Originating within the Chugach Mountain Range, the Matanuska Glacier is a 27-mile-long (43-kilometer-long) river of ice and Alaska’s most accessible glacier. A popular day trip from Anchorage, the glacier draws tourists year-round to gaze at the impressive ice formations and trek among glacial crevasses and brilliant blue meltwater pools.
Along Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway, the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site provides easy hiking trails with scenic views of the glacier. Visitors wanting to experience the glacier up close can explore the private Matanuska Glacier Park on their own in summer or as part of a guided hiking tour year-round.
Unguided glacier access is limited to only a small area of the glacier, so those who want to explore more of the glacier will need to book a guided tour. Tours are available for all ability levels, and most tours cater to the physical abilities of the group.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A visit to the Matanuska Glacier is a perfect day trip from Anchorage.
- Unguided access to the glacier is only available during the summer months.
- Guided tours include the use of crampons, helmets, and trekking poles.
- Don’t forget sunglasses, as light reflecting off the glaciers can be blinding.
How to Get There
Located about two hours northeast of Anchorage via the Glenn Highway, the Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in the United States that you can access by car. You’ll be able to spot the glacier for miles as you approach the park, and there are several scenic viewpoints along the highway where you can stop and enjoy the views. If you’re without a rental car, glacier trekking tours can include round-trip transportation from Anchorage.
When to Get There
Matanuska Glacier tours are available year-round, but unguided access is only available in the summer. The glacier functions as a weather hole, forcing warm air from the valley upward, meaning visitors during the summer months can expect sunniers skies and warmer temps than the valley below. Winter tours may require the use of a snowmobile to get to the base of the glacier, and it can definitely be chilly, so dress in plenty of layers.
Other Glenn Highway Attractions
The Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway stretches 135 miles (217 kilometers) from downtown Anchorage into the mountains, glaciers, and wilds of Alaska. The Glenn Highway follows a path cut by the ancient Matanuska Glacier and is considered one of the most scenic drives in Alaska. Highlights include the Caribou Creek Recreational Mining Area, Sheep Mountain Dall Sheep Reserve, and the Lionhead, once the site of an ancient volcano.