So you want to walk on a glacier. The first order of business is to find a glacier to walk on. Turns out that a suitable speciman exists just a little more than a two-hour drive from Anchorage. The Matanuska Glacier is a 27-mile long, 4-mile wide river of ice that wends its way down out of the Chugach Mountains. And it happens to be one of the most car-accessible glaciers in the United States.
Getting There -
Take the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage. Your first choice is taking the Old Glen Highway at about milepost 29. The old road runs up along the Knik River and across to Palmer. It's a scenic drive that adds a couple miles to your trip. Otherwise stay on the Glenn Highway and exit toward Palmer and Glennallen at about milepost 35. Continue on the Glenn Highway through Palmer, Sutton and past Chickaloon. The glacier is visible across the river and valley below. Your first chance to pull over and view the glacier from afar is at the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site at milepost 101. Just past milepost 102 is the turn off for Glacier Park Resort, a private business that charges visitors for road access to the glacier. Continue down the steep grade and cross the river. Continue until you reach the parking area at Glacier Park Resort. After checking in and paying the fees at the resort, you can continue on across the valley until you reach the parking area near the glacier's end moraine.
What To Do -
A self-guided trip of the glacier takes visitors out onto a relatively flat part of the glacier mostly free of large crevices that can make glacier exploration exceedingly dangerous. Though visitors are cautioned to follow the orange cones to avoid trouble spots and heavy runoff. Glacier Park Resort, a private company that grants vehicle access to the glacier, charges $15 per resident and $5 per child 12 and under for the self-guided tour. A guided tour starts at $50 and takes visitors farther out onto the ice where skilled guides provide safety equipment and information about glacier geology.
- Explore the end moraine, the area where the glacier dumps tons of silt, rock and boulders carried down from the mountains.
- Look for unique glacier features like abraision, crevasses, eskers, moraine and till.
- Walk on the blue ice and over the rivulets of melt water that form small canyons in the ice.
- Take pictures of glacier features or shoot video of your glacier exploration.
What To Eat and Drink -
Many visitors seem to enjoy bringing their own picnic items along to the glacier, as there are several picnic tables available at the beginning of the glacier hike. But the Long Rifle Lodge, about a mile away, is the closest restaurant to Matanuska Glacier. Sheep Mountain Lodge offers full restaurant fare. It is located another 11 miles up the road.
When To Go -
You can visit the Matanuska Glacier anytime of year depending on highway conditions. The best viewing opportunities for Alaskans visiting from south central are in late spring before the tourist season begins and in the early fall. Weekends can get crowded during the summer as buses full of visitors can choke the Glenn Highway and space at the eateries is on a first come, first serve basis.