Want to touch a glacier? The Matanuska spills from mountains that rim Prince William Sound to the head of the Matanuska Valley—a colossal, rippled, silt-scoured river of ice more than 20 miles long. It’s so massive that the equally impressive Matanuska River boils right from its snout. And yet, you can park within a few minute’s walk.
Being able to walk up to any glacier is a stunning experience, and this big boy is the biggest, and perhaps, most impressive roadside glacier in the entire state. If getting close isn’t enough, you can also join a guiding company for a day trip. The sheer ice walls, deep drain holes called moulins, the blue-lit caves and the groaning, creaking sounds make the visit unforgettable.
At the very least, it’s a great excuse to drive the Glenn Highway. This road trip gives you a feel for the colorful adventurers, guides and backcountry Alaskans who live in these remote corners of the state. It’s easy to spend a couple days out here, thanks to the great lodges—not the big, cruise-circuit lodges, but intimate, family-run places that attract independent-minded travelers.
Best Viewing Spots
At the Glacier’s Toe
You don’t just have scan this Ice Age remnant from a distance. You can approach the Matanuska on foot, after you enter the private Matanuska Glacier Park Resort and drive to the terminus parking area. Explore the gritty terminal area, with mounds of debris and blackened ice, or venture onto aprons of low angle ice. Or walk on the glacier itself or try some climbing. Unless equipped and experienced for glacial travel, it’s best to hire a guide or join in a tour. They will enhance the experience with coaching and gear, leaven it with glacial lore, and work to ensure your safety in a potentially dangerous environment. Plan to spend 1-2 hours.
Matanuska Glacier Overlook
For a stunning vista of the glacier—with a vantage that allows you to see up the valley as it curves deeper into the ice-bound coastal range—check out the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area at Mile 101. There are several other pullouts with glacier views.
Sutton, AK 99674
Just a 2.5-hour drive from Anchorage, 50 miles west to the Palmer area, the Matanuska Glacier sits off the scenic but less-traveled Glenn Highway.
Head north from Anchorage up the Glenn Highway, past Palmer and Sutton, into the Chugach Mountains. At Mile 102, turn toward the river at South Glacier Park Road and enter the privately owned Matanauska Glacier Park Resort. The road descends the steep hill and crosses the Matanuska River on a privately owned bridge.
Summer fee for an unguided access to the glacier is $30 or $25 for Alaska residents. (2021 update -- unguided access to the glacier is not offered summer of 2021. Call to join the 2-3 hour guided tour on the glacier). Winter fee is $100 and includes mandatory guiding. The face of the glacier is about a 15- to 20-minute walk from parking. For more information call toll free 888-253-4480 or 907-745-2534. Email is [email protected]