Hiking the Samuel Glacier Trail in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park

Samuel Glacier is located in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia. The park lies in the northwest corner of British Columbia. It is located between Kluane National Park and Reserves in the Yukon and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves in Alaska. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park got its name from two of the great river systems on the planet – Tatshenshini River and Alsek River.

Since, the park is so remote, much of it is still unexplored and there are very limited facilities available within the park in the form of pit or flush toilets (only three in the entire park). It is home to big mountains and numerous glaciers, some of which are yet to be named. The park also contains a diverse wildlife population consisting of mountain goats, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, squirrels, marmots, eagles, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcon, ptarmigan, arctic tern and many more bird species. There is one type of black bear, which is found only in this park and nowhere else in Canada or Alaska, called the ‘Glacier bear’. It got its name from its bluish colored hair.

Many outdoor adventure enthusiasts frequent the park for various activities like canoeing, kayaking, rafting, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking and fishing. Wilderness, backcountry camping is permitted, but there are no campgrounds or any other camping facilities available in the park.

Among numerous glaciers within the park, the Samuel Glacier is easily accessible from the Haines Highway through a 21 km Samuel Glacier Trail.

Samuel Glacier Trail
TypeOut & Back
Distance21 km
Elevation Gain167 m
DifficultyModerate
Time1-2 days
Trail Stats

Despite its length, this is a moderate trail because it is relatively flat. It is popular as a 2 day backpacking trip; with overnight camping at the viewpoint of the glacier. Those who are short on time or not interested in backpacking, can also do it as a long day hike.

Occasional sightings of wildlife like Marmots

The trail begins from a pullout on the Haines Highway, about 140 km south of Haines Junction. It is a newly developed pullout with ample parking space and an outhouse. Detailed driving directions are provided at the end of this post. Most of the trail is on an open, subalpine boggy terrain with some sections passing through heavy bushes, some of which are as high as 7 feet. Because of the dense, tall bushes, it is not recommended to hike solo on this trail, as bears as close as 5 feet from you may be hidden from your view.

Chugging away towards the glacier

The trail begins with a gradual climb up a small hill with the otherworldly landscapes on either side.

Otherworldly landscapes all along the trail

Behind, there is the Kusawak Peak on the other side of the highway.

View of the Kusawak Peak on the other side of Haines Highway

Continuing further, about 2 km in, bushes begins to appear. For some sections, they are so dense that you’ll have to crouch, bushwhack and walk through deep mucky spots due to heavy and long periods of summer rains in this part of the country.

Tall bushes begin to appear…we wished the trail was not wet and mucky

There are numerous creek crossings on the trail. But, only one of them, after 6 km, is a relatively large one where you’ll have to remove your shoes and cross. The trail ends soon after crossing this creek and you’ll have to make your own way to the glacier viewpoint on the remaining 4 km of the trail.

Misty, rainy days are not encouraging, but the views make up for it!
Biggest of the creek crossing; 6 km from the trailhead

This section is very boggy; a subalpine terrain. As you’ll reach closer to the first hilly spot, you will get a very first glimpse of the glacier! This is a cool spot to soak in the views.

The glacier is pretty close, we are almost there
Boggy subalpine terrain
Finally, 9.5 km later, first glimpse of the glacier
Jaw dropping views
This is the highest point with one of the best views of the glacier

At this point, all of us were completely soaked and exhausted from a long hike and relentless rain. But, that didn’t stop us from going further. After all, you don’t get to cherish these views every day, eh!

Continuing on for a more close up view
Getting up higher for a better view

All this time, we had the entire trail for ourselves. At the very end, for the first time, we spotted another group, returning back. This is one of my favorite pictures of the entire hike. It illustrates the true scale of the glacier.

For the first time we saw another group on this trail (notice the group of people on the bottom left of the image, compared to the size of the glacier)

After another 15 minutes, you will reach on top of a small hill (behind the group of people in the picture above). From there you’ll get a completely different perspective of the glacier – the mouth of the glacier.

Getting closer and closer
This is my new favorite view! 😁
How cool it would be to camp here and wake up to these views!

On far right, there is another section of this glacier. If time permits, you can hike for another 1-2 km to the mouth of that glacier as well. Unfortunately, the weather gods were against us that day and it began to rain again. Hence, we decided to head back to the trail head.

Another glacier on the far right of this image

Overall, it was a spectacular hike, but for the weather. Pro tip: Check the weather forecast and plan to do this hike on a sunny or partly cloudy day.

I can’t take my eyes off the glacier 😍

Driving Directions

The Samuel Glacier trailhead is 294 km from Whitehorse downtown. To reach there, take the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction. From Haines Junction, get on to the Haines Highway (Highway 3) and continue south for another 139 km. The drive itself is very beautiful with jaw dropping scenery on either side.

Note: There are no services of any kind once you cross Haines Junction. Hence, fuel up and buy whatever is required before leaving Haines Junction.

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