Have you always wanted to camp right by an ancient Glacier? Because that is exactly what you can do if you visit the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site in your RV or camping trailer. It is one of the easiest glaciers to reach from Anchorage, while being one of the most massive in Alaska that is still accessible by car. Many people skip this one due to the small entrance fee, however, everyone who has walked on it says its an experience they never forget. Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site only covers 229 acres, but it is the perfect destination for geography buffs wanting to learn the science of glaciers, people who need to stop overnight, hikers preparing for their trek, or nature lovers.
From the recreation area, you can drive a couple of miles along Glenn Highway, where at mile 102 you will turn off onto private land. After paying a fee, you will gain access to can trek onto the glacier itself. If you are nervous about walking on this massive moving avalanche of ice, there are guide companies in the area happy to take you. Whether you are a newbie or an expert ice climber, this adventure is a must do for anyone!
The campground itself is quite small, with only 12 spots available for campervans, RVs, or trailers. Each spot is quite spacious, so you will have room to stretch out your equipment. There are minimal amenities available so bring your own potable water, along with everything else you need. There are some picnic tables, a fire ring, toilets, and limited cellphone service. However, a short walk from your campground you will find yourself at accessible viewing platforms and benches which provide awe-inspiring, panoramic views of the massive Matanuska Glacier.
Situated 101 miles north of Anchorage, driving to this glacier camp ground is said to take around three hours. It is easily accessible from Glenn Highway with the whole site paved and kept clear during the year. Glenn Highway is a two-lane road that is relatively well-maintained, however, you'll want to use caution on a few winding parts. Alaskan winters can be especially brutal so make sure you check weather conditions before heading out, although the road may close due to bad winter conditions.
Matanuska Glacier is one of the biggest, and most easily accessible glaciers in Alaska with many visitors arriving to view and trek the Matanuska for a day. Day visitors can stop at the parking lot in the 300-acre recreational area, however if they stay for longer than 30 minutes, there is a charge. The site is open until the first heavy winter snow and ice conditions, at which point it is closed for safety until spring. There is a gas station and small shops available one mile down the road, making this a great overnight camping spot. There is plenty of parking spots and space in between the campsites for easy maneuvering.
The campground at Matanuska Glacier State Recreational Site offers basic facilities including drop toilets, picnic tables, well water, and gravel parking spaces. It is located just off of Glenn Highway, so there is some noise coming from the passing traffic. During the night, this noise mostly dies down allowing you to relax into a comfortable slumber.
There are 12 sites on the gravel loop with space for campervans, RVs, and camping trailers up to 30 feet in length. It is also possible to set up a tent. Vegetation grows between the sites, allowing you some privacy from your next door neighbors. You cannot see the Matanuska Glacier from the campsite, however there are viewing benches a short walk away from where you can admire the glaciers beauty.
There is no host on site, so you will have to bring your own firewood if you wish to use the fire pits located at every campground. There is also only a hand-operated water pump, making it difficult to fill up your water tank in your vehicle. Consider this a more basic overnight camp spot than a long-term holiday destination. There is limited cellphone reception available.
The main reason to stay in your RV at Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site is to trek the impressive Manasuka Glacier. To access the Glacier Trek you travel down the Glenn Highway to exit 102, where you turn off onto private land. There you will have to pay a fee to enter.
Once you drive through private land on relatively rough roads, you will reach an area to park. From there it is a 2.5-mile round trip on this ever-shifting terrain. Strap yourselves into a good pair of shoes, polarized sunglasses, and warm jacket to tackle the glacier hike.
There are tours available which are ideal for new ice trekkers or people who wish to venture further out than the signed route on the glacier. There is minimal signage on the glacier itself, however be mindful of the cones as they mark ravines and areas where people could potential fall and hurt themselves. Just follow the cones and stay vigilant for a great walk!
Bring along a hiking pole and cramp-ons for your shoes to enjoy maximum stability on the ice. Grab your camera, and snap some truly unforgettable moments with your friends or family.
Many people decide to skip these Glacier tours due to the price, however it is truly worth it to explore deeper into the icy structure. Once there, it looks completely different than from a mile away. You will see small streams flowing inside the glacier, ponds formed by the shapes in the ice, and the astonishing blue color underfoot will take your breath away.
From the campground itself, there is a short one-mile loop which features stunning views of the distant glacier. The Edge Nature Trail begins at the rest area and leads visitors on a short 20-minute walk through the forest towards platforms from where can bask in some of the best views of the glacier. Here you will be able to truly appreciate its giant size with a length of 27 miles and a width of four miles at the base.
If you take this walk during spring, you will find yourself surrounded by blooming wildflowers in the mountain air. They cover the landscape emitting captivating scents and littering the white mountain background with bright colors.
The forest on the way towards the glacier viewing platforms are also alive with life during spring and summer. Keep your eye out on chirping birds, and small mammals scampering up the trees.
The Matanuska Glacier feeds the Matanuska River, which flows through the Matanuska valley for a winding 75 miles. This icy water descends from the depths of the glacier heavily oxygenated and white in color. It's enormous power makes the Matanuska River a must do experience for any white water rafting lovers.
There are stretches of water along the river which are classed at II or III, which means medium and difficult according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. Due to the strong currents and large amounts of rocks, the river is ideal rafting and kayak enthusiasts with advanced experience.
You can raft the river for several hours or even participate in an overnight trip. There are options to chose the Glacier Float or Lion Head Raft with one choice allowing for a gentle float, or a more extreme adventure. Check out one of the many rafting companies in the area for tour availability and a bucket list adventure!
Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site is a small detour from the highway, which makes it a great place to stop for a lunch break. There are many picnic tables available where you can sit down and eat your food.
Some of the picnic tables provide a lovely view of the surrounding nature, and the cool air will surely revive you after your car trip. If you wish to see the view of the glacier, you will need to hike down the 20-minute Edge Trail Loop. There is a gas station just a mile away, so you can grab some additional snacks before enjoying your break in the Alaskan outdoors.
Glaciers are natural phenomenon which could be considered rivers of ice. They flow down the mountains, and with their enormous weight and momentum carve out entire valleys and shape the land around us. Since they are frozen, they move at a much slower pace than a human eye can see. However, if we imagine our earth at a completely different time scale, we would see the ice flowing through the rock just as fast as water.
The Matanuska Glacier sits at 13,176 feet above sea level and is nestled between the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna Mountains and, the Chugach Mountains. The end of the glacier, named the terminus, stretches an eye catching four miles from the steep mountains. This can be seen from the highway. The Glacier stretches for an astounding 27 miles and provides much of the fresh water in the area.
Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site is a great place to view the glacier from a distance for free, and it is also a great location to learn about these beautiful structures. There are several large interpretive signs in the area featuring information about glaciers, ice creatures, and spruce dark beetles. Did you know there are many insects that have managed to make the glacier their own ice palace?
Snow mobiling, or snow machining as its known in Alaska, is one of the most popular spots in this far northern state. The thick blanket of snow makes that no surprise, and the Matanuska-Sustina valley is one of Alaska's prime snow machine destinations. Explore the back country and the winter wonderland with the strong machines carving their way through powdered snow or following sled tracks through the forests.
Open powder, marked trail systems, and even challenging technical riding can all be found in the Mat-Su valley. Whether you have your own machine, or you wish to hire one, you will certainly experience one of the best perspectives of this snowy region.
While the whole area is teaming with trails, the closest routes near the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site are right off the Glenn Highway. Try Chickaloon, which is at Mile 67, Purinton Creek, at mile 90.1, Hicks Creek, at mile 96.6, or the Eureka Summit at mile 102. There are parking lots by all these trail heads and spaces to unload your machines.