I accidentally discovered the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska in 2016 and finally walked the glacier 20 years later!
I first traveled to Alaska in 1996 with 2 buddies in an old Ford Bronco with over 200,000 miles. Needless to say, we spent a little time along the side of the road across America the Beautiful (and some in Canada), but somehow we survived that great adventure. That was my introduction to one of the most beautiful placeson the planet. I was in awe of the wildlife and expanse of the landscape as we drove the Alaska Highway and explored the road system of the “Last Frontier.” I remember turning south after entering the largest state in the union and then swinging west at Glennallen to meander along Alaska State Highway 1.
The first time I had a good view of a glacier was on this trip to Alaska. Unfortunately we were tired, hungry and out of time. We were unable to stop and get a close-up view of this massive sheet of ice they call the Mat.
Exactly 20 years and 6 trips to Alaska later, I had the opportunity to step foot on this masterpiece in the mountains. It will now be near the top of my list of things to do in Alaska on future trips. I highly recommend this excursion if you have some time to kill on your next Alaskan adventure.
The Matanuska Glacier
The Matanuska Glacier is located in the Matanuska-Susitna valley and is surrounded by three mountain ranges. From the glacier you can see the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains. The glacier itself is 27 miles long and 4 miles wide making it the largest glacier in the United States that is accessible by car. The Matanuska Glacier flows at the rate of about 1 foot per day.
A short 90-mile drive from Anchorage will offer beautiful scenic views. You can also experience an amazing hike on the glacier itself. It is a wonderful way to spend a day if you are in the Anchorage area looking for things to do in Alaska. And, you will see wildlife, beautiful scenery, rivers and vast forests will be seen along the route.
Matanuska Glacier Access – What to Expect
My trip to the Matanuska Glacier was just a spontaneous scenic drive from Anchorage in the early afternoon. The access point is along the Glenn Highway on a privately owned property with a maintained road We arrived to the gift shop and was relatively unprepared for the visit. I had my daughter (13) and my son (10) with me along with several other traveling partners. We slipped into the restrooms to change into more well-suited clothes for a glacier hike.
Becasue we arrived late in the early July day, we were almost alone as we trekked out to the glacier stepping on the metal pieces of manmade “bridge” that led out to the base of the glacier. The drive and subsequent walk to the base was breathtaking! I had never seen anything so haunting. The colors of the terrain were unusually muted dark earth tones and the blue ice of the glacier shone in the background.
The weather on our arrival was overcast and cool, but you never know what to expect in Alaska, so be prepared for rain or cold. You can hope for one of the 129 sunny days per year in the Matanuska-Susitna Burrough of Alaska. Summer rain is relatively unlikely with the Mat-Su Valley’s average rainfall of 16 inches and the average temperature in the summer is 68 degrees.
If you choose to venture out on your own, expect a $30 entry fee per person for an unguided tour. You will pay $100 per person for a guided version. There are also some companies that offer the transportation from anchorage along with a guided tour. I would recommend a guided tour. I suspect you’d get lots of information that we were unable to get as a self-guided group. However, if you prefer freedom, take the risk and feed your need to explore. Just be very careful as there are a lot of opportunities for danger. There have been deaths recorded in recent years at the glacier.
Gear for the Hike
The gear you choose will likely determine how comfortable you feel exploring the Glacier. Here are some recommendations that score a consistently high rating on Amazon.
If you a casual hiker, a very good set of hiking boots is a bare minimum for the Matanuska Glacier. A good pair of hiking boots should not break the bank unless you are a serious long-term explorer. You can expect to pay around $100-120 for a decent pair of boots. It will be the best investment you will make to feel safe and be comfortable. I highly recommend waterproof boots for Alaska, particularly when hiking the Matanuska Glacier.
Rain is not overly common at the Matanuska Glacier, but it’s always good to be prepared. There is
nothing more miserable than not being prepared for the weather you will encounter at the glacier. Breathable rain gear is particularly important so that you don’t end up as drenched on the inside of the gear as on the outside.
Trekking poles are not a necessity, but they are very useful navigating the ice of Matanuska Glacier. No need to spend a ton on them unless you are a serious trekker. In that case, you’d want to use the for future adventures.
Crampons are blades you can use for walking on ice and snow that clamp onto your hiking boots on the outside to allow for excellent gripping on the ice. They are used for more serious climbs and treks so are not necessary for the average visitor to Matanuska Glacier. Nevertheless, if you are in the market for some more serious gear, there are several economical options for you.
The Final Word
As you can hear, I believe the Matanuska Glacier should be on the of your list if you are planning a coming trip to Alaska. You can experience the Matanuska Glacier whether you have an afternoon or want to devote an entire day or even multiple days to the adventure.
If you have any questions regarding the Matanuska Glacier please reach out to me here.
Check this book out for more info on the entire Mat-Su Valley.