Home » Alaska » A Guide to the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway

They designate the Glenn Highway, a national scenic byway for good reason. The 135-mile route from Anchorage to the Glennallen has spectacular panoramic views of the Chugach mountains, Matanuska glacier and rivers teeming with trout. This guide to the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway will help you plan your next Alaska road trip.

Today, this early June morning, the air is cool and crisp. We are heading east on the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway to our final evening destination at Pippen Lake near Wrangell St Elias national park. Travelling north, the Glenn highway begins just outside of Anchorage at the Merrill airfield. If you have the time, stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center off Muldoon Road. It is a wonderful place to spend a half day.

Alaska Wildflowers

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For a road to be a National Scenic Byway, the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities” they are archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and, well, of course, scenic. This highway meets all the criteria. They named the highway after Captain Glenn of the United States Army, who led an expedition to the gold deposits in 1896.

Matanuska River Overlook-Glenn Highway
Matanuska River Overlook-Glenn Highway
There is one word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska . . . If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first-Quote

Eagle River-Glenn Highway MM 17

To locate pullouts on the road along the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway, we recommend purchasing the Milepost. We have used this resource on each of our Alaska trips. The town of Eagle River is only about 17 mile or 40 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

Glenn Highway Eagle Nature Center
Glenn Highway Eagle Nature Center

Eagle River Nature Center located MM 20 on the Eagle River Road in the 500,000 acre Chugach State Park.. It serves as a gateway to the Chugach State Park, which is the third-largest state park in the United States. The center log cabin (mile-12) has access to many self guided hiking trails. The interpretive displays inside the center showed the original log cabin was a popular bar known as the Paradise Haven Lodge. The nature center offers a variety of activities and programs for visitors of all ages, including hiking, wildlife viewing, educational exhibits, and guided nature walks. It is an excellent destination for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and those interested in learning about the local flora, fauna, and natural history of the area. The friendly and knowledgeable staff shared with us trail maps and wildlife information.

Glenn Highway Eagle Nature Center-Beaver Viewing Deck
Eagle Nature Center-Beaver Viewing Deck

Hike the Trails of the Eagle River Nature Center

The center provides access to a network of well-maintained trails that traverse through diverse ecosystems, including forests, meadows, and alpine tundra. One of the popular trails is the Albert Loop Trail, which is a 3-mile loop trail that offers scenic views of Eagle River and the surrounding mountains.

Sign at the Eagle River Nature Center

The Rodak Nature Loop trail is a relatively short loop trail, measuring approximately 0.7 miles. It is considered an easy trail, suitable for hikers of all skill levels, including families with children. The trail meanders through a scenic forested area, providing visitors with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Chugach Mountains. Along the trail, you can expect to encounter a variety of plant and animal species native to the region.

Black Bear at the Eagle River Nature Center
Black Bear at the Eagle River Nature Center

Arriving at the boardwalk over the river we saw open views of the marshland and Chugach mountain vistas. Bear scat was everywhere along the path. The previous week a hiker had to use bear spray to ward off a charging grizzly mom. Always be bear aware, remain vigilant and make some noise or travel in groups. At the salmon viewing deck, we spotted a bald eagle and other songbirds, but no moose or bear. Next we did the Dew Mound trail returning back to the center. We did however see a black bear at the main building grazing on grass. The nature center is an ideal location for stretching the legs. Downloadable trail guide.

Glenn Highway-Thunderbird Falls-Water Rushing
Glenn Highway-Thunderbird Falls-

Hike Thunderbird Falls-Glenn Highway MM 24

At MM 24, we stopped to do the 1.8 mile (RT) out & back trail, which leads to Thunderbird Falls just outside the town of Chugiak, Alaska. This trail is immensely popular, yet today the parking lot is empty. For whatever reason, maybe the cool morning drizzle has kept travelers from hiking this morning, so we have it all to ourselves. The state parking fee is $5.00 per vehicle. The “fee station” allows you to pay by credit card. Leave the receipt on your dash.

Lady in front of the thunderbird falls

Starting at the parking lot, the well-maintained trail begins with a steep incline as it follows the deep Eklutna river ravine. The trail really gets your heart rate going climbing the many inclines. The upper trail boardwalk leads to a viewing platform of the 200 foot waterfalls. A collection of locks on the rails left by other hikers was interesting. The lower trail will take you to the base of the falls and the plunge pool.

Man in front of thunderbird falls

The creek-side trail is muddier and steep the closer you get to the plunge pool. We recommend bug spray because the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned. Bring along . trekking poles can be helpful on the muddier slopes. We also suggest bringing plenty of water in a refillable bottle. People often saw black bears on the trail. Today we opted not to bring bear spray instead we just kept talking so they would know we were there. We noticed on our other hikes some wore bear bells, but these do not work. Downloadable trail guide.

Eklutna Lake-Chugach State Park
Eklutna Lake-Chugach State Park

Eklutna Lake-Glenn Highway-MM 26

The lake was formed as a result of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, which dammed the Eklutna River in the 1950s to generate hydroelectric power. Today, Lake Eklutna serves as a water source for the Anchorage area and offers a wide range of recreational opportunities.

Combine a trip to the Eklutna Historical Park with a kayak on the Eklutna lake. The area has great hiking, fishing, biking, wildlife viewing, horseback, and ATV trails. Eklutna Visitor Center rents kayaks, bikes, and other outdoor gear. Surrounded by the Chugach mountains, this 6-mile long lake is a prominent glacial-fed lake left behind when the Eklutna glacier receded. The Dena’ina Athabascan calls the lake “Idlu Bena.” The reservoir is used to generate electricity and is the major water source for the city of Anchorage. Chugach State Park charges a $5 daily parking fee.

Eklutna Lake, Chugach Mountains
Eklutna Lake, Chugach Mountains

The many trails showcase the alpine landscape, most trekking along the old road around the shoreline. Often you can encounter abundant wildlife, such as Dall sheep that frequent the upper reaches, while moose, bear and ptarmigan prefer the backcountry areas. On our first trip here we hiked the 2.5-mile out & back on the twin peaks trail packing a picnic lunch. We had lunch at the mid-point. Gorgeous panoramic views of the lake in the early morning. It was like glass.

Kayaking the lake is very popular. Wear your life jacket, the water is 40°F and winds can pick up quickly. It is best to be prepared. Downloadable brochure. We suggest avoiding the lake on weekends as it tends to fill early with locals.

Cabin at the Eklutna Historic Park
Cabin at the Eklutna Historic Park

Eklutna Historical Park

A great place to take a guided tour and learn about the customs and traditions of the Dena’ina Athabascans. They ask for donations of $5 per person. The influence of the Russian Orthodox who arrived around 1830. Soon after, they constructed the St. Nicholas church. Soon, the cultures became more integrated. It is quite clear by the white crosses combined with the spirit houses in the cemetery. Originally, bodies were cremated. However, later they were interred in Spirit houses unique to the Dena’ina. They built the brightly colored miniature houses after someone’s death. The head needed to be placed upriver, and they placed a blanket over the grave to provide warmth. This side trip only takes an hour, but we learned a wealth of knowledge from our young guide.

The decorative spirit houses at the Eklutna Historical Museum
The decorative spirit houses at the Eklutna Historical Museum

Knik River-Glenn Highway MM 30

We crossed the 25-mile-long braided Knik River on the Old Glenn Highway near the town of Butte. To the Dena’ina they know the river as “Skitnu.” The river is an Alaskan playground for fishing, ATV, biking, wildlife viewing and camping. The 25 mile long Knik glacier is only an hour from Anchorage. For those adventurous types, the Knik River Lodge offers helicopter tours that land on the glacier, giving you an up-close and personal experience. There is also airboat or 4WD trips too.

Knik River Bridge Old Glenn Highway
Knik River Bridge Old Glenn Highway

We stopped at a gravel bar used as a multiple-use outdoor recreational area in the shadow of Pioneer peak. The melting glacier filled the river with gray glacial silt. A gravel bar on the west side allows public use access with a new campground area. The state-owned public access is on the eastern side across the road. It was littered with debris left by campers. Very discouraging. We finished our walk before continuing into Palmer.

The Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway splits from the Parks Highway at MM 34. The Parks Highway continues north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

Lake Reflection @ Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area
Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area

Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area-Glenn Highway MM 36

This is a popular fishing, hiking and biking park close to the highway and town of Palmer. Our first trip in 2012 to Alaska we rented an RV with Great Alaskan Holidays. We overnighted in the park on our way to Denali National Park. The state park includes Matanuska, Canoe, Irene and Long Lake that are stocked with trout and grayling by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This is a small campground with 6 sites in a gravel parking lot. Not your traditional campsite. There are additional campsites for tents in a wooded area. You can make reservations for the campground through the Alaska State Parks website.

 Note: Be bear aware-it is always important to carry bear spray. Watching for signs that bears are in the area as you may encounter a bear at anytime. 

Boreal Forest Trail
Boreal Forest Trail

MATANUSKA LAKE HIKING

Trails connect Matanuska, Canoe, Irene and Long Lake, each teeming with rainbow trout. The heavily wooded trail to the lakes had us continually bombarded with clouds of mosquitoes. Bring lots of bug spray. Matanuska lake is a well-maintained trail with benches and two fishing docks on the lake. The water was so clear you could see the trout swimming, rising to eat flies on the lake surface.

Because it was the summer solstice, we made a campfire. Enjoying that the sun will not set this evening but will only skirt the horizon. The next morning, we awoke to the sound of a moose calling. I opened the curtain to find the moose standing at the RV window. It was a sight to behold-beautiful. I was fearful he would head toward the highway. This year they had 285 moose hit on the highway. This trip we only hiked the trails and did a little fishing. A peaceful stop along the way.

Man with a rainbow trout stocked lake in A;laska
Nice Rainbow Trout!

Palmer-Mat-Su Valley-Glenn Highway MM 42

We recommend stopping at the Palmer Visitor Information Center for information on activities in the Mat-Su Valley. Palmer is a major agricultural center with a fascinating history. Inside, the free museum engages visitors with interactive exhibits that detail the government’s attempt to settle the area during the Great Depression. Watching the documentary video “Alaska Far Away” and talking with the knowledgeable staff, we learned all about the 200 families who became known as the Colony Project in the 1930s. The government experiment ultimately failed. Visit the gift shop for locally made items and walk the gardens to see the giant vegetables that grow in the land of the midnight sun.

Independence Mine State Historical Park
Independence Mine State Historical Park

Hatcher Pass-Glenn Highway MM 49

The Glenn highway parallels the glacial river valley formed by the Matanuska river for most of its length. The junction of Fish Hook leads to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. We enjoyed the fascinating story of the Independence Mine. Reading the background stories of miners and their families, you get a sense of what life must have been like on this desolate mountain. The state is working to preserve buildings many unfortunately are beyond repair. Take a hike above the mine for breathtaking scenery. Looking down, the hatcher pass to the Mat-Su valley, simply beautiful. You get an entirely different perspective of the valley. Definitely worth spending a day.

Musk Ox Farm - Palmer Alaska
Musk Ox Farm – Palmer Alaska

Musk Ox Farm -Glenn Highway MM 50

Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) is large arctic herbivores-survivors of the ice age. These animals weigh between 500 to 800 lbs., live between 12-20 years and are between 4-5 feet tall. Musk ox was extinct in Alaska and was reintroduced in the 1930s. In 1986, the non-profit musk ox farm incorporated to create a cottage-based textile industry. They highly prized them for their Quviut. Each year, they comb the animals when they shed their shaggy winter coats. They then spun the wool into yarn that is, pound for pound, 8X warmer than sheep’s wool. Today the native subsistence knitters make hats, gloves and scarves that are sold to provide a supplementary income.

Interpretive guides give daily tours of the farm. We learned that both males and female have horns they keep for life. Horns are made of keratin, the same substance found in human hair, nails and skin. She also explained how they are ideally suited for survival in the harsh arctic climate. This a perfect detour off the glen as the tour is very informational, and we loved seeing these animals up close. Worth the small price.

Alpine Historical Museum - Sutton Coal Washery
Alpine Historical Museum – Sutton Coal Washery

Alpine Historical Center – Sutton-Glenn Highway MM 62

A surprising gem at MM61.6 in Sutton is an old coal washery plant constructed by the navy in 1922. They used a conveyer belt to deliver the coal to the plant. They dumped the coal into a large tank, where they used three plungers for mechanical mixing. The separation happened through the differences in the density. The impurities sank to the bottom, and the coal floated on top. They processed up to 25 tons of coal an hour in the plant. Coal elevators removed the coal for drying. The Wishbone Hill Coal Mining District sadly only lasted a year, as the navy deemed coal obsolete immediately as they shuttered the facility. Thus, leaving the town of Chickaloon and Eska abandoned. Worth the visit to the Alpine Historical Park is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Matanuska Glacier-Glenn Highway MM 101

At MM 101, we stopped at the 300-acre Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site for a snack break. If you are on a budget and cannot spend the $80 to walk the glacier, the park is the best option. Long Rifle Lodge manages the park charging a fee of $5 for the day use visitors/vehicle. The “fee station” allows you to pay by credit card. Leave the receipt on your dash. The site has 12 campsites on a gravel loop. Vaulted toilets, picnic tables, and a nice pavilion.

The Matanuska is the largest valley glacier accessible by car from the Glenn highway. At 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, it is massive. The glacier carves its way through the valley wedged between Mt Marcus Baker (13,176 feet) and Mt. Wickersham (7,415-feet). Eventually the meltwaters empties into the Matanuska river.

Aspen Trees on the Matanuska Glacier Trail
Aspen Trees on the Matanuska Glacier Trail

Edge Nature Trail-Glenn Highway MM 102

We had magnificent views from the parking lot, but even better views were from the trail. Although you cannot get up close to the glacier or walk on it at this site, the short, easy 20-minute hiking trail through the cottonwoods provides a better view of the glacier from raised overlooks. The Edge Nature Trail has interpretive placards scattered along the trail with good educational information. Good photo opportunities of the glacier against the beautiful backdrop of the snow-capped Chugach Mountains. Binoculars enhance the views.

If you prefer the enhanced experience, hire a guide. Matanuska Glacier Park (MM102) is privately owned but allows visitors to get out and walk the glacier for a hefty fee. Nova Glacier Guides or Mica Tours will supply you with crampons, ice axes, mountaineering boots and an information guide. The narrated hike takes about 3 hours to complete.

Lions Head Glenn Highway
Lions Head Glenn Highway

Lionhead Mountain Trail-Glenn Highway MM

Next to the AT&T communications towers at MM 106, you will find the trailhead. They named the trail for the rock outcropping that looks like a lion’s head. Before hitting the trail, call for permission to access the cell tower’s private property. Call the number on the sign before proceeding. The Lionhead Mountain trail is 2.1 mile is steep and sometimes difficult to follow, ending at an elevation of 2864 feet. This was our first taste of the expansive Alaskan wilderness. You would never tire of the view at the top that makes this trek so worthwhile.

Sheep Mountain – Glenn Highway MM 114

The landscape becomes copper colored around Sheep Mountain. These glacially carved mountains reach an elevation of 6,223-feet. Using our binoculars, we could see a large herd of Dall’s Sheep clinging to the cliffs. They are attracted to this diverse terrain by eating gypsum for the calcium minerals unique to these rock formations. When the Glenn Highway was being constructed, trapper Ed Ueeck sought to have this entire area preserved. His fear was that opening the area would lead to the demise of the herd through endless hunting. Today the area is a closed sanctuary to the taking of mountain goat and Dall sheep.

Sheep Mountain Lodge right off the Glenn Highway is a perfect stop between Anchorage and Glennallen. The cabins give 360-degree views of the Chugach mountains and lush green valley.

Kettle Lakes at Tahneta Pass - Glenn Highway
Tahneta Pass Kettle Lakes – Glenn Highway

Eureka Summit-Glenn Highway MM 129

Leaving the Matanuska Valley, the highway rises to Tahneta Pass (MM 122). Here you see a transition to boreal forest dominated by black spruce on the lowland flats and scattered lakes surrounded by peat bogs. Ideal moose habitat. Lake Leila and others are excellent for fishing for arctic grayling. There is boondocking for RVs at this location.

Views of the Chugach Mountains
Views of the Chugach Mountains

This is the highest point on the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway at 3,332 feet. Spectacular bird’s-eye views of four mountain ranges include the Alaska Range, the Chugach Mountains, the Talkeetna Mountains, and the Wrangell Mountains. Awed by the scenery, we lingered awhile, enjoying the amazing view of the mountains. We made a quick stop at the Eureka roadhouse for a hot cocoa before driving down the highway descending into the Copper River Basin. Officially, the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway ends at the little Nelchina River.

Sutton Lakefront Cabin View
Sutton Lakefront Cabin View

Lake Louise Road-Glenn Highway MM 187

If you have extra time, Lake Louise recreational area (MM 160) is about 20 minutes or 19-miles off of the highway. Lake Louise and is a splendid summer or winter. Known as “Sasnuu’ Bene” in the Ahtna language, this recreational paradise has the “Army Point” campground, boat launch, and picnic area. Fish in the lakes includes lake trout, burbot and arctic grayling. Something frequently seen in the spring is nesting trumpeter swans. We saw one bonded pair but did not get pictures.

We could see the dilapidated cabins part of the original recreation area built after World War II on the interpretive trail. One used by General Dwight D. Eisenhower still stands. Take lots of bug spray the mosquitoes were voracious.

View of Mt. Drum Wrangell St Elais NP
View of Mt. Drum Wrangell St Elais NP

Glennallen-Glenn Highway MM 187

The small town is at the junction of the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway and the Richardson Highway. Glennallen is an excellent location to restock on groceries and gas. It is also the gateway to the largest national park-Wrangell St. Elias. It is also a good launching off point for river rafting, hiking, fishing and flightseeing excursions.

Nummys Restaurant Doorway entrance
Nummy’s

Places to Eat & Stay we Found along the Way

  • Lakefront Hideaway – this cabin near Sutton is a hidden gem. Absolutely beautiful, clean home with a marvellous view of the lake and snow-capped mountains in the background. The host greeted us with cookies upon arrival. 
  • Pippin Lake Bed & Breakfast-they nestle this cozy little Alaska cabin in the woods at Pippin Lake (Copper Center) with breathtaking mountains views. It is just the spot to unwind from a day of sightseeing in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. A great spot to relax on the lake with a fishing pole, or just sit on the dock and soak in the land of the Midnight Sun.
  • Pippin Lakeside Bed & breakfast: (Copper Center) Wonderful cabin with awesome hosts. Kym even met us on our arrival and provided us with banana bread. She also provided us breakfast to go! It is a great cabin with spectacular views of the mountains and tons of amenities. Highly recommend!
  • Palmer Alehouse – This is a delightful place to have dinner or lunch. It was extremely crowded but must say it is worth the wait. I had the Philly Cheesesteak with a side salad and hubby enjoyed a delicious gyro. They have lots of choices on tap for local brews. We both enjoyed a different selection to top off our meal. Good place to unwind and to enjoy Palmer, Alaska.
  • Nummy’s-The sign says “you are only a stranger once.” On the main loop in Copper Center, this log cabin is a great place for dinner. Tastefully decorated, we loved the atmosphere. You would not think that food could taste so good. The halibut dinner was amazing, hubby had the cheeseburger-the bun was perfect! The service was excellent! Wonderful surprise in the middle of nowhere!

Note: On TripAdvisor® they refer it to Nummy’s as the Old Town Copper Center Restaurant. Not on the Glenn Highway on the Richardson Hwy.

View of Mt. Drum Wrangell St Elais NP
View of Mt. Drum Wrangell St Elais NP-Willow Lake

Final Thoughts on the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway

We’ve seen a lot of natural beauty on our travels, but few places compare to the breathtaking vistas we experienced as we drove the Glenn National Highway scenic byway. Having recently visited the Kenai and Seward, this adventure was comparable. From Anchorage to Glennallen you enjoy dazzling panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, receding glaciers and rushing creeks. An Alaskan road trip to remember for a lifetime.

Have you driven the Glenn Highway? Did you stop at Matanuska Glacier? Did you enjoy the views as much as we did? Join the conversation and share your experience in the comments below.