Matanuska Glacier, just 100 miles north-east of Anchorage, Alaska, is the largest glacier in the United States that you can access by car. This valley glacier is located in southcentral Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley (known to the locals as Mat-Su or The Valley) and terminates in the Matanuska River.
The Mat-Su was carved by glaciers, leaving thousands of lakes in their path. About 10,000 years ago, the Matanuska Glacier retreated and remains as a reminder of those great, gone landscape sculptors. At 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, it’s a swath of moving ice that is one of the most easily explored in North America.
The Valley was originally occupied by the Athabaskan people, but the etymology of the word Matanuska is somewhat shrouded in mystery. It’s most likely derived from the Russian word for the “Copper River people”—Matanooski—and since the late 1800’s, has been twisted and translated into English to represent one of southcentral Alaska’s most identifiable landmarks.
It’s possible to explore the glacier on your own, but if you’ve never been inside a glacier, or made snow-angels on top of one, the tours of Matanuska offer that experience. You can visit the glacier in both summer and winter; although, at 13,164 feet in elevation, winter makes for a chilly trip, but it’s also one of the most spectacular times to view the glacier. Tradeoffs.
How to get there
The Matanuska Glacier is two hours northeast of Anchorage via Glenn Highway. You’ll spot it for miles before reaching the Matanuska Glacier State Park (at mile marker 102). It’s a privately owned park that offers the only access point to the glacier.
Once you pay your entrance fee, you’ll drive in and park next to the glacier. From there you can explore the ice on foot. However, if you want to really see the more extraordinary sites of the glacier, take a guided tour.
What to consider
- Access to the glacier is on private land.
- If you’re on your own, you’ll need to pay a $30 visitor fee at the entrance office before driving to the parking lot.
- Alternatively, you can go with a guide. If you want to really explore the glacier, this is recommended.
- The glacier (and tours) are open year round.
- You may want spikes for your shoes and poles for stability.
- If you go with a guide, they’ll outfit you completely.
- It makes a good day trip from Anchorage.