No matter what time of year, being around glaciers in Alaska is one of the most impressive, unique, and memorable experiences a person could have (even as a lifelong Alaskan, I never tire of their beauty).
In winter however, there are amazing glacial features and sights that can only be seen in the cold winter months December – March.
Matanuska Glacier, Alaska’s only road accessible glacier, is the perfect way to experience these wonders and you can see them all in a day trip from Anchorage!
To get here you will drive about an hour and a half northeast of Anchorage to Mile 102 of the Glenn Highway where you will then take a right and enter Matanuska Glacier’s privately owned road access to the glacier’s terminal moraine.
You will reach a small parking area and gift shop where you will need to go inside and pay for your guided tour (or check-in if you paid online/over the phone).
Check out Glacier Tours on the Matanuska for an incredible guided tour that you are sure to remember!
In this article I will walk you through the entire adventure, what to expect, and what it’s actually like from a real Alaskan’s perspective. I will introduce you to 7 of the best things about Matanuska Glacier in winter, complete with photographs I took along the way.
1.) Easy Access and A Wild Ride
Coming to Matanuska Glacier in the summer also comes with a 45-minute hike to the glacier and the same long hike on the way out, but not in winter!
Once you have parked and are outfitted with all the right gear (you bring your cold weather gear, camera, and water bottle, they will provide the rest) you will be greeted with a complimentary sleigh ride with snowmachines (that’s what we Alaskan’s call a snowmobile) driven by your guide.
This fun little trip honestly feels a bit like an amusement park ride and I was surprised by what a blast we all had just traveling up to the glacier.
The smooth journey over to the glacier is incredible because you actually get to see it towering in the distance and as you get closer, it soon fills the entirety of what you can see with its blue spires thrusting upwards into the sky.
In less than 5 minutes the sleigh ride is over and it’s time to get out and start exploring the glacier itself.
2.) Ice Caves You Can Actually Go Inside of!
One thing I was very excited about, was the chance that I would get to explore some ice caves.
I had been to Matanuska Glacier several times in the summer/fall months, and I never saw one! I never saw one because they had, of course, melted and any that did exist would have so much moving water pouring through them, it would be unsafe to go inside.
Winter, however, affords the absolute best time in which to have the rare opportunity to actually climb through several safe, well inspected, and very stable ice caves.
Your guide will always take the lead and make sure you are comfortable while you explore the deep blue colors of the ice, the smooth glacial walls, and the brilliant lights pouring in from above.
I should note that even though I highly recommend the once-in-a-lifetime feeling of being inside an actual glacier, if you are claustrophobic, you absolutely do not have to go through an ice cave.
All portions of the tour are designed to accommodate everyone’s adventure level, and there are plenty of photo opportunities to peer inside the ice without having to go all the way in.
3.) Playing In The Snow
I had someone tell me that they were actually waiting for there to be less snow on Matanuska Glacier before they went to go see it. Don’t make this mistake, playing in the snow is fun!
Not only can you still see all the awesome sights there would be without any snow, but with all the snow you can go sledding (without the sled) and take “The Fun Route” on many parts of the hike on the glacier.
Again, if you are unable to, or don’t want to, you can always walk around these sections, but it’s a lot of fun!
There are plenty of spots where you can play and discover snow caves and views that simply could never been seen other times of the year.
Additionally, I would like to note that in winter we often have cloudy skies (it is our snowiest time of the year after all), and although terrible for Aurora viewing, this makes glacier viewing incredible!
Snowing actively or not, cloudy skies diffuse light evenly and with lower light present overall, the blue colors in the dense ice and snow really pop and make for excellent photos you will remember for a lifetime.
4.) Exploring Areas Normally Off-Limits
Matanuska Glacier, like all glaciers, is constantly melting, moving, shifting, and changing. So from winter to winter, you will never see the same glacier twice as its old features are lost and new ones gained. This also means that while it is melting and forming in the spring/summer/fall most areas going into and on top of the glacier are wet, slippery, and can be unstable.
Once everything is frozen and solid though, you can see parts of the glacier that most never will!
You can see here where myself (on the left) and another person on our tour are literally standing on what was a glacial lake just a few months ago!
This gave us access to so much more of the glacier that I had never seen before and it honesty felt magical. The different shades of blue, the amazing fluffy texture of the snow, the impossibly smooth frozen lakes’ surface, it was like being on another planet.
5.) Did You Just Say “Penguin Sliding”?
At one point, our tour guide stopped us, turned around dramatically, and said, “There may not be Penguins in Alaska, but how would you like to try PENGUIN SLIDING!?” Then she ran a few feet on the lake’s surface (easy to do with the spikes they put over your boots) and dove onto her belly and proceeded to slide the entire distance of the small glacial lake to my amazement.
She did not need to provide any further convincing before we were all sliding about having the time of our lives.
None of us made it nearly as far on the ice as our tour guide did, but we may have all enjoyed it 100 times more. I am not sure if I have ever felt more like a child just having fun! Pure… Everyone laughing on the ground… Fun.
There were races, strangers bumping into each other, contests for longest distance. We did this until we had our fill, and I can tell you that my face was sore for the next day from smiling.
6.) Epic Scale and Epic Textures!
Being able to get so close to the face of the mighty Matanuska Glacier in winter really allows you to understand the scale of this 27 mile long and 4 mile wide behemoth (can you spot the little people).
Its size rivals the very mountains that frame its background and because everything is frozen and covered in snow, there is no silty water, no visible dirt or rock, and the glacier takes on an extremely pristine quality you could never see come summer.
Not only that, but the snow creates soft lines, and fills in jagged gaps, making for a smooth and surreal look that few ever get to lay eyes on.
Looking at some of these close shots of the beautiful textures on the glacier reveals remarkable contrasts between sharp spires and snow gently spilling over onto a glassy glacial lake’s smooth surface.
The scenes in every direction seemingly tell a different story all their own, stories about the incredible age of the Glacier, and at the same time they show how the short changes in the seasons have a dramatic effect.
7.) Smaller Group Sizes Are Awesome
There is no escaping it, the warmer months in Alaska also come with a lot of people coming to see our gorgeous state.
So when winter comes many tours that continue to operate are simply a more intimate and relaxing experience. No long lines, less frustration, and you can take the time to really get to know each other.
I was told that I was coming during a particularly busy time of the winter (late December) and my group was still only 9 members.
We never felt rushed or like we needed to wait for anyone to catch up, we spent exactly the amount of time we wanted in each location.
Our tour guide was an excellent teacher, we all learned a lot about the glacier, and if we needed a photo she would gladly stop and take as many as we liked.
I have been on many tours that felt like I was being “processed” more than attended to, and this tour had me feeling taken care of and listened to. If you wanted a particular shot, or wanted a drink of the pure cold glacier water, they would let know exactly when and where that could happen.
Final Thoughts On Touring The Matanuska Glacier In The Winter
Going out with Glacier Tours this winter was a bit of a revelation for me, I had never been in the winter, I thought somehow it would be less incredible than it was.
Although both summer and winter on the Matanuska Glacier are excellent, winter might just be my new favorite. The fact that you get a bonus sleigh ride, can go inside ice caves, and go “penguin sliding” really made this a ridiculously unique and memorable experience.
In the past, it used to be that you could pay a fee and go climb all over the glacier to your heart’s content with no real supervision.
In winter this was an extremely dangerous and nearly impossible way to try to experience the true wonders of Matanuska Glacier (or any glacier really if you are not a highly experienced climber/explorer).
There are crevasses, spots with active water just under the snow, slippery spots you would think were just fine; but the experienced guides have already done all the safety work to ensure you will be exactly where you need to be and never, ever, in danger.
So not only was it an absolute blast that should be on everyone’s bucket list, but it is probably the only safe way to get this up close and personal with a glacier without an aircraft.
Not to mention that at a current price point of $150 for an out-of-state resident (or incredibly only $50 for and in-state resident) it’s also one of the least expensive tours you could possibly do.
So whether you are coming to Alaska for your first time, or have lived here all your life, do yourself a favor, and make sure to check out Matanuska Glacier this winter!
Glacier Tours on the Matanuska
- Location: 66500 S Glacier Park Rd Sutton AK 99674
- Phone: (907) 745-2534
- Website: glacier-tours.com
- Social Media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
My name is Phillip Flippo and I am a professional nature and wildlife photographer based out of Wasilla Alaska. As a lifelong Alaskan, I have always been captivated by the incredible scenes and amazing sights that our great state has to offer. Sharing photos, films, and articles from the real wild Alaska is a passion of mine, and I work hard to deliver the best of best to audiences around the world! Whether I am climbing mountains, spending time at sea, or exploring the frozen unknown I want to help others unlock Alaska’s mysteries for themselves. I truly believe we are always better off united, sharing the beautiful destinations of our world, and helping each other discover the most amazing experiences; and that is exactly my mission, to share, to help mentor, and to find the best Alaska has to offer!