlife) with binoculars! We have the Bushnell H20 Roof Prism binoculars and we love them!
Ready to visit Kachemak Bay State Park?
Pin this guide to hiking or backpacking to Grewingk Glacier Lake to help plan your adventure!