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Discover 11 Incredible Caves in Alaska

Alaska is located in the Western part of the United States. The state is full of indescribable landscapes from the Arctic to boreal and coastal forests that don’t exist anywhere else in our modern world. More than half of the state is federally owned public land, including wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and national forests.

If you fancy yourself a lover of the great outdoors or a bit of an adventurer, you’ll want to know about the best caves to visit in Alaska. Alaska has countless caves, most created from the melting ice and marked by human bones, animals, and other remains. Depending on the cave you want to visit, you can plan an excursion tour or a day trip.

Let’s dig deeper into some of the magnificent caves you can visit in Alaska.

Mendenhall Ice Caves

This cave is considered the jewel of Alaska. It is located 19 km (11 miles) from downtown Juneau. Mendenhall glacier has been diminishing at an alarming rate over the years, so glacial features are constantly changing.

The cave is easily accessible by a 20-minute drive from Juneau, or you can go on an 8 miles hike through the Tongass National Forest (The largest temperate forest in the world). You will see water streams and can spot some salmon on your way. It has a mesmerizing trail and, depending on your physical fitness, takes 5-8 hours.

Good grip shoes or glacier gears are a must to head on the ice field. The cave can be explored without a guide, but that is not recommended.

  • Address: Juneau, AK 99801, United States
  • Entrance fee: $5 for adults 16+. It’s free during winter.
  • Google Maps link: Mendenhall Glacier

Matanuska Glacier Cave

Located in the vicinity of Anchorage, one and a half hours North of Anchorage, Matanuska Glacier Cave is accessible by car. It is the largest and most easily approachable glacier in Alaska. Take a guided tour to explore the tunnels.

It is approximately a 3 miles round trip to the glacier and back. You will need to carry along a helmet and other protective gear depending on the season you choose to visit.

Spencer Glacier

Spencer Glacier is believed to be less than 100 years old. It is a lake-side glacier that is very close to Anchorage.

To get to the glacier from Anchorage or Girdwood, you will need to take a train at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop on the Alaskan Railroad, which takes 2 hours 16 minutes and costs approximately $24- $110, or take a bus for $40-$70 (takes 2 hours 23 minutes). You will then embark on a four-hour kayak journey toward the glacier.

Consider visiting Spencer Glacier if kayaking is your ideal outdoor activity.

  • Address: Alaska 99664, United States
  • Entrance fee: $41 for children under 12 and $82 for adults
  • Google Maps link: Spencer Glacier

Zina Cave

Zina Cave is short for Tlacatzinacantli, the Aztec bat god. It’s an ideal trap for deer and bears. The entrance to Zina Cave is a small tunnel large enough for animals to fall into. Getting lost in this cave is relatively easy, as multiple tunnels and channels exist. There is also a massive river that runs within the cave.

Hole 52 Cave

Discovered in 1998 by the scientists at Tongass National Forest, Hole 52 Cave is one of the most visited destinations in Alaska. It has multiple spectacular horizontal passages and vertical pits. Many animals, such as bears and porcupines frequent Hole 52 Cave, so there’s a chance you catch sight of them while at the place.

Puffin Grotto

It is a natural sea cave on southern Noyes Island near Cape Addington, Southeast Alaska. The entrance is a spectacular site that can be seen by boat from far, and puffins frequently nest here. The cave was formed by wave action and dissolution, which is why it’s called a sea cave.

Puffin Grotto is the only cave in Southeast Alaska where whale remains have been recovered

On Your Knees Cave

On your knees cave is an archaeological site within the Tongass National Forest. Human skeletal remains, animal bones, and stone tools were discovered in this cave. Initially, the cave’s entrance was covered by large rocks and soil falling from the cliff. It was later cleared to open the entrance. The cave got its name from the small entrance.

Kushtaka Cave

Located on the east side of the El Capitan Passage, Kushtaka Cave is a near-shore solution tube with a large otter nest made of sticks near the entrance. The entrance is very small and a wee bit tight, so prepare to crawl through. The cave divides into two low crawlways with other animal remains.

Kushtaka Cave is a perfect destination for paleontologists and geologists looking for fossils to understand geological history. Spelunkers have come across bear bones and domestic dogs’ bones right at the cave entrance. Piles of modern fish bones are scattered throughout the cave.

Bumper Cave

Apart from spelunking and studying the animal remains, adventurers can participate in outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and photography.

Devil’s Canopy Cave

Devil’s Canopy Cave is a portion of a karst hydrologic complex located at the North End of Prince of Wales Island. Though it’s neither an effective natural trap nor a real den, the cave got its name from the huge plant canopy that have created a trap-like framework. The cave looks dense from all angles and has a stream flowing into its entrance. If you are not extra careful, you will likely fall into the natural trap.

El Capitan Cave

El Capitan Cave is located in the Tongass National Forest. It is the longest, dense, and deepest cave in Alaska. There is a gate installed in the cave to prevent tourists from falling or getting trapped in between some portions of cave that floods during storms.

Ensure you come with a flashlight since there are no trails or lighting in the cave. Additionally, wear warm clothes because the cave temperature is constant at 40 degrees.

Take advantage of a no-cost guided tour offered by Forest Service employees by visiting El Capitan Cave during the summer months.

Final Thoughts

Alaska has a lot of amazing caves to explore. So in whichever season we are in, you must take advantage of every place to visit. All you need is proper protective gear and final preparation before entering any cave to make your spelunking experience good! You can also do proper research and even make prior phone calls to the caves before settling on one.

Top image: arctic_council via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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