The state’s natural beauty make every road trip in Alaska worthwhile, and that’s especially true when your travels take you right past one of the glaciers that’s viewable without leaving your car. Not all of these glaciers are quite so accessible. Some require a short hike and others a bus trip. But all of these glaciers are accessible and a wonderful display of the north’s grandeur.
Matanuska is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and is viewable from severals points along the road. The 27-mile river of ice is the largest in the country that can be reached by a vehicle. It’s about a two-hour drive northeast of Anchorage to where the glacier flows down the Chugach Mountains and ends in a 4-mile wide terminus. View the glacier from several points along the Glenn Highway including:
- shoulder parking at milepost A 103.3.
- Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site at milepost A 101. This area has camping, picnic tables, telescopes, and excellent views of the glacier.
- a paved, double-ended turnout at milepost A 99.3.
Access Matanuska Glacier at Glacier Park, which offers guided hikes onto the glacier. The glacier is only accessible via a private road that charges admission.
If you’re headed to Valdez it’s practically impossible to miss this glacier. The glacier looms large over the Richardson Highway about 29 miles outside Valdez. It’s viewable from the road, or you can linger at the Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site. The site has a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail to a viewing platform. The site is open through the summer until closed by snow conditions.
You can’t drive to this one, but you can take a bus. Muldrow Glacier is viewable from the Denali Park Road at about mile 69. Look south to see the giant glacier descending from the Alaska Range and merging into the tundra. The terminus of Muldrow is actually stagnant and covered in tundra.
Another of Alaska’s most popular glaciers, Mendenhall is about 20 minutes north of Juneau in southeast Alaska. Visitors to Mendenhall have access to several short hikes and a visitor center with an educational video, glacier observation area, and information on the surrounding landscape. One of the trails is an approximately two-mile round trip walk to a waterfall. Day passes to the visitor center cost $15 per person.
Just outside Seward, Exit isn’t visible from the roadway but a short hike offers spectacular views of the ice. Turn down Herman Leirer Road at mile 3 of the Seward Highway and dive about 8.4 miles to the nature center. Once at the nature center, you can walk a one-mile loop that has viewing points of the glacier and access to an another .6 mile trail that leads to an overlook. If you’re really looking to stretch the legs, try the 8-mile Harding Icefield Trail, which will take you up to the source of Exit Glacier. The road to Exit is open when snow conditions allow, normally from mid-May through mid-November. To learn more while at the glacier, take a ranger-led walk or attend one of the ranger pavilion talks.
Portage and Byron glaciers
Portage used to be a one of the glaciers in Alaska viewable from the road, but it has now receded beyond view. It’s still a worthwhile stop heading south of Anchorage. To access the glacier, turn east about 48 miles south of Anchorage on the Portage Glacier Access road. The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center has films, interpretive displays, and other educational programming on the area’s natural features. You can also take a sightseeing boat cruise with Portage Glacier Cruises along the lake to where the glacier is viewable.
Byron Glacier is also accessible from the visitor center. Take a short, family-friendly hike on a 1.4 mile trail that provides up close views of the glacier.
Middle and Explorer glaciers
These two glaciers, remnants of the ice sheet that once covered the Portage Valley, are visible from the Portage Glacier Access Road. Stop at milepost 2.4 for a double-ended paved turnout with picnic tables, an interpretive kiosk, and access to the Trail of Blue Ice, a five-mile trail from Moose Flats to Portage Lake.