How to See the Knik Glacier
The 25-mile-long Knik Glacier snakes out of the Chugach Mountains before tumbling dramatically into an iceberg-studded lake that feeds the Knik River. With a five-mile-wide face and daily calving, the glacier’s an impressive sight: Its 400-foot-tall walls of ice rise up from a lake where those icebergs are floating, turning, and breaking apart.
This glacier used to wreak havoc on the Mat-Su Valley; each winter, its advance dammed up a lake, which would flood each summer. (It’s been recognized as a National Natural Landmark because of the phenomenon.) But glacial recession has stemmed the flooding and created a six-square-mile lake at the glacier face.
Today, the Knik Glacier is an easy trip from Anchorage (flights are as short as 90 minutes round-trip), as well as the Mat-Su Valley, and there are some great tours to get you up close to the spectacle.
How to See the Knik Glacier
There are no roads here, but you can travel a 25-mile trail by ATV up the Knik River. You’ll stop in front of the glacier and marvel at the bobbing icebergs, with the glacier’s face forming a picturesque backdrop. The 50-mile round-trip tour, which takes 6–8 hours, is an incredible way to experience Alaska’s backcountry.
If you don’t have time for a full-day ATV adventure and would rather stretch your legs, there’s a great short hike that serves up a distant but beautiful view of the Knik Glacier. The West Butte Trail, on Bodenburg Butte near Palmer (just 45 minutes north of Anchorage), makes for a short (1.5-mile) but steep hike. At the top, you’ll see the distinct blue of this stunning glacier.
You’ll find one of the most spectacular views of this glacier from above. Flightseeing trips pass over the glacier, with opportunities to land on or near it. You can also helicopter in for some hiking or paddleboarding; there’s even a dog-mushing camp on the ice! Many tours of Knik Glacier also include nearby Colony Glacier and Lake George.
- Alaska Air Service: Trips to the glacier are 1.5–2.5 hours from Anchorage by plane, depending on what you’d like to experience. On a 1.5-hour flightseeing tour, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of this 25-mile-long river of ice. Extend your trip by opting for a remote landing on a nearby gravel bar, where you can take in views of the glacier and the icebergs that have calved from its face. Less than a mile away, you’ll also witness views of Colony Glacier and Lake George. Call to customize your adventure.
- Regal Air: Take off from the Lake Hood floatplane base in Anchorage and tour both the Knik and Colony glaciers. These outings are offered year-round; in summer, the two-hour trip includes a floatplane landing on Lake George in front of Colony Glacier!
- Outbound Heli Adventures: On the popular Knik Glacier Explorer tour, available year-round, you’ll get 45–50 minutes of flightseeing, followed by 45–60 minutes of glacial exploration. And your return trip will follow a different route, to ensure you get a wide variety of Alaskan scenery in a short amount of time. To skip the walking and maximize your time in the air, opt for the Scenic Sampler, a summertime-only trip that includes views of Knik and Colony glaciers. You can also go heli-hiking and ice climbing on the glacier on a half-day (year-round) or full-day (summertime-only) trip. Or, for a truly unique summertime experience, paddleboard right on the glacier in the big blue melt pools! You can also paddleboard or kayak on gorgeous Lake George at the base of nearby Colony Glacier.
- Alaska Helicopter Tours: Take advantage of the helicopter by landing on the Knik Glacier—this company’s signature tour. You’ll get 30 minutes of flightseeing and 30 minutes of exploring on the ice, checking out crevasses and blue melt pools. On the return flight, you’ll get views of several other glaciers, too. Or maximize your viewpoints on the Grand Knik Tour, which includes three landings: on a remote peak with a birds-eye view of the glacier; near a 100-foot ice wall on Lake George; and on the glacier itself. Both tours are available year-round. You can also fly to a remote dogsled camp, set high on a glacier, and go for an exhilarating sled tour on real snow!
On the Big Screen
If you can’t visit Knik Glacier in person, try the next best thing: Seeing it on the silver screen. The spectacular blue ice has been in several Hollywood movies, like “Star Trek V” and “Avalanche.”