Castner Glacier is the simplest glacier to reach coming from Fairbanks, and for the past several years it’s been the easiest place to find an ice cave as well. It’s not your stereotypical blue glacier calving into a big lake or the ocean, but rather a gritty valley glacier covered in rock, mud, and even flowery meadows in places. Hiking to Castner Glacier is easy for most people, and if you have good directions you don’t really need a guide to get there, but there are a few minor obstacles along the way (one steep hill requiring a bit of scrambling, a small stream crossing, and climbing over a few boulders near the terminus) that might be intimidating for the beginning hiker, and most people without any glacier hiking experience are hesitant or unprepared to go any farther than the glacier’s terminus. I recommend visiting in the winter if you want to see an ice cave because it is easier and much safer to explore inside, but sometimes in the summer there will be accessible ice caves near the front of the glacier. While the hike to the glacier is easy, hiking over the glacier moraine for any length is moderately strenuous, and a full day of hiking on the glacier will leave you sore for sure. But for those willing to endure punishment, it’s always fun to search for curious glacial features on the moraine, and if you’re up for a really long day hike you can push all the way to the “intersection” where the glacier splits into three branches below where Thayer Hut sits.
Route Length (half-day): up to 2.5 miles (one-way), 200 feet elevation gain
Route Length (full-day): up to 8 miles (one-way), 2000 feet elevation gain (but it might feel like 4000)