Driving along the Glenn Highway viewing fall colors, is an enjoyable and scenic drive—making it one of the most memorable afternoons I have spent exploring Alaska. This route displays one of the few road-accessible glaciers in the state. If you take a road trip along Hwy 1 or are headed back to the “lower 48” through Canada take time to enjoy the views from this National Scenic Byway.
Headed south after a summer in Alaska, we traveled the Glenn Highway which runs from Mile 0 in Anchorage to Mile 187 at Glennallen, where we filled with gas. Then took the Richardson Highway north to the Slana-Tok Cutoff which then connects to the Alcan Highway into Canada. (It’s about a 4 hr. drive from Anchorage to Glennallen.)
The Glenn Highway was completed as part of the incredible Alcan Highway building project during World War II which connected Alaska to the rest of the North American highway system. Until recently the Glenn Highway was a hair-raising drive but now large improvement projects have fixed the turns and eroding hillsides. Still, we could see it would be a harrowing drive in winter on a slippery road as we ran into rain.
The highway follows the Matanuska River valley between the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. Just past Palmer at Mile 44.5, there’s a pull over to view the Matanuska River, the Knik River, and our first glimpse of a glacier. (The Knik Glacier can be seen in the distance from there.)
If you have more time, you might get a closer view of Knik Glacier by taking an airboat or jet tour. There are also flight tours available.
Also along this route is the Alpine Historical Park at Mile 55.9, where the history of the Sutton Coal Washing Plant and the early days of coal mining in the Matanuska Valley are displayed. Admission is free to a nice park area, picnic tables, playground and public restrooms.
Just past Alpine Historical Park, cross Granite Creek Bridge to view some of the amazing rock formations created by glaciers long ago. As we drove along enjoying the rugged mountain peaks capped in snow, along the braided rivers and golden yellow fall colors, winter storm clouds began to gather.
Mile 91.7 offers the first pullout area with a view of Matanuska Glacier. This scenic viewpoint showcases the beauty of the glacier and its surroundings, but here are other pullouts with views of the glacier as you continue on.
At Mile 101, this is the place to stop if you want to get up close and personal with a glacier. The Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the state, as well as one of the oldest. Rising 13,000 feet high and 27 miles long, it is a superb example of Alaska’s natural wonders.
The highway crosses several rivers before climbing up to the divide at Eureka Summit and descending into the colorful Copper River basin. Next, we press onto an over-night at Tok and cross the Canadian Border for the next leg of our road trip back from Alaska into Montana.
Read my next articles about crossing the long and lonely Alcan Highway, acrossing the Canadian Border, driving through British Columbia and visiting the wondrous National Parks of Alberta.
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©Lindsay Godfree 2013 article, photos — Follow Lindsay on facebook at Cross Country Travel with Lindsay.