Glaciers of the Glenn
A day trip to see the glaciers along the Glenn Highway is a great way to immerse yourself in Alaska's natural wonders. You'll have the opportunity to engage in a rare adventure — driving right up to a glacier and walking on it. The Glenn Highway boasts one of the few road-accessible glaciers in the state, and coupled with the pleasant and scenic drive along the way, it makes for a memorable afternoon spent exploring this Byway.
Leaving Anchorage, drive northeast on the Glenn. You'll pass the townships of Eagle River and Chugiak and continue on towards Palmer, which is about an hour's drive from Anchorage. As you head through the Eklutna Flats, enjoy the towering vistas of the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains, and catch a glimpse of Pioneer Peak, the closest peak in the distance. Get a closer view of Knik Glacier via an airboat tour by taking the Old Glenn Highway exit and driving to either Knik Glacier Adventures, located off Knik River Road about 20 miles from Palmer, or Mountain View RV Park, which is just off of Smith Road via the Old Glenn, about three miles south of Palmer.
Just past Palmer at Mile 44.5, pull over and view the Matanuska River, Knik River, and catch your first glimpse of a glacier - the Knik Glacier can be seen in the distance.
Driving on, you will pass through Sutton and Chickaloon, and then on towards the Matanuska Glacier.
Alpine Historical Park
Here you'll find a little piece of Alaska's past, located at Mile 55.9. Get the history of the Sutton Coal Washing Plant and the early days of coal mining in the Matanuska Valley and check out the old buildings and equipment there. Admission is free, and there is also a nice park area with picnic tables and a playground and public restrooms.
Just past Alpine Historical Park, you will cross Granite Creek Bridge and witness some of the amazing rock formations created by long ago glaciers.
Just before your first view of the Matanuska Glacier, you may be able to see a spectacular rock glacier to your left. Rock glaciers are actually much rarer than ice glaciers, and are formed by a particular combination of cold and rock debris. There is a large amount of hidden ice in rock glaciers, causing them to flow downhill in the same manner as an ice glacier, albeit much slower.
Mile 91.7 offers your first pullout area with a view of Matanuska Glacier. This scenic viewpoint showcases the beauty of the glacier and its surroundings. There are other pullouts with views of the glacier as you continue on.
Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area
At Mile 101, this is the place to stop if you want to get up close and personal with a glacier. The Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the state, as well as one of the oldest. Looming 13,000 feet high and 27 miles long, it is a majestic example of Alaska's natural wonders. You will drive down a dirt road to a gift shop, where entrance fees are collected. Fees are per person and range from $6-$12. You then drive through a gated area and continue on the dirt road roughly two miles further to the main parking area. It is a relatively easy 15-minute hike out to the ice, and you have the option of hiking the glacier trails on your own, or taking a guided tour. Both MICA Guides and NOVA River Runners offer ice-climbing type glacier tours for the more adventurous. You can also enjoy a meal at the Long Rifle Lodge and have an unobstructed view of the glacier from your dining room window.
Your day trip ends at Matanuska Glacier and you will make your way back towards Anchorage. If you want to make this an overnight trip, you can continue your northern drive through the areas of Sheep Mountain and Eureka. Just past Eureka Summit (Mile 129.5) you will be able to view the Nelchina Glacier. This glacier is 22 miles long and drains into Tazlina Lake. There are overnight accommodations available at Sheep Mountain and Eureka Lodge, or you can continue on to the town of Glennallen (Mile 189) which has several lodging options.