Snowbird Mine & Glacier

Matanuska Valley
This hike was rated 4 stars.
Submitted By
Louise Williams
Difficulty
Moderate; the section from the mine to the glacier is not too steep but the trail is easy to lose and there may be some scrambling involved.
Miles One Way
5
Miles from Anchorage
56; near Hatcher's Pass
Season
June to September

Description

We took this hike as an overnight trip to the mine with a side trip to the glacier. The area just above the mine is very flat and a good place for camping. There is plenty of room for exploration, with a mine entrance on the hillside and a hanging valley with a lake in it.
The trip up to the glacier is not incredibly difficult, but the trail was easy to lose as you are making your way through a boulder field. We ended up going off to the right in the valley, and hanging off the side of some pretty steep sections. Oops. So if you’re going up to the glacier, stick to the left (south) side of the valley.

Snowbird glacier is really a glacier remnant, so not as impressive as Exit Glacier or such. I really liked exploring the area and seeing what’s left of the mine.

It’s a pretty easy hike with a couple steep bits. A good trip to bring people who are in shape but not familiar with Alaska backpacking. Of course, it can get windy and cold so the right gear is a must (just like any Alaska hike).

The following was added July 4, 2006:

I’ve been meaning to get to this area for years and finally went this past Sunday. The whole Archangel Valley is beautiful. Since I needed pictures for this hike, I headed left after the broke down hut instead of straight to Reed Lakes. I’m glad I did because I could not believe how many people were hiking there. For every one person going to Snowbird, there were easily 10-15 going to Reed Lakes.

I didn’t get to the Glacier as I didn’t want to put my dog through having to navigate those boulders. From what Louise says above, I think you would be better off with Jewell Glacier. I did go as far as the lake, which was still half frozen, and then went down and back up to the other canyon. This hike, besides the scenery, is really about the mine ruins, which is a great way to experience Alaska’s heritage. This would be a great place to base camp and day hike around. You could do Reed Lakes early in the morning the next day before the crowds start coming.

The following was added July 25, 2009:

Last weekend, I finally had a chance to overnight here! This time it was snow free and boy!, what a great place to hang out. The gray, granite, jagged peaks are really cool to look at, especially with all the boulders around. What’s really amazing about this valley is the abundance on creeks and streams, with a fair amount of it underground due to all the tundra growing over the scree and talus.

I set my tent up right by the lake. The area right by the post and rocks is the flattest place to set up, trust me. After I set up, I headed over to the pass to get to the glacier. I did get into the pass but did not go all the way to the glacier. It’s really receded and while doable, it is a schlep scrambling thru boulders and moraines. My dog is getting old and when she wedged her paw between two boulders and it took awhile to get her unstuck, I decided it wasn’t worth it and headed back to camp. Really, going to the glacier is very optional and does not have to be the highlight of your hike, especially as there are so many other glaciers that are easier to get to.

After dinner that night, I spent a couple of hours really walking around the upper valley and moraines. What a great place to explore! The upper valley west of the lake has many small creeks that run down the flat side of boulders creating some really beautiful patterns.

Coming down the next day, I headed over to the mine ruins and really looked around. Once again, be careful coming back down the trail as some parts are really eroded and slippery.

Important Information

My boyfriend and his two friends did try to climb one of the peaks next to the glacier but came back down because it seemed pretty sketchy. The rock field on the other side of the pass, next to the glacier seems fairly unstable. We did hear a rock slide but didn’t see where it was. I would not scale these peaks without climbing gear and experience.
It’s not really recommended that you go inside the mine because they can collapse on you. But it’s still cool to look at.

If you’re going on a rainy day, be careful that you don’t slip on the mud on the steep parts. You will have some boulder scrambling as well so it is strongly suggested you bring a walking stick.

The start of the trail is a bit confusing to access. Go a little past the hut, and take the left hand side of the trail that has the bridge.

Archangel Road may be closed in the spring during breakup to keep the ruts in the road from getting worse. It’s usually opened back up the same day Independence Mine opens (June 20). Call (907) 745-3975 to confirm.

Etc.

Etc.

The road leading to the trailhead, Archangel Road, is one of the worst roads I’ve been on Alaska, and I’ve driven out to McCarthy. In one area, an old culvert has rusted through and was sticking up out of the road. We had to throw boards across it to drive my car on, and I was still worried about the bottom.

Also, Reed Lakes is a very popular trail, so there are lots of people on the trail before the Snowbird Mine turn-off. We didn’t see as many people in the Snowbird Mine part, but if you go on a nice or a long weekend, be prepared for company.

Topo Map

Snowbird Mine & Glacier topo map

Comments on hiking Snowbird Mine & Glacier

  1. Dan — January 7, 2019

    I hiked this way back in the early 70’s with a buddy. We hiked into this area several times over a 3 year period during both summer and winter months. We went up to the mine back when one of the buildings was still partially erect. It had glass doorknobs and “Mazda” lightbulbs! We headed up towards the mineshaft but there were a lot of blasting caps laying around so we gave them a wide berth. We hiked in and around the lake above the mine and I found a very small hut just big enough for one person. The hut had a single bed, a desk and a cooking area. It had a small window and was completely enclosed though there were plenty of cracks in between the boards to allow the wind to blow in. I doubt the remnants could even be found, today.

    My buddy and I climbed to the top of Lynx peak and over to Reed Lakes. Between the two is a dry mine shaft that only went in about 50 feet. It must have been a test hole that didn’t peter out. On the far side of Upper Reed Lake, we hiked and scrambled up the rocks, dodging the marmots and ground squirrels along the way. Once up at the top of the pass we scanned over the glacier and way out in the distance we spied what looked like a tent with ski’s propped up next to it. We surmised it must be some sort of expedition. The distance down to the glacier was only about ten feet, so we decided to hike over and introduce ourselves. As we got closer the vision of the tent changed to an aircraft tail. The ski’s turned into engine rotors sticking out of the ice. Upon arrival we found an old B-29 bomber that had crashed on the glacier! Most of it was embedded in the ice but there was still a lot of junk strewn around. Things like yellow air cannisters, remnants of a parachute, various types of clothing, some very thin aluminum, and various plane parts and pieces. It was pretty cool for a 14 and 16 year old boys to discover!

    One time we cross-country skied into the cabin (Armstrong’s Cabin – used to be at the end of the road). This occurred on Jan 31, 1976. I remember it well. It was my 16th birthday. All started out well. We arrived early and skied into the “Big Rock”. Most of the trail had been broken by a snowmachine but beyond the rock in was all fresh powder. My buddy knew the route better than I and even he had trouble finding the road. It started to snow, a little at first and then it picked up. The wind picked up too and before long we were in a blizzard. My buddy broke the trail and I could just see his ski tracks so I was able to follow along. We were only a few feet apart but by late afternoon we were unable to see each other. The temperature dropped and along with the snow and wind, just added to our woes. My buddy and I switched off leading a couple of times because breaking trail in deep powdered snow wore a person out pretty quickly. From the Hatcher Pass Road to the mine was about 7 miles. We started at 8 am and figured we would be at the cabin by 3 or 4, before it started getting dark. But now it was after 5pm and still no sign of the cabin, so we stopped and pitched a tent. By the time we got the tent assembled the snow and wind had died down so we decided to push on the the cabin (Mr. Armstrong had a barrel stove and some old fuel oil at the cabin so we knew we would be warm once we got there). Visibility improved in the moon light and we made it to the cabin about an hour later. My buddy rummaged around the cabin searching for the oil but could not find it. Finally, he set up his little Optimus 8R stove and we heated some water for some hot chocolate, then hit the sleeping bags. I had an old Coleman bag designed for temps in the 40’s and above. I liked to have froze that night. I dug down deep in my bag while still fully clothed except my boots and breathed in the bag. That seemed to warm things up okay. When I awoke the next morning, there was ice all over the outside of my bag!

    That next day dawned clear and bright with the sun shining boldly into the cabin. It was a crispy cold day but the sight of the sun perked us up! We had a light breakfast while my buddy went out to rummage under the cabin for the oil. We never did find it. One neat thing about this cabin was that Mr. Armstrong kept a logbook on the table inside. Folks who hiked in and used his cabin left comments in the logbook and it was fun to read the earlier entries. And that is how I spent my 16th birthday!

  2. Marjie Beck — August 7, 2017

    Here’s an update, as of 2017 : Archangel Road has been fixed! Up to the bridge, it’s smooth sailing. And there’s an outhouse now. The catch is that there’s now a 5$ State Parks fee 🙁 The trail itself is much the same – boring and crowded (for Alaska) for the first mile or so, and then glorious, once you turn off the Reed Lakes route and head up to Snowbird. The mine ruins are very cool, as are the mine shafts (easily located by looking for the tailing piles), but the really wonderful feature is the lovely blue-green Snowbird Tarn.

  3. Bryce — February 14, 2013

    Rating: 4 moose hooves

    Description: I took this as a day hike just the other day (7/31/09) with a friend. The first section is very flat and easy, followed by a relatively steep climb up to the mine, but some old mine cables run up the trail on the steepest part and are a great help (I suggest bringing a pair of gloves). So I’d say getting to the mine is relatively easy, and definitely worth a look. There’s all sorts of neat old mining artifacts in the area. Just getting to the mine would be a nice afternoon hike after seeing Independence mines.

    Getting to the glacier is why the hike, as a whole, is quite difficult.

    Me and my friend actually lost the trail (don’t follow the one you came in on, find the one behind the anchor rock in the picture ‘Mine Ruins III’) and didn’t find it until we were headed back out. We walked up to the mine shafts up the mountain on the left, which involved some scree climbing but was fun. The beams inside are falling apart, so I definitely do not suggest exploring, tempting as it was. After that we decided to keep going up the mountain and cross the ridge to get into Archangel Valley and follow the road back to our car. Bad idea.

    Climbing up the scree was risky, and after finding no way down on the other side, getting back down that scree was downright dangerous. We never made it to the glacier, or even see it from our high point up on the ridge line, though we saw the trail up to it and it’s definitely rough looking, lots of scree and boulders. I’m with the webmaster in saying that there are better inland glaciers to hike to, but the views and mine ruins in the area make this worthwhile.

    Etc: Archangel road, at least up to the Snowbird Trailhead parking lot, isn’t so awful. The old culvert mentioned has been cleaned up. It’s still a bumpy ride and certainly one to take slow, but in an SUV there should be no actual issues of grounding out or other damage. A car should be fine as long as you’re extra careful of the bigger rocks in the road. The parking lot was actually much worse than the road!

  4. The following was submitted by Philip Walters:

    I hiked Snowbird Mine and Glacier for the second time yesterday, and I have to say that whoever marked this trail as “somewhat easy” in the difficulty rating must have been there on an amazing (and atypical) day. I would have to say that this trail is somewhat difficult to strenuous! Yesterday we encountered snowfields that covered most of the trail up the valley, a temperature drop of 20 to 30 degrees from the trailhead to the pass, thick, disorienting fog, and even a large rockslide (which occurred behind us in the valley as we neared the top of the pass).

    Unchanged by the weather is the fact that the trail is VERY poorly marked (it’s very hard to see the tiny, widely-spaced trail markers made of rock in the middle of a boulder field… also made of rocks…) and there are a few sections of trail that are almost vertical. There is quite a great deal of boulder hopping involved as well.

    I love this trail and think the views, the terrain, and the general remoteness make it very typically Alaskan, but I would have to heartily disagree on the difficulty rating. Somebody could easily get themselves into trouble on this trail if they underestimate its physical and mental demands.

Have you done this hike? Please share your experience below: