Photo Credit: Brent Reynolds

Matanuska Glacier Scenic Drive

Driving north from Anchorage isn't as instantly dramatic as going south, but within an hour you're immersed in stop-and-shoot scenery. The Glenn Highway runs northeast to agricultural Palmer, then twists east along the Matanuska River Valley, sandwiched between coastal and interior mountains.

The Matanuska Glacier makes for a great day trip from Anchorage, because there’s lots to see and do in the area.

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Scenic Drive Points

Forty min­utes from down­town Anchor­age lies Eagle Riv­er Nature Cen­ter, a gate­way to Chugach State Park and a glacial riv­er val­ley as wild and dra­mat­ic as any in Alas­ka. Enjoy an easy, 3‑mile nature walk on the Albert Loop or trek up-val­ley 5 miles to see plung­ing water­falls and 3,000-foot cliffs. In win­ter, tra­verse the trails on cross-coun­try skis or snowshoes.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile Elevation Gain: 100 feet

Who can say no to a cool water­fall only a half-hour’s dri­ve from town? One of the most pop­u­lar first hikes” for fam­i­lies with small chil­dren, the one-mile trail to Thun­der­bird Falls tra­vers­es a hand­some birch for­est along the Eklut­na Riv­er canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot water­fall. Dur­ing win­ter, the falls can freeze, form­ing fab­u­lous columns of blue ice. 

Dat­ing back to 1650, the park is the area’s old­est con­tin­u­ous­ly inhab­it­ed Athabaskan Indi­an set­tle­ment. Russ­ian Ortho­dox mis­sion­ar­ies came here in the ear­ly 1800s, and you can still see St. Nicholas Church, the old­est stand­ing build­ing in greater Anchor­age. Snap some pic­tures of the col­or­ful Spir­it Hous­es build over the graves of the deceased‑a cus­tom that came from the meld­ing of the cul­tures. Up for a walk? It’ll pay off with a glacier…  ...more

$11 40 - 45 min

Locat­ed 45 min­utes from Anchor­age, the Musk Ox farm project was con­ceived in the 1950s as an agrar­i­an oppor­tu­ni­ty for vil­lagers in West­ern Alas­ka; today it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing look at an ani­mal (and a way of life) that was per­ilous­ly close to extinc­tion. You can take a 30- to 40-minute tour of the farm and see some 70 musk ox. Since they’re friend­ly crea­tures, they may come right up to the fence to greet you.

The camp­ground is pret­ty open, since bark bee­tles killed the big, old spruce trees. The camp­sites attract RVers and campers, and each of the 24 sites has a fire ring and pic­nic table. There’s potable water at a hand pump. 

$95+ 2.5 to 3 hrs

Expe­ri­ence a scenic float along a glacial riv­er. Just 90 min­utes from Anchor­age, the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er is Alaska’s largest road-acces­si­ble glac­i­er, and the water run­ning under­neath cre­ates a riv­er that’s per­fect for raft­ing. You’ll float down­stream for up to 2 hours, tak­ing in the scenery along the way — moun­tains, riv­er chan­nels, hill­sides, moraines — and look­ing out for wildlife. It’s fun for the whole fam­i­ly — any­one ages 5 and up can do this  ...more

$95+ 4 to 6 hrs

Expe­ri­ence the thrill of walk­ing or climb­ing on a glac­i­er. The Matanus­ka is Alaska’s largest road-acces­si­ble glac­i­er, and it’s just 90 min­utes from Anchor­age, so it’s an easy way to get up close and per­son­al with these amaz­ing nat­ur­al won­ders. You don’t need to be expe­ri­enced in either activ­i­ty — just be in good shape and up for adven­ture. You’ll either walk around on the glac­i­er with cram­pons or learn how to use an ice axe and safe­ly work your  ...more

$99+ per person 3 hrs

The loca­tion of this ATV adven­ture is the mid­point between Anchor­age and Glen­nallen. Plen­ty of trav­el­ers dri­ve through this area with­out paus­ing for more than a pic­ture of the road­side glac­i­er, but Glac­i­er View ATV’s three-hour tour — the only ATV excur­sion in this part of Alas­ka — makes this tour well worth a longer stop. 

Difficulty: Easy

Look­ing to break up your dri­ve with a jog or bike ride? This lit­tle-used, 2‑mile sec­tion of the for­mer Glenn High­way has lit­tle to no traf­fic. Rocks and shrubs are creep­ing onto the road sur­face in places. It’s qui­et, scenic, and hilly. The road­way is offi­cial­ly closed in the mid­dle but easily-passable. 

The Matanus­ka State Park is the best place for a free view of the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er. You won’t be able to walk up to the glac­i­er (that’s at Mile 102 and is $30 per per­son), but this well-devel­oped site (wihch is also con­nect­ed to the near­by RV Park) offers plen­ty of park­ing, pub­lic restrooms, and excel­lent glac­i­er views and pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ties. You’ll also find: A half-dozen inter­pre­tive signs about glac­i­ers, ice crea­tures, spruce bark…  ...more

It’s only a small pull-out on the side of the high­way, but this is the clos­est view­point of the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er. If you don’t have a pow­er­ful zoom on your cam­era, or just want to get a great look at the ice, this is the spot. There’s only room for about six cars and the feel is a bit more rus­tic than the offi­cial state rec site a mile to the west, but you’ll be perched on a bluff over­look­ing the glac­i­er. Dis­tance 103.3 miles north of…  ...more

$89+ 3 hrs to full day excursions

There’s climb­ing a moun­tain – and then there’s climb­ing an ICE moun­tain. Regard­less of your climb­ing abil­i­ty or expe­ri­ence, you’ll end the day feel­ing ful­filled and inspired. MICA also offers short, guid­ed hikes and longer treks if you pre­fer a more leisure­ly explore of the glac­i­er and its grandeur.

Difficulty: Difficult

Lion’s Head is famous through­out the state. This rock out­crop­ping is the promi­nent fea­ture beside the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er and is fea­tured in mag­a­zines and adver­tise­ments all over Alas­ka. And you can hike it! You’ve got to be in good shape and ready for a scram­bling, one-hour climb. You’ll be reward­ed by great views, look­ing down a 2,000-foot cliff face to the glac­i­er. You’re panora­ma will include views of the Matanus­ka Riv­er, Cari­bou Creek with…  ...more

South-fac­ing slopes can con­cen­trate large num­bers of sheep that are espe­cial­ly vis­i­ble after green-up in the spring. Lodges in the area pro­vide spot­ting scopes and good advice, and there are sev­er­al pull­outs and trail­heads with safe parking.

Peo­ple love to pull off here and shoot a pho­to beside this clas­sic sign. A local the­o­ry on the creek name is that the crusty, old sour­dough who lived down near the creek used mules for guid­ing hunts. These mules pur­port­ed­ly escaped a lot, so the ass­es were always by the creek. Who knows? But it’s a clas­sic pho­to for the friends back home.

Just south of the Cari­bou Creek bridge near mile mark­er 104 on the Glenn High­way in the shad­ow of the Lion’s Head rock for­ma­tion, look for the turnoff for the Cari­bou Creek Recre­ation­al Min­ing Area. You are not going to get fab­u­lous­ly rich here and be the next star of the TV real­i­ty show Gold Rush, but you do have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to car­ry a gold pan and shov­el, hike the steep half-mile-long trail down to the creek, and pan for gold.

Some 15,000 years ago, this glac­i­er reached anoth­er 50 miles west to the Palmer area. It now has a four-mile wide tow­er­ing face that you can walk right up to and touch. Keep an eye out for sum­mer­time ice-climbers at this most impres­sive road­side glac­i­er. Direc­tions: Head north from Anchor­age on the Glenn High­way. At mile 102, you can dri­ve down to Glac­i­er Park and pay a day fee (8882534480), then hike 15 – 20 min­utes to the face of  ...more