31 Mar Glacier Hiking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska
When we made plans to visit Anchorage, Alaska, in the winter, we knew our visit had to include a trip to explore one of the many glaciers in the state. So, after our road trip to Homer, we made Matanuska Glacier the next stop on our itinerary. We couldn’t wait to go glacier hiking in Anchorage!
Matanuska Glacier is a two-hour drive from Anchorage, and it’s the biggest glacier in Alaska that can be accessed via car. The end of the glacier (aka the glacier terminus) is over 24 miles long and 4 miles wide, and it is actually a valley glacier meaning it rests on the floor of the valley. This is different from most glaciers in Alaska—most Alaskan glaciers are alpine glaciers on mountain slopes. From the top to the terminus, the glacier descends 12,000 feet and is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. At one point in history, the glacier extended all the way to Anchorage. What a sight that would have been to see!
In the summer, visitors can explore the terminus of the Matanuska Glacier either on their own or on a guided tour. In the winter, however, guests can only visit the glacier with a guided tour. We signed up for the Winter Glacier Tour and couldn’t wait to start exploring.
When we arrived at the Matanuska Glacier Park facility, we checked in at the desk and then got suited up in our warm gear. The temperatures were actually quite a bit warmer in Alaska than in our home state of Minnesota during our visit, and we were happy to have a nice 20°F day.
Once the entire group arrived, we all jumped in our own cars and caravanned towards the glacier. We met at the little hut near the parking lot and went inside for a safety briefing and to get our crampons, aka the spikes you attach to your boots, so you can walk easily on the ice.
Then it was time for the fun to begin. I’m always amazed at how big cracks in the ice can seem when you start your walk on the glaciers. The further you go, the larger they become, and on the way back, the ones at the beginning seem tiny. Regardless, it’s an amazing sight to see and we can never resist taking way too many photos!
We spent a bit of time near the first funky ice formations, before our guide pulled us away with the assurance there were bigger and better things to come. And wow, was he right.
The more we walked, the more incredible the ice became. We shuffled over pristine sheets of smooth ice and marveled at the ice shelves that were sticking straight up nearby.
We walked through giant ice cave tunnels that looked like they had been drilled straight through.
We went deep into giant ice caves that grew darker with every step we took inside. The more we walked, the more beautiful the glacier became.
Since the Matanuska Glacier is an active glacier, it means that it is constantly moving and changing. The glacier advances around one foot per day, which means that every time you visit the ice, the scenery will be slightly different.
Our glacier hike lasted about 1.5-2 hours, and it was an easy trail to walk (they even offer tours for those unable to walk!). While this excursion wasn’t as adrenaline inducing as our ice climbing adventure in Iceland, it was fascinating because we finally had the chance to go into an ice cave.