Canwell Glacier and Rainbow Basin

Hiking Guide and Area Information

Activities: Hiking, Backpacking, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Mountaineering

Difficulty: Moderate to Very Difficult

Backcountry Skills: Extensive skills needed, especially in winter – avalanche preparedness, crevasse rescue skills, traveling in bear country, glacier travel, navigation

Overview

The Canwell Glacier is an approximately 10-mile long valley glacier on the south side of the Delta Mountains in the Eastern Alaska Range. It is fairly easy to access the area, but there are no nearby amenities and only one “Jeep” trail through the south side of the valley. Weather changes quickly in this valley at all times of the year so it’s important to be prepared for anything, even snow in the summer. 

Summer Access

Via Miller Creek

Parking for Miller Creek is at mile 215.2 on the Richardson Highway. A 3-mile hike up Miller Creek (mile 215.2 Richardson Highway) gains the very rocky terminal moraine and the toe of the glacier. Depending on rain and melt conditions, the creek can be quite full at the terminus making it difficult to get to the glacier toe. It’s typically easiest to hike up the north side of the glacier via a large moraine much higher than the surrounding debris cover. About another two miles up-glacier it is often possible to get off the rock and on to the ice. There is no “trail” here so route finding skills are necessary. There are very dangerous ice cliffs on the rocky moraine and the south side of the glacier could be very difficult to navigate. There is one moraine on the north side that is higher than the rest of the glacier, as of this writing this is the easiest path to travel, but be aware that glacier landscapes can change greatly over a few years.

Photos from Miller Creek Access

Via Red Rock Canyon Road/Trail – Access for Rainbow Basin

Look for a gravel road on the east side of the Richardson Highway near mile 214. It’s nice to have a vehicle with good clearance and 4 wheel drive. The road is very narrow with only a few sections to pass another vehicle. After winding through some alder and willow you’ll come to a stream that is the most popular point to park. Vehicles with good clearance may be able to continue over the stream. The road/trail continues for about 3 miles before coming to another large stream. After crossing this stream there is a slightly easier area to head down to the glacier on steep, loose talus. This is off-trail and can be very hazardous. Route finding becomes difficult once entering the lateral moraine. 

Photos from the Rainbow Basin

Disclaimer – This guide was written with the best information at the time from personal experience in the area. Backcountry travel in Alaska is dangerous and there are many circumstances beyond anyone’s control. GPS coordinates on photos are approximate. Travel at your own risk, know your limitations and be prepared for anything. I assume no responsibility for the fate of the reader.

Additionally, I do make errors and conditions and access rights may change. If you notice any inaccuracies, please let me know at lee@lwpetersen.com and I’ll try to change info quickly! 

Recommended reading:

Blogposts:

Camping in the Rainbow Basin
Exploring the Canwell Glacier

My Full Canwell Glacier Photo Gallery:

https://photos.lwpetersen.com/Explore/Explore-Alaska/Interior/Galleries/Canwell-Glacier/

Blog Comments

I did the Great Canwell Glacier Stampede twice as a teenager and loved it each time. Love your photos!

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