Shakes Glacier

Area Status: Open
View of Shakes Lake, looking south to Shakes Lake

Shakes Glacier is located in the Stikine-LeConte Wilderness about 30 miles east of Wrangell, Alaska. It drains the southern portion of the Stikine Icefield and terminates in Shakes Lake. Like other glaciers from the Stikine Icefield, Shakes Glacier is losing ice. Between the 1980’s and 2014 the ice retreated approximately 1.4 miles. Icebergs are always present in the lake and at the narrow entrance to the lake in Shakes Slough. There are no recreation facilities such as cabins or shelters at the glacier, though the nearby FS cabins on Shakes Slough, Shakes Slough Cabin #1 and Shakes Slough Cabin #2, and others in the Stikine- LeConte Wilderness are within short boating distances. Forest Service developed recreation opportunities in the area include Chief Shakes Hot Springs.

Icy creek flowing into Shakes Lake View of Shakes Lake, looking south to Shakes Lake Berry Picking along Shakes Slough

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Caution: The wet environment of SE Alaska creates very slippery conditions. Unexpected flooding from the glacier is also a caution to boaters and hikers.
Operational Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
Reservations: None
Fees: None
Permit Info: None
Open Season: April - Oct. are best, open all year weather permitting
Usage: Light
Best Season: April through October
Restrictions: None
Closest Towns: Wrangell, Alaska
Water: No potable
Restroom: None
Passes: None
Operated By: U.S. Forest Service

General Information


The glacier environment is a dynamic landscape with cold water constantly moving, from cascading waterfalls to swift silty rivers. The terrain along the lake is very steep for hiking but places can be found for anchoring a boat and exploring. Visitors must plan accordingly for lake levels to rise unexpectedly and icebergs to shift their weight and roll. 

General Notes:

In the early 1900’s, Shakes Glacier was titled Knig (also spelled Knic or Knyg) Glacier. The origin of this name was found to be Kristen “Knig” Johansen, who took his gas powered boat, the Karen, up to the glacier and collected glacier ice for the town of Wrangell. At this time Shakes Lake also carried his namesake as Johansen’s lake. Kristen was nicknamed “Knig” for the mountains where he grew up in Norway. In Norway, Kristen served in His Majesty the King’s Life Guard from 1887-1889. The story of Knig and the previous title of Shakes Glacier lives on in Knig Slough, a nearby side channel of the Stikine River. 

The Glacier is now officially called “Shakes Glacier” for the powerful line of Tlingit Chiefs of Wrangell, seven of which carried the name “Chief Shakes”. One of these Chief Shakes had a cabin near the mouth of Shake’s Slough.  

In the late 1600’s, Shakes Glacier extended to the end of Shakes Slough at the main river. During the Little Ice Age, Shakes Glacier experienced a period of advance, but resumed recession by 1780. From 1780-1948, Shakes Glacier had an average terminus retreat of 26 meters per year (not accounting for the Little Ice Age advance). After 1948, the average terminus retreat has been steady at approximately 107 meters per year. This 2017 recession rate summary data are from Wrangell High School’s Shakes Glacier Survey Team.


Viewing Wildlife

The boat ride from Wrangell provides opportunities to see wildlife including a wide variety of sea and shore birds and marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, humpback whales, and possibly orcas and harbor porpoises. Boating on the Stikine River, black bears, brown bears, moose, Sitka-black tailed deer, and mountain goats can also be spotted along the shoreline, in the alder thickets, or on the rugged slopes of the mountains.

Viewing Plants

The Shakes Glacier environs is a great location to view plant succession. The narrow Shakes Slough is forested with Sitka spruce, Mountain Hemlock, alder and willow. Closer to the glacier, the vegetation is younger, with smaller spruce and thickets of alder. Open areas are covered in think carpets of lichens and moss. Wetlands and forests along the slough are good spots for berry picking such as high bush cranberries and blueberries.

Berry Picking along Shakes Slough
Berry picking along Shakes Slough. Photo courtesy of Karen Dillman, Forest Ecologest.

Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities