MV Ptarmigan near Portage Glacier
The MV Ptarmigan, operated by Grayline Alaska, takes up to 144 passengers close to Portage Glacier five times a day.

Thirty years ago, a boat specifically built to ply iceberg-filled waters left its dock on the southwest side of Portage Lake for the first of hundreds of awe-inspiring trips back to the Ice Age.

Located on Portage Lake in Chugach National Forest near Anchorage, Portage Glacier Cruises runs five trips daily to the iconic Portage Glacier. Each trip is narrated by an onboard U.S. Forest Service representative. 

Portage Glacier’s accessible location makes it one of Alaska’s most popular attractions. More than 30,000 passengers cruised to Portage Glacier last year on this day-trip just an hour’s drive south of Anchorage. 

The Portage Glacier Cruises vessel, the MV Ptarmigan, is the only boat operating on Portage Lake. It takes travelers within 300 yards of the glacier, which still spills all the way to the water’s edge. On the one-hour cruise, guests spend about 20 minutes idling slowly from side to side on the lake, watching and listening to the massive ice with the option of standing on the topside viewing deck or staying inside the fully enclosed, heated cabin. 

Marcelle Roemmich has been captaining the MV Ptarmigan for the past five years. 

“I love being out on the lake. It is absolutely stunning every day, rain or shine. Every day feels and looks different than the last,” Roemmich said. “Our crew is an absolute joy to work with, and almost all of them have been coming back year after year, making them very knowledgeable and passionate about the area.” 

David Mazack joined the crew on the MV Ptarmigan in 1997.

“It’s changed quite a bit over the years. Behind us to the right, you can see the bedrock there. It was virtually covered in ice, and there was a small portion near the lake edge, but the ice on top of the bedrock towered over 130 high beyond that,” Mazack said. “There was this huge monolith of ice, big walls of ice.”

The ever-changing landscape of the glacial valley is a central theme of the cruise’s narration, shared by a Chugach National Forest park ranger. Photos in the boat show how the glacier has receded dating back as far as 1914.

“I haven’t noticed it too much year by year, but if I have to think back 22 years, it’s changed a lot. But then again, I don’t look like anything I did 22 years ago, either,” Mazack said.

In addition to glacier views, a trip across Portage Lake can result in sightings of Alaska wildlife and waterfalls. Black bears and mountain goats roam the sides of the surrounding mountains in the spring and summer. Travelers can also spot birds like black-legged kittiwakes, surf scoters and even bald eagles. 

Additionally, hundreds of small waterfalls can be seen in and around the surrounding mountains. And the MV Ptarmigan always makes sure to slow down as it approaches some of the larger falls that offer good photo opportunities. 

To learn more about Portage Glacier Cruises or to book a trip for the 30th anniversary season, visit

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