How to visit this accessible ice
Tom Faussett, owner of Knik Glacier Tours, is still awe-struck by his vast backyard more than 35 years after making the Matanuska-Susitna valley area home. He marvels at the fact that almost daily throughout the summer he gets to introduce people to the sweeping vista of Knik Glacier and call it work.
Alaska is known for casual world-class views, but Knik Glacier is extraordinary in its accessibility. No matter the desired activity or ability level, explorers will find a way to get to the glacier via everything from helicopter and ATV tours to fat-tire biking, airboating, running or skiing. Only an hour’s drive north of Anchorage, Knik’s doable in a day.
At 70 years old, my dad likes to inform me about the 20-mile run he completed before any of us ate breakfast. The truth is he is a whiz at bridge, but not what you’d call an outdoor adventurer. When he came up one summer to visit, I booked him on one of Faussett’s tours. Faussett assured me that even guests with basic knowledge and skills have enjoyed the combined “monster truck” on land and airboat ride by water journey out to the foot of the glacier. Sure enough, my dad came back intact and glowing, with a phone full of photos and videos to share. (Then he went back to playing cards).
Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours is located in the Butte neighborhood of Palmer. Husband and wife co-owners Dan and Matti Wilcock run stellar ATV tours out to the glacier. I went on one of their tours with my family one summer, not entirely knowing what to expect. I’d never been on an ATV before. My husband and I traded off driving a standard ATV with a wider side-by-side vehicle, my cautious stepdaughter in tow. This enabled my husband and me to take turns on the more adventurous rig, while my stepdaughter felt more comfortable on the more stable side-by-side. Our guide that day was patient with teaching me how to operate the machine, and visibly inspired and excited by our trip throughout the full journey. How could he not be? The day was bright and beautiful, and the
glacier a jaw-dropping
We came back with cheeks hurting from smiling and glacier dust smeared on our faces from our day out whizzing around on the dusty trails.
What better way to see Alaska than by air? Helicopter tours are offered by multiple outfitters to visit and explore Knik Glacier. These trips range in offerings from simply landing on the glacier and getting to step out and walk (carefully) on a sea of ice, to visiting sled dog teams training high in the mountains during the summer, to ice climbing.
Of course, even without additional activities thrown in, the trip out to the glacier is an adventure in and of itself. Witnessing the expansive panorama from the multiple perspectives offered by a flight is unparalleled. Plus, Knik Glacier is only one of several glaciers right in the same mountainous neighborhood—and by helicopter, you get to see more than just the one.
Check out Alaska Helicopter Tours and Outbound Heli Adventures.
People-powered / On a Budget
In the winter, the locals come out. The truly intrepid adventurer might take the north side route along the Knik River, clocking in at about a 40-mile roundtrip. It’s a cold day out on a snowmachine, but many take it a step further and go by ski or fat-tire bicycle. The only costs are the equipment and, of course, many calories to stay warm.
Knik River Road runs up the south side of the river, so leaving from near the end of it is the more popular people-powered route, typically at only eight miles one way depending on that winter’s freeze (it varies from year to year). Skiers, runners, and especially fat-tire cyclists venture in from far and wide for the trek. The draw is completely understandable, but check your skill and the conditions before you go. For cyclists, the hardest part is the wear and tear of many grueling (but flat) miles on your rear, especially if you haven’t biked much lately.
Finally, the glacier is visible from afar any time of year from almost every hike in Palmer. Whether from the top of the 800-foot Butte, the first bench on the way up Pioneer Peak, or from the Government Peak Recreation Area single-track mountain biking trails, Knik Glacier glows its signature aquamarine.
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