The Glenn Highway, Alaska Route 1, leads from the Alaska Highway at Tok to Anchorage (the section from Tok to Glennallen is also called the Tok Cut-Off). It connects the most populous part of the state to the outside world, a 328-mile strip of blacktop that grows from two lanes in Tok to six or more in urban downtown Anchorage. In this section, I cover the stretch from Glennallen to Palmer. From Tok to Glennallen, the road passes through wilderness. The portion from Palmer to downtown Anchorage is all part of the greater city.
The town may look like just a wide place in the road, but this little community near the junction of the Glenn and Richardson highways is the commercial hub for the Copper River Country, a great, thinly settled region. The two highways overlap for a few miles. At their southern split, a handy information stop, the Copper Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, occupies a gray building next to the Hub gas station and store (P.O. Box 469, Glennallen, AK 99588; tel. 907/822-5555; www.traveltoalaska.com). Volunteers open the center May 15 to September 15 daily 9am to 7pm, or longer as staffing allows. Besides the hotel and restaurant listed below, Glennallen has two banks with ATMs, a post office, groceries, a medical center, and government offices, all centered along a strip of the Glenn Highway around mile 187, west of the visitor center.
Apart from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, much of the outdoor recreation in the Copper River Country occurs on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office, with a log cabin office in town on the north side of the Glenn Highway at mile 186.5 (P.O. Box 147), Glennallen, AK 99588 (tel. 907/822-3217). The Internet address is too long to repeat; go to www.blm.gov/ak, and navigate to "Glennallen Field Office." The office is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4:30pm. Information is also available from the public land information centers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Tok. This huge area, about as large as a midsize eastern U.S. state, is more accessible than most of the national park, but it's still a rough, remote land with few visitor facilities. There are several large alpine lakes, two National Wild Rivers, several hiking trails, and five campgrounds (including the state park campground just north of Glennallen), all reached on the Richardson, Glenn, and Denali highways. Guides are available for rafting and fishing in the rivers. Check at the visitor center or BLM office for a list of operators.
Standard accommodations are at the New Caribou Hotel, in town at mile 187 of the Glenn Highway (www.caribouhotel.com; tel. 800/478-3302 or 907/822-3302). The rooms have the amenities of a roadside chain, but the hotel as a whole has the character of its place. They book up in the summer, so reservations are important. The summer rate is $149 double. Budget rooms are in an annex building, a former pipeline construction camp, for $79 double. Their Caribou Restaurant is inexpensive but nice inside, with lots of brass and booths. Choices include burgers, fish, and steak.
The Matanuska Glacier Area
From Glennallen, the highway traverses a broad tundra area where there's a good chance of seeing caribous and other wildlife from a distance. Next, the road climbs between two mountain ranges -- the coastal Chugach Mountains that hold the glaciers around Prince William Sound, and the craggy old Talkeetna Mountains to the north. The road winds through steep, rocky terrain with wonderful, scary views, including a good look at the Matanuska Glacier. In the fall, when the tundra and the birches, aspens, and cottonwoods turn yellow and red, this drive is dizzying in its beauty. Plan on driving this section at no more than 45 mph.
The Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site overlooks the glacier and has a 1-mile interpretive nature trail and a good, 12-site campground ($15 per site or $10 to park overnight in a paved lot). To get closer to the glacier, you have to take a rough side road and pay a fee to the people who own the land in front of it, doing business as Glacier Park (tel. 888/253-4480). The cost for the self-guided hike is $15 adults, $13 seniors, $10 students and military, $5 children 6 to 12. They also offer camping for $15 a night. Turn at mile 102. The side road is 3 miles, followed by a 15-minute walk to the glacier's face. From October to April, it's wise to call to reserve and check conditions.
Two exceptional lodges lie along the highway near the Matanuska Glacier, about 70 miles from Glennallen or 115 miles from Anchorage. In this remote area, phones are in common rooms.
Chickaloon & Sutton
Road construction projects working along the highway year by year, and planned years into the future, have imposed delays of up to an hour, slow driving, and nighttime closures. Contact tel. 511 or check http://511.alaska.gov for the latest. The scenery is attractive, with country-style development cropping up along the road as you approach urban Alaska. Chickaloon is the base of Nova Raft and Adventure Tours; if you're already passing through here, you may want to arrange a float. Sutton is a little town left behind by a coal mine that once operated in these mountains. The charming little historic park there is worthy of a stop to stretch your legs.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.