Matanuska Glaicer is premier destination

Walking on a glacier while visiting Alaska is a popular activity. And it is very achievable! There are more than 100,000 glaciers in Alaska and about 60 around Anchorage. Can you imagine? I’ve always had a fascination with glaciers even before coming to Alaska so of course visiting a glacier was one of the first things I did. I didn’t quite know that there are many different types of glaciers (which I will get into later). In Anchorage, there are many picturesque glaciers with easy access and Matanuska Glacier is probably one of the most well known among all.  

In this post I’ll write about my tour experiences and all you need to know about how to plan for it. Visiting Matanuska Glaicer is one of the best day trip options from Anchorage.

Matanuska Glacier in winter

A great day trip from Anchorage, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier is one of the premier sites to visit in Alaska. About 100 miles (160 km) north, 2 hours drive from Anchorage, it’s a popular place to visit all year round. It is the biggest glacier in the US that you can access by road. Not only because of the easy access but also because the size contributes to why Matanuska Glacier is so popular to visit. It’s 27 miles long, stretches four miles across, and is easily seen at Mile 101 Glenn Highway.  

The drive up from Anchorage is long but enjoyable. The tour leaves early in the morning because it takes about 2-2.5 hours to get there. Since you’re not driving, all you have to do is sit, relax, and enjoy the view. I especially love the views across the Knik River. That view is one of the reasons why I fell in love with Alaska. Here the wide open river meets high mountain peaks, and the braided glacial river creates a unique scenery. What a beautiful place this is. The drive continues and it follows Matanuska River along the way, which feeds by the glacier. 

Matanuska Glacier-view from trailhead

The Glenn Highway curves and turns, and there it is the majestic Matanuska Glacier. The view is great from the highway, so you can only imagine what it’s like to be in front of it! The glacier looks big from here but imagine what it was like when it was formed. During the last glacial maximum, about 22,000 years ago, the Matanuska Glacier reached its peak in size. The terminus once reached the north end of Anchorage. Remember what you learned about U-shaped glacial valleys during a geography class? You are standing in it. 

A short stretch of access road leads to the entrance of the glacier. As it’s a popular destination, there are usually many tour groups preparing for the departure. It’s important to pick the right tour company if you are comfortable in a small group rather than with a lot of people at once. I chose to be in a small group which I preferred.  Once you are at the glacier, it’s time to gear up with crampons, helmets, and more layers. Remember, glaciers are ice, it’s cold near there. Even on a sunny day, it can be chilly with the wind. 

Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier

Let’s go for a hike on Matanuska Glacier

Phew, getting here was a journey and we haven’t even started the hike yet. The glacier looks absolutely beautiful from the starting point. This is really the most easily accessible glacier in Anchorage. In fact, it’s the biggest glacier that’s accessible by road in the country. There is a well-maintained trail to follow but since the glacier moves every day, the views can be different each day. Even if you were out here once before, it’s worth visiting again, especially in different seasons. 

I love seeing the shapes, patterns, and colors of glaciers. The stories they heard, the weather they’ve experienced, the distances they traveled… Only if they could talk, right? There are 22,000 years of history right here. I’ve always been fascinated by glaciers, in fact, it was one of the motivators of my travels in the Arctic region. It’s such a treat to experience this massive glacier so up close. 

Take out your water bottle and drink from the glacial stream. You can get any purest water than this. (Did you know, that all the water you drink in Alaska is actually glacial water too? Eklutna Lake and Ship Creek, generate nearly 90 percent of Anchorage’s public water supply from snowmelt and glacier runoff.)

We hiked into the glacier, passing some amazing ice tunnels, hills, rivers, and valleys all created by this ice. It really is like hiking on a mountain made of ice. It reminded me of my first trek into a glacier in Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. I was so amazed with that experience. Wearing a clunky crampon (it was 2006, even the crampons for amateurs were chunky back then) was even an adventure. After years of amazing travels, that was still one of my favorite experiences. You just can’t help what draws you in life! 

After a couple of hours of exploring the glacier, we went to lunch at a nearby local restaurant to unwind and refuel before heading back. This place had a clear view of the glacier, it was a perfect place to replay what we just did. 

I visited Matanuska Glacier several times in different seasons. It’s popular in summer but my favorite time to visit is winter when everything freezes over. Frozen creeks and rivers create more areas to explore, and in winter you can better experience ice caves since they are more stable. I went into some amazing ice caves, and tunnels, and walked on an amazingly smooth surface of ice. It can be really cold though. But you can always dress warmly. 

Matanuska glacier detail

What to pack for a Matanuska Glacier Tour

  • Extra layers: layers, layers, layers. Wherever you go in Alaska, a layer is the key to dress. 
  • Sturdy footwear: you need to have sturdy footwear to be able to support the crampon to walk on ice. 
  • Hats, gloves, scarf
  • Water bottle: to drink the freshest and purest glacier water!
  • Camera or a phone with extra battery: there’s nothing more dreadful than a dead phone/ camera! Because of the cold temperature, batteries can drain faster out there. Make sure to put your phone in the inner pocket of your jacket or pants, and have an extra battery ready for your camera.  
  • Something extra: on a windy day, consider bringing a face covering (buff, balaclava, scarf, etc.) and lip balm. 
  • Cash: to tip your tour guide 
Matanuska Glacier panorama winter view

Frequently Asked Questions about Matanuska Glacier

Can you visit Matanuska Glacier from Anchorage? 

Yes! It takes about 2 hours to drive from Anchorage. If you join a tour departing from Anchorage they will provide transportation. 

Can you walk to Matanuska Glacier on your own?

You can no longer hike the Matanuska Glacier without a guide, so you will need to join a tour. Many excellent tour companies run tours. If you have a vehicle and want to save your budget, you can join the tour run by the tour company at the glacier.

What kind of glacier is Matanuska Glacier? 

It is a valley glacier. 

Why is glacier blue? 

Glacier ice is blue because the long wavelengths (red) part of white light is absorbed by ice and the blue light (short wavelengths) is transmitted and scattered. The ice on a glacier has been there for a long time and has been compacted down so that its structure is pretty different from the ice you normally see.

Is Matanksua Glacier privately owned? 

It’s a bit complicated. A short answer is no, a private entity can’t own a glacier. However, the access road is privately managed. Hence, the entrance fee is included in the tour prices. They manage the trails into the glacier. 

Matanuska glacier tour in winter

Plan for many glacier adventures in Alaska

When visiting Alaska, put the Matanuska Glacier Tour from Anchorage on your list! Even if you have been to other glaciers, you would love this experience. Also, don’t just choose one glacier experience in Alaska. As I mentioned before, there are many different kinds of glaciers, and walking on a valley glacier is just one. You can land on an alpine glacier, drink from a glacier melt pool, kayak to a glacier, view the tidewater glaciers from a boat, hike to a glacier, and more. 

Thank you Stephen Bugno for photos of Matanuska Glaicer. Check out his website for independent travel resources and great photography!

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