The Ultimate Guide to the Matanuska Glacier in Anchorage, Alaska
Visiting Alaska and not sure where to begin? With all the beautiful hikes, road trips, and adventurous activities it is easy to get overwhelmed. Let me introduce you to my favorite Alaskan adventure, Matanuska Glacier.
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What is the Matanuska Glacier?
The Matanuska Glacier is a 27-mile long glacier located 102 miles, or 2 hours, outside of Anchorage, Alaska, making it one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the whole state of Alaska! This 10,000-year-old glacier is deemed as a valley glacier, meaning it flows like a river through a valley. It is an absolute must-see on any Alaska trip!
Matanuska Glacier provides the unique opportunity to walk on a glacier, gain photo opportunities, and get up close and personal glacier viewing. This is is glacier trekking at its finest.
How To Get To Matanuska Glacier
The only way to access this glacier is by vehicle. You need to take the scenic Glenn highway to reach Matanuska Glacier.
Although it’s remote, the scenic Glenn highway is a treat in and of itself! I would recommend going slow and stopping at some of the scenic outlooks along the way.
There are many hikes, lookouts, and viewpoints of the glacier during the drive. Additionally, this drive is especially nice because it is not along any rail lines or cruise routes, making it far less busy than other roads in Alaska.
If you are coming from Anchorage, the scenery is at its peak about 30 minutes before reaching the glacier parking lot at mile 102.
Pro-tip: If you have extra time, be sure to pull off at mile 101 for the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area. This is a great pull off to get your first glimpse of the glacier!
If you have a rental car, you can drive yourself and the parking is free along with your park entrance or tour ticket once you arrive. Beware, the last 2 miles are an unpaved road. There are lots of potholes and dirt, so be extra cautious in your rental car.
Conversely, you can book a round-trip tour from Anchorage to Matanuska for about for about $200 extra per person, if you don’t have a rental car.
The round-trip tours from Anchorage average between $250-$350 per person and pick you up at your hotel in Anchorage.
Ways to Experience the Glacier
There are two major ways to experience the Matanuska Glacier. First is by a guided tour (recommended) or in the summer you can opt for a self-guided tour.
Guided Glacier Tour
A guided glacier tour is by far the most popular choice for visitors and I would HIGHLY recommend it. Guided tours are offered year-round. From September-May, visitors are required to purchase the guided glacier tour because of the dangerous ice.
Additionally, guided tours come with helmets and spikes for your shoes. This allows you to access more of the glacier and hike higher onto it.
Guided tours are $100 plus tip (and tipping is HIGHLY encouraged).
If you are an Alaskan resident or a member of the US Military you can purchase the tour for $65. Friends and families of residents can purchase for $40.
We paid $100, which is pretty steep in comparison, but still well worth the money. It ended up being our favorite tour of the trip!
There are many companies that provide Matanuska glacier tours. I booked through this company and they were fantastic.
The tours are approximately 2 hours and give you plenty of time to stop for photos and ask questions.
Self-Guided Glacier Tour
Self-guided tours are only offered during the summer months. These tours give you access to the glacier with no tour guide. This allows visitors to go at their own pace.
Self-guided tours are to follow the orange traffic cones on the glacier. This limits access to the glacier.
Self-guided tours do not provide any gear, I would recommend bringing your own shoe spikes for easier access onto the glacier.
Self-guided tours cost $30. If you are doing Alaska on a budget or trying to be cost-effective, the self-guided route could be a good option for you. However, I don’t recommend this because you will be missing out on a lot of fun information, history, and additional places on the glacier. On the contrary, you will get the gist and it is much cheaper if you are visiting from out of state.
If you are going to splurge on one thing during your time in Alaska, I would say this is the place to do it.
Additionally, self-guided tours are great if you have small children or older people in your party, as the guided tours can be long and a little difficult on the slick ice. The self-guided tours allow you to get a taste and a feel for this massive glacier while staying in your comfort zone.
** Note: Self-guided tours are not available during the 2021 summer season**
Best Time to Visit?
The Matanuska Glacier can be visited year-round! But, I would recommend the winter.
The summers offer more daylight, warmer weather, and waterfalls around the glacier. It is also a bit easier to drive to the glacier in the summer as you do not need to worry about weather and road conditions as much. In fact, the warm weather for this time of year also melts the glacier ice, turning into beautiful waterfalls.
Conversely, the summers bring more crowds. This also brings the ability to go on a self-guided tour. I would recommend the summers due to the weather and road conditions.
The winters are spectacular as well if you have the right gear and are comfortable driving in winter conditions. In the winter you are able to access parts of the glacier that you usually cannot in the summer. This means ice caves! If you can brave the cold and snow, I can imagine the winter tours being fantastic.
I visited in late September and lucked out with a clear sunny afternoon. The crowds were extremely low and the weather was perfect.
What to Wear to Matanuska Glacier
Alaska is known for its unpredictable weather. Pack layers in the summer and bundle up in the winter. The tour is outside for 2 hours and you do not want to be thinking about how cold you are on top of a glacier!
Pro-tip, pack hand warmers! You can buy these online ahead of time and pack them in your suitcase.
Shoes to get Muddy
Surrounding the Matanuska Glacier is mud. Pack shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. Additionally, you are going to want shoes with good support. I would recommend wearing hiking boots for your visit.
During your tour, you are out for 2 hours exploring the glacier. So, bring a backpack with extra water, space to put your layers if you get hot, and maybe a small snack!
If you are visiting on a day trip from Anchorage, pack a snack and plan for a picnic. When you are driving from Anchorage to Matanuska the drive is spectacular especially in the last 45 minutes or so. We pulled off a rest stop about 20 minutes away and packed PB&J’s and other snacks for a quick lunch at a beautiful pull-out.
Arrive EARLY! In fact, we arrived at our glacier tour about 40 minutes early. The address the tour gives leads you to the front gate, about 2 miles into a dirt road. Once you check-in, you have to proceed for another 2 miles to reach the final parking lot.
Was the Matanuska Glacier Worth the Visit?
ABSOLUTELY!!! The Matanuska Glacier is a highlight for any Alaskan adventure.
Alaska is filled with breathtaking glaciers all around, but this glacier we were able to get up close and personal with. If you are in Anchorage (or Alaska) this is a must-do! We blocked out a full day for our tour, but you really could make it a half-day excursion as well.
Visiting Alaska soon? Read my Ultimate Guide to Denali National Park.