Located at Mile 102, a two-hours’ drive north east of Anchorage in Alaska, is Matanuska Glacier Park. Described as one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers, Matanuska Glacier is the largest in the whole of the US that can be reached by vehicle.
Why is Matanuska Glacier Park so interesting for visitors?
Located in the Matanuska-Susitna valley and surrounded by three mountain ranges, the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains, the glacier sits at a height of 13,176 ft. (4,020m) above sea level.
What makes this area so unmissable for visitors to the area is that the four mile (6.5 km) wide terminus of the glacier is visible from the Glenn Highway on the approach to the glacier. Tourists can even walk up to the face of the glacier.
What are the unique characteristics of the Matanuska Glacier and surrounding area?
Although the snout or terminus of the glacier is believed to have remained in a reasonably stable position over the last few decades, some scientist suggest it has lost around six-tenths of a mile in the past forty years. It is believed that the Matanuska Glacier once filled the entire valley, but now is a still impressive 27 miles (43 km) in length.
Interestingly, the glacier is responsible for creating a strange natural phenomenon known as a “weather hole”. This is when the cold air of the glacier propels the warm valley air upwards into the sky, resulting in sunny skies and a microclimate of mild weather around the glacier itself. Many walkers and climbers come to the area to make the most of this interesting weather phenomenon.
What can you do at Matanuska Glacier Park?
The Glacier Park itself is a private campground which charges a fee to visit the glacier. From here, you can drive the two-mile (3 km) private road to arrive at the beginning of the 20-minute self-guided trail. This leads to the terminal moraine at the very foot of the glacier.
Visitors to Matanuska Glacier Park wanting to get even closer to the ice can hire a tour for glacier walking or ice climbing. Deep crevasses and meltwater pools are explored during this experience, while local guides can provide more detailed information about the formation of the glacier.
What other activities are available nearby?
The Matanuska Glacier feeds into the Matanuska River which is a waterway that drains through the Matanuska Valley for a distance of around 75 miles (121 km). The Matanuska River is popular with whitewater fanatics thanks to its stretches of waters ranging from Class II to III (medium and difficult) on the International Scale of River Difficulty. The river is best suited to rafting and kayak enthusiasts with intermediate to advanced levels of experience.
Hiking possibilities are also extensive in the region, with the nearby Lion’s Head Trail a popular, if strenuous choice. Consisting of a one-hour, intensive scramble up to the prominent outcrop of rock that overlooks the glacier, this trek rewards with stunning panoramic views of the Matanuska River, Caribou Creek and the Talkeetna Mountain Range from the top.
What other accessible glaciers are found in Alaska?
Although smaller in size than Matanuska Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier is another of Alaska’s most accessible ice giants. Only 12 miles from Juneau in the southeast of Alaska, Mendenhall is 13.6 miles (22 km) in length and part of the federally protected Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. Unfortunately, you can’t reach the face of this glacier as the snout feeds into the Mendenhall Lake, but trails around the area, such as the East Glacier Trail, provide excellent viewpoints for appreciating the glacier. The Forest Service Visitor Center contains various exhibits and a 15-minute film documenting the Tongass National Parks’ glaciers.
Only a 15-minute drive from Seward on the very southern coast of Alaska, the Exit Glacier can be reached in a mere 30-minutes of walking via the Edge of the Glacier Trail. You can even get right up to the terminus with the Toe of the Glacier trek – just be careful of the chunks of ice which calve from the glacier here. As well as getting to view this glacier at close proximity, visitors can learn about its rapid recession over the past 120 years.