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The Magical Matanuska Glacier Hike


Modified: September 26, 2023

by Prissie Rone



Embarking on a journey into the great outdoors is an exhilarating experience, and for adventure enthusiasts, few places can rival the breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring landscapes of the Matanuska Glacier. Located in Alaska, this natural wonder is a haven for hikers seeking a thrilling and unforgettable adventure.


Stretching over 27 miles long, the Matanuska Glacier offers a unique opportunity to explore an ancient ice formation, immersing oneself in a world of pristine ice, rugged crevasses, and stunning panoramic views. It is a place where time seems to stand still, and the forces of nature captivate all who set foot on its icy surface.


But venturing onto a glacier is not for the faint of heart. It requires careful planning, preparation, and a deep respect for the wild environment. In this article, we will delve into the magical experience of hiking Matanuska Glacier, providing you with all the information you need to make your adventure a success.


From safety guidelines to essential packing tips, we will guide you through every step of your journey. Get ready to immerse yourself in a world of icy wonders, stunning scenery, and the thrill of exploring one of nature’s most extraordinary creations.


Overview of Matanuska Glacier

The Matanuska Glacier is a massive river of ice located in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is accessible to hikers, offering a unique opportunity to witness the grandeur of this natural marvel up close and personal.


Spanning an impressive 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, the Matanuska Glacier is a remnant of the last ice age. It flows down from the Chugach Mountain Range and is surrounded by rugged peaks, lush forests, and crystal-clear rivers.


What sets the Matanuska Glacier apart from other glaciers is its accessibility. While most glaciers require specialized mountaineering equipment and skills to traverse, Matanuska Glacier can be explored by hikers of varying abilities. It offers a range of terrain, from relatively flat ice-covered fields to more challenging icefalls and crevasses.


As you hike along the glacier, you’ll be mesmerized by the vibrant blue hues of the ice, sculpted by years of compression and freezing temperatures. You’ll witness towering ice formations and intricate patterns created by the constant movement of the glacier.


Not only is the Matanuska Glacier a sight to behold, but it also serves as a vital ecosystem. It provides a habitat for various plant and animal species, including mosses, lichens, and even some wildlife. Its constantly changing landscape offers a unique opportunity to witness the effects of climate change firsthand.


Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking to embark on an unforgettable adventure, the Matanuska Glacier beckons with its natural beauty and untamed wilderness. But before you set foot on the ice, it’s crucial to prepare yourself adequately and adhere to safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.


Preparing for the Hike

Before embarking on a hike on the Matanuska Glacier, careful preparation is essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some key steps to take when preparing for the hike:

  1. Research and Plan: Start by researching the glacier and understanding its terrain, weather conditions, and any special considerations. Familiarize yourself with the route options and decide on the duration and difficulty level that suits your hiking abilities.
  2. Physical Fitness: Hiking on a glacier can be physically demanding, so it’s important to assess your own fitness level and ensure you are properly prepared. Engage in regular exercise leading up to your trip, focusing on cardio and strength training exercises to build endurance.
  3. Check Weather Conditions: Keep a close eye on the weather forecast in the days leading up to your hike. Glacial environments can be unpredictable, and sudden changes in weather can affect safety conditions. Choose a day with clear skies and mild temperatures for the best hiking experience.
  4. Proper Attire: Dress appropriately for hiking on a glacier. Layer your clothing to regulate body temperature, starting with a moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof and wind-resistant outer layer. Don’t forget to wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support and traction.
  5. Equipment and Gear: Depending on the conditions and your chosen route, you may need to bring specialized equipment such as crampons, ice axes, or trekking poles. These will provide stability and traction on the icy surface. Carry a backpack with essentials like water, snacks, a map, compass, whistle, headlamp, first aid kit, and a lightweight emergency shelter.

Permits and Guides: Check if you need any permits to access the glacier and consider hiring a professional guide. Glacier hiking can be challenging, and having an experienced guide will not only enhance your safety but also provide valuable insights and information about the glacier’s features and history.


Training and Skills: If you’re new to glacier hiking, consider taking a training course to learn essential skills such as ice climbing, crevasse rescue techniques, and glacial navigation. These courses will not only increase your confidence but also ensure that you’re adequately prepared for any potential hazards on the ice.


By following these preparatory steps, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and gear needed to embark on a safe and rewarding hike on the majestic Matanuska Glacier. So, lace up your boots, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime.


Safety Guidelines

When venturing into the mesmerizing but potentially risky environment of the Matanuska Glacier, it is crucial to prioritize safety. Here are some essential safety guidelines to follow during your hike:

  1. Stay on Designated Paths: Stick to marked trails or follow the guidance of your guide. Venturing off designated paths can lead to unstable ice, hidden crevasses, and dangerous terrain.
  2. Travel in a Group: It is advisable to hike in a group, preferably with a knowledgeable guide or an experienced companion. This not only enhances safety but also adds an element of camaraderie to the adventure.
  3. Use Proper Equipment: Wear appropriate hiking gear, including sturdy, waterproof boots with good traction. Carry and properly use crampons, ice axes, and trekking poles for added stability and safety on the slippery ice.
  4. Test Ice Stability: Before stepping onto an unfamiliar area of ice, test its stability by hitting the surface with your trekking pole or ice axe. Listen for any hollow sounds or cracks. If in doubt, avoid that section of ice.
  5. Watch for Crevasses: Crevasses are deep, concealed cracks in the glacier’s surface. Always be cautious and avoid areas with visible crevasses. When crossing a potentially dangerous section, use rope systems and have proper knowledge of crevasse rescue techniques.
  6. Be Aware of Weather Conditions: Weather on the glacier can change rapidly. Keep an eye on the sky and be prepared for sudden shifts in temperature, visibility, or severe storms. Seek shelter and descend if weather conditions worsen.
  7. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Glacier hiking can be physically demanding, so drink plenty of water and carry high-energy snacks to keep yourself properly hydrated and fueled throughout the hike.
  8. Respect Wildlife: While wildlife encounters are not uncommon on the glacier, it is essential to maintain a safe distance and respect the natural habitat of these creatures. Do not approach or feed them.
  9. Leave No Trace: Practice good environmental stewardship. Carry out all trash and leave the glacier as pristine as you found it. Avoid stepping on delicate vegetation or disturbing the ice formations.
  10. Listen to Your Guide: If you have hired a guide, follow their instructions and heed their advice. They have the experience and knowledge to ensure your safety and help you make the most of your glacier hiking experience.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when exploring the Matanuska Glacier. By adhering to these guidelines and exercising caution, you can have a thrilling and unforgettable experience while minimizing the risks associated with glacier hiking.


What to Pack

When preparing for a hike on the Matanuska Glacier, packing the right gear and essentials is crucial to ensure a comfortable and safe adventure. Here is a list of items to include in your backpack:

  1. Water: Staying hydrated is essential during your hike. Carry an adequate amount of water and consider a water bottle with insulation to prevent freezing in colder temperatures.
  2. Snacks: Pack high-energy snacks such as granola bars, trail mix, and dried fruits to keep your energy levels up during the hike.
  3. Extra Clothing Layers: Dressing in layers is key on the glacier. Carry extra base layers, mid-layers, and a waterproof and wind-resistant outer layer to adapt to changing weather conditions.
  4. Hiking Boots: Invest in sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support and traction. They will provide stability on the slippery ice and protect your feet from the cold and wet conditions.
  5. Specialized Equipment: Depending on the conditions and the route, you may need additional gear such as crampons, ice axes, or trekking poles. Consult with your guide or research the specifics of your hike to determine if any specialized equipment is necessary.
  6. Backpack: Choose a backpack that is comfortable to carry and has enough capacity to hold all your essentials. Look for one with a hydration system compatibility and multiple compartments for better organization.
  7. Map and Compass: Even if you have a guide, it’s essential to carry a map and compass as backup. Familiarize yourself with the route before the hike and have a basic understanding of navigation.
  8. Headlamp: A lightweight and compact headlamp is essential in case your hike extends into low light conditions or if you encounter unexpected delays. Make sure it has fresh batteries.

First Aid Kit: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit that includes essentials like adhesive bandages, pain relievers, blister treatment, and any necessary personal medications.


Sun Protection: Protect yourself from the intense sun rays reflected off the glacier’s surface. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses with UV protection, and a hat that shields your face from direct sunlight.


Gloves and Hat: Insulated gloves and a warm hat are crucial to protect your extremities from the cold and wind on the glacier.


Camera and Extra Batteries: Capture the stunning beauty of the glacier with a camera or your smartphone. Bring extra batteries or a portable charger to ensure you don’t miss any photo opportunities.


Whistle and Emergency Shelter: Include a whistle to attract attention in case of emergencies, and carry a lightweight emergency shelter like a space blanket or bivy sack as a precaution.


Remember to pack only what you need and prioritize lightweight, functional gear. It’s essential to strike a balance between being prepared and not overburdening yourself with unnecessary items during your hike on Matanuska Glacier.


Starting Point of the Hike

The starting point of your hike on the Matanuska Glacier will depend on your chosen route and whether you are hiking independently or with a guide. There are several options to access the glacier, each offering a unique experience. Here are some common starting points:

  1. Lion’s Head Trailhead: This is one of the most popular starting points for hikers on the Matanuska Glacier. It is located off the Glenn Highway and offers convenient access to the glacier. From here, you can hike along a maintained trail to reach the glacier’s edge.
  2. Matanuska Glacier Park: If you prefer a guided experience, you can start your hike from the Matanuska Glacier Park. This location offers amenities such as parking, restrooms, and a visitor center. It is a great option for those looking for a guided tour or access to glacier hikes with less technical terrain.
  3. Private Access Points: Some private companies offer access to the glacier through their properties. These access points may require a fee or reservation and provide unique opportunities to explore less crowded areas of the glacier. Be sure to research and plan ahead if you choose this option.
  4. Glacier Hiking Tours: Another popular choice is to join a guided glacier hiking tour. These tours typically include transportation from a designated meeting point to the starting point on the glacier. They often provide all necessary equipment and offer the expertise of experienced guides to lead the way.

Regardless of the starting point you choose, it is crucial to follow instructions and guidelines provided by park officials or your guide. They will provide important safety information, highlight any potential hazards, and ensure you have a memorable and safe experience on the Matanuska Glacier.


Arrive at the starting point well-prepared, allowing plenty of time to get acclimated, gear up, and receive any necessary briefings or orientation. Take a moment to appreciate the majestic surroundings and adjust to the unique environment before you step onto the glacier’s icy terrain.


Remember, hiking on a glacier is an adventure that requires respect for nature and careful consideration of safety. By starting your hike from the designated point and following instructions, you’ll be on your way to a thrilling and unforgettable experience on the Matanuska Glacier.


Exploring the Glacier

Once you set foot on the mesmerizing Matanuska Glacier, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of icy wonders and breathtaking beauty. Here are some key aspects to consider as you embark on your exploration of this magnificent natural wonder:


Understand the Terrain: The Matanuska Glacier is an ever-changing landscape, and it’s important to be mindful of the terrain as you move along. Some areas may be relatively flat and easier to navigate, while others may have more challenging features like icefalls, crevasses, or steep inclines. Stay aware of your surroundings and adjust your pace accordingly.


Follow Safety Measures: Adhere to safety guidelines and listen to the advice of your guide or park officials. Travel in a group, stay on designated routes, and use proper equipment such as crampons and trekking poles for stability on the icy surface. Test the stability of the ice before stepping onto unfamiliar areas, and be cautious around crevasses or areas with visible signs of instability.


Take in the Views: The Matanuska Glacier offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and ice formations. Take the time to soak in the natural beauty around you. Marvel at the vibrant blue hues of the ice, the intricate patterns formed by glacial movements, and the sheer magnitude of the glacier itself. This is a place where you can truly appreciate the grandeur of nature.


Marvel at Ice Features: As you explore the glacier, you’ll encounter various ice formations that are a testament to the glacier’s ancient history. From towering ice spires to deep crevasses and ice caves, these features are sure to leave you in awe. Take the opportunity to photograph these unique formations, capturing their beauty and timeless nature.


Appreciate the Silence: One of the most remarkable aspects of hiking on the Matanuska Glacier is the profound silence that surrounds you. Away from the noise of civilization, you’ll have a chance to truly connect with nature and appreciate the tranquility of the frozen landscape. Take moments to pause, listen to the sound of the ice, and enjoy the stillness of this remarkable environment.


Experience Glacier Meltwater: During your hike, you may encounter streams or pools of glacier meltwater. These pristine and icy-cold waters are a natural wonder of their own. Take a moment to dip your hands or feet into the water, experiencing the refreshing chill of the glacier and connecting with its life-giving source.


Observe Glacial Movement: The Matanuska Glacier is always on the move, albeit at a slow pace. Take the time to notice the signs of movement, such as cracks, crevasses, and the flow of meltwater. It’s a humbling reminder of the dynamic nature of glaciers and the powerful forces shaping our planet.


Exploring the Matanuska Glacier is an incredible adventure that offers a unique glimpse into the fascinating world of glaciers. With proper preparation, safety measures, and a sense of awe, your exploration of this natural wonder will be an experience you’ll cherish for a lifetime.


Highlights of the Hike

Hiking the Matanuska Glacier is a journey filled with unforgettable highlights and breathtaking experiences. Here are some of the incredible moments and sights you can expect to encounter during your hike:


Scenic Beauty: The Matanuska Glacier boasts awe-inspiring vistas and stunning natural beauty at every turn. Immerse yourself in the spectacular landscape of icy blue hues, towering ice formations, and mesmerizing patterns sculpted by the forces of nature over centuries.


Panoramic Views: As you venture across the glacier’s vast expanse, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding Chugach Mountain Range, pristine valleys, and glistening rivers. These breathtaking vistas provide a sense of awe and perspective as you take in the grandeur of the Alaskan wilderness.


Ice Caves: Explore the hidden realms of the glacier by venturing into mesmerizing ice caves. These natural formations, sculpted by the glacier’s movement and melting, create magical and ethereal environments. Step into a world of shimmering blue ice and embrace the enchantment of these captivating ice formations.


Glowing Blue Pools: Witness the beauty of glacial meltwater that gathers in turquoise pools scattered across the ice. The striking blue color is a result of light refraction from densely compacted ice. These pools offer a mesmerizing contrast against the white backdrop and provide a wonderful opportunity for incredible photographs.


Crevasses and Icefalls: Encounter the dramatic features of the glacier, such as deep crevasses and majestic icefalls. These natural wonders are a testament to the glacier’s constant movement and create a sense of awe and wonder. Respect their power and beauty as you navigate around them with caution.


Wildlife Encounters: Keep an eye out for wildlife that may call the glacier home. You may spot mountain goats effortlessly navigating the rugged terrain or catch glimpses of other alpine creatures such as marmots or snowshoe hares. These encounters add an element of excitement and provide a connection to the natural ecosystem.


Glacial Meltwater Streams: Listen to the soothing sounds of glacial meltwater as it carves its way through the ice and meanders across the glacier. Witness the sparkling streams and feel the purity of the icy-cold water as you cross small bridges or enjoy moments of tranquility near these natural wonders.


Sense of Adventure: Hiking the Matanuska Glacier is an adventure unlike any other. The thrill of exploring this frozen landscape, stepping out of your comfort zone, and facing the challenges of the glacial environment create a sense of personal accomplishment and leave a lasting impression on your spirit.


These highlights are just a glimpse of the extraordinary experiences that await you on the Matanuska Glacier. Each step you take on this icy wonderland will deepen your connection to nature and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Wildlife Encounters

While exploring the Matanuska Glacier, you may have the opportunity to encounter a variety of wildlife, adding an extra layer of excitement and connection to the natural environment. Here are some of the fascinating creatures you might come across during your hike:


Mountain Goats: Keep an eye out for mountain goats perched gracefully on the steep slopes surrounding the glacier. These agile creatures are perfectly adapted to navigate the rugged terrain and can often be spotted demonstrating their impressive climbing abilities.


Marmots: Listen for the high-pitched chirping sounds of marmots, the adorable rodents that call the mountains home. These sociable animals are often seen basking in the sun on nearby rocks, displaying their plump bodies and bushy tails.


Snowshoe Hares: Despite their name, snowshoe hares can be found in various habitats surrounding the glacier, including the alpine tundra. These well-camouflaged creatures change their fur color seasonally, donning a white coat during winter months to blend in with the snowy surroundings.


Ptarmigans: These hardy birds are perfectly adapted to the alpine environment. Look for the white feathers of the rock ptarmigan, a bird species that thrives in harsh mountain climates. They may blend in seamlessly with the snow, so keep a watchful eye while traversing the glacier.


Golden Eagles: Above the glacier’s expansive skies, you may spot the majestic golden eagle soaring with its impressive wingspan. Known for their hunting prowess, these magnificent birds of prey bring a sense of majesty to the glacier’s surroundings.


Arctic Ground Squirrels: Keep an eye out for these curious and fearless creatures scurrying around the edges of the glacier. Arctic ground squirrels are known for their distinctive chirping calls and playful behavior, adding a touch of liveliness to the glacial landscape.


Ptarmigans: These hardy birds are perfectly adapted to the alpine environment. Look for the white feathers of the rock ptarmigan, a bird species that thrives in harsh mountain climates. They may blend in seamlessly with the snow, so keep a watchful eye while traversing the glacier.


Remember, when encountering wildlife on the Matanuska Glacier, it is crucial to observe from a respectful distance and avoid any actions that may disturb or harm the animals. Maintain a quiet and non-threatening presence, allowing them to carry on with their natural behaviors undisturbed.


Capturing wildlife encounters through photographs can be a wonderful way to document and cherish these special moments. However, be sure to keep a safe distance and use appropriate zoom lenses to avoid causing stress or harm to the animals.


Encountering wildlife on the Matanuska Glacier provides a unique glimpse into the diverse ecosystem surrounding the icy wonderland. Cherish these encounters and appreciate the beauty and resilience of the creatures that call this glacial landscape home.


Photography Tips

With its breathtaking landscapes and unique ice formations, the Matanuska Glacier offers endless opportunities for stunning photography. Capture the beauty and essence of this natural wonder with these photography tips:


Research and Plan: Before setting out on your hike, research the glacier and its surroundings to understand the best times of day for optimal lighting and composition. Familiarize yourself with popular viewpoints and areas of interest to maximize your photographic opportunities.


Wide-Angle Lens: A wide-angle lens is essential for capturing the vastness and grandeur of the glacier. It allows you to include expansive ice fields, towering ice formations, and sweeping landscapes in your shots. Experiment with different angles to highlight the scale and depth of the glacier.


Use a Tripod: The glacier’s low light conditions and potential for long exposure shots make a tripod an invaluable tool. It helps stabilize your camera and ensures sharp images, especially when photographing ice formations, water features, or capturing the delicate details of the glacier.


Compose with Leading Lines: Take advantage of the glacier’s natural lines and textures to create dynamic compositions. Use the lines formed by crevasses, ridges, or meltwater streams to lead the viewer’s eye through the photograph, adding depth and visual interest to your images.


Capture the Details: Don’t forget to capture the intricate details of the glacier. Look for unique formations, patterns, or textures in the ice. Get up close to capture the mesmerizing blue colors or the sparkling crystals that make up the glacier, revealing the intricate beauty of its frozen landscape.


Experiment with Exposure: Glacial environments can present challenging lighting conditions. Experiment with exposure settings to capture the brilliant white ice while retaining the details in darker areas. Bracketing or using graduated neutral density filters can help balance exposure in high contrast scenes.


Include a Point of Interest: To add a sense of scale and interest to your photographs, incorporate human figures, wildlife, or other recognizable objects. This helps convey the immense size of the glacier and adds a focal point to your composition.


Capture Reflections: Keep an eye out for reflective surfaces created by meltwater pools or ice formations. These reflections can add a sense of serenity and beauty to your images. Look for interesting angles and perspectives to capture the perfect reflection.


Embrace Golden Hour: Take advantage of the soft, warm light during the golden hour, which occurs shortly after sunrise or before sunset. This magical light enhances the colors and textures of the glacier, creating a dreamy and ethereal atmosphere in your photographs.


Experiment with Black and White: Glacial landscapes lend themselves perfectly to black and white photography. Converting your images to black and white can emphasize the shapes, lines, and textures of the glacier, adding drama and a timeless quality to your shots.


Remember, while capturing stunning photographs is important, also take the time to put your camera aside and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Matanuska Glacier. Appreciate the experience firsthand and create memories that go beyond the images you capture.



Hiking the Matanuska Glacier is a journey that offers a magical and unforgettable experience. From the moment you set foot on the icy expanse, you’ll be immersed in a world of natural wonders, breathtaking landscapes, and a sense of adventure like no other. The glacier’s vastness, vibrant blue hues, and majestic ice formations create a captivating environment that will leave you in awe.


But exploring the Matanuska Glacier is not just about the beauty and grandeur of nature; it’s also an opportunity to connect with the power and fragility of our planet. Witnessing the effects of climate change on the glacier’s ever-changing landscape serves as a stark reminder of the importance of preserving these natural wonders for future generations.


As you hike across the glacier, be sure to prioritize safety and follow the guidelines provided by experts and park officials. Prepare yourself adequately, pack the right gear, and be mindful of the environment you are stepping into. Glacier hiking requires respect, caution, and a deep appreciation for the forces of nature that have shaped this frozen masterpiece.


Immerse yourself fully in the experience. Take the time to admire the panoramic views, explore the ice formations, and appreciate the solitude and tranquility of this majestic wilderness. Capture memories with your camera but remember to also take moments to simply soak it all in, allowing the beauty of the glacier to leave an indelible mark on your soul.


By hiking the Matanuska Glacier, you embark on a unique journey of self-discovery, connecting with nature in its purest form. It’s an adventure that will challenge you physically, ignite your sense of wonder, and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.


So, embrace the thrill, pack your bags, and embark on a remarkable journey to the mesmerizing Matanuska Glacier. Let its beauty and magnificence inspire you, and may the experience fill you with a deep appreciation for the extraordinary wonders that exist in our world.