We bumped along in the car trying not to pull over every five seconds to take pictures. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but we had a destination in mind: the Matanuska glacier near Palmer, Alaska.
My tour partner, Pete, came to a stop up ahead as a moose ran across the road, quickly followed by its baby. I took it as a good omen for the adventures to come – it’s never not cool to see a moose!
It was the first week of my women’s adventure tour in Alaska and we were about to do one of my favorite activities ever – hiking on a glacier.
The Matanuska glacier is a valley glacier and is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States at 27 miles long by 4 miles wide. It feeds the Matanuska River, which has some great white water rafting if I do say so myself.
Like almost every glacier in the world, the Matanuska is sadly receding. However it’s still enormous and absolutely worth hiking on.
Want to do it too? Here’s how!
Getting to the Matanuska Glacier
The Matanuska glacier hike is accessible via Palmer. I would recommend staying in either Palmer or Wasilla (say hi to Sarah Palin if you do!) and making the hour drive to the glacier from there on the Glenn Highway national scenic byway.
Just past mile 97, the bright white of the Matanuska glacier lights up the horizon. Next you can either drive yourself directly to the glacier, or head to a tour operator for a guided hike.
How to hike the Matanuska Glacier
Believe it or not, the glacier is on private property. You’ll have to pay a $30 fee to enter the glacier. If you take a tour, it’s included in your tour fee. You’ll also want to bring crampons, which will also be included in your hiking tour.
This raises the question of whether or not you should take a tour. I’m a big fan of doing things independently, but glacier hiking is different -it’s quite a risky activity.
Glaciers are constantly changing. New crevasses are opening all the time, ice is collapsing, and icy melt rivers flow into moulins, which are deep, water-filled crevasses within the glacier. They’re almost always deeper than meets the eye; they can seem shallow and OK to walk on and just a few inches beyond it’s a sheer drop off, covered by water that’s the exact same color as the shallow areas. For these reasons, it’s good to go with a guide who knows the glacier and goes out there often.
It’s important to stay on the trail as well. The silt is deep and easy to sink into and there aren’t people around to make sure that everyone stays safe. While we are on the topic of silt, it also makes for a fantastic facial mask!
So if you want to go far on the glacier, I do recommend a guided hike. I went with these guys and thought they were great.
You can also take a helicopter ride farther down on the glacier, do a landing and a walk, and fly back, which also looked like fun! Though you’ll want to be prepared to break your wallet open for that one – scenic flights in Alaska aren’t cheap!
Is it worth it?
The short answer is absolutely yes! Glacier hiking is one of my favorite activities because the glaciers are so beautiful, they are also different as far as ice shapes, Cav’s, and Mulan’s, and it’s pretty amazing walking on ice that’s tens of thousands of years old. It’s even more amazing to drink the water!
Considering up to 100,000 glaciers are in Alaska, and the Matanuska is the largest one that you can drive up to, it would be silly not to do it if you’re in the area.