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I’m currently writing and mapping guides to hiking and general travel/tourism to destinations all over Alaska. My focus is on sharing beautiful, photogenic locations that would most interest hikers and photographers, but the guide is open to anyone!

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02
Canwell Glacier and Rainbow Basin – Hiking Guide

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Popular ForHiking, Backpacking, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Mountaineering
DifficultyModerate to Very Difficult
Distance6 miles round-trip to as far as you want
Backcountry SkillsExtensive skills needed, especially in winter – avalanche preparedness, crevasse rescue skills, traveling in bear country, glacier travel, navigation
LocationMile 215.2 Richardson highway (Miller Creek)
Mile 214 Red Rock Canyon Road

The guidebook Delta Range: A Mountaineering Playground by Stan Justice is available in Fairbanks at Beaver Sports. It highlights many of the climbable peaks accessible by the Canwell Glacier.

map disclaimer

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 reasonably easy to access the area, but there are no nearby amenities and only one “Jeep” trail through the south side of the valley. The weather changes quickly in this valley at all times of the year. It’s essential 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 challenging 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.

Panorama photo of Miller Creek from the toe of the Canwell Glacier

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. Dangerous ice cliffs border the rocky moraine and the south side of the glacier is challenging to navigate. There is one moraine on the north side that is higher than the rest of the glacier. This moraine is the most natural path to travel, but be aware that glacier landscapes can change significantly over a few years.

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 proper clearance and four-wheel drive. The road is very narrow, with only a few sections to pass another car. After winding through some alder and willow, you’ll come to a stream that is the most popular point to park. Trucks or SUVs with good suspension and very high clearance may be able to continue over the creek.

The road/trail continues for about 3 miles before coming to another large stream. After crossing this stream, there is a slightly more comfortable 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.

Heading uphill (south) at this crossing on either side of the stream brings you into the Rainbow Basin on the backside of Rainbow Ridge. It’s a beautiful area and can be good skiing in the winter (via Miller Creek Access, the road will not be driveable), but the avalanche risk is often very high. I do not recommend that anyone venture into this area in winter without significant avalanche awareness training and partners that have as well. Use the same approach as described in the Miller Creek access. The main glacier is not heavily crevassed at the lower reaches but becomes more-so higher up. It is imperative that you be familiar with winter glacier travel and crevasse rescue.

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This guide is in its infancy, but will soon expand into many more territories. In the coming months, I expect to add Rainbow Ridge and Gulkana Glacier guides to this area. I’ll also be adding more information to this post on the Canwell Glacier.

Blog posts from the Canwell Glacier

Yikes . . . Has it really been this long?! Spring in Alaska

It sure doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been over a year since I’ve published a blog-post. I’ve still been writing, editing, and updating, but not publishing new things. I’ve still been out taking photos in Alaska, just not as much as I would hope too. It’s been hard to get out because work has […]

Exploring the Canwell Glacier

Hiking Guide to The Canwell Glacier Below Living as close as we do to enormous glaciers that could only exist on the highest peaks in the lower 48 offers us a unique hiking opportunity. This summer I wanted to take my friend, Jenn to one of these glaciers during her short visit to Alaska. Unfortunately, […]

Camping in the Rainbow Basin

Driving through Red Rock Canyon is a slow kind of exciting. I barely reach 10 miles per hour as alders scrape both sides of the car on the single lane, windy road in the Delta Mountains. The road traverses a mountainside above the toe of the Canwell Glacier. It feels like at any moment all […]

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Lee Petersen
Lee PetersenPhotographer/Writer

I am currently available for freelance photography, writing, or web design. My photography and writing focus is primarily outdoors-related (hiking, climbing, biking).

Featured Articles

Otters preparing to jump off an iceberg in Columbia Bay

I’ve only been getting really interested in wildlife photography over the last three years. It is becoming on of the most enjoyable and rewarding pursuits in my life. I’ve been amassing a collection of bear, sea otter, seal, sea lion, dall sheep, and moose photos from around Alaska. You can view my wildlife portfolio at the link below.

View my Wildlife Photos
Autumn colors in tundra in Denali National Park

My passion for landscape photography started with my hobby of taking photos and love of hiking and the outdoors. It wasn’t long after I started hauling my DSLR along on backpacking trips that I realized I was hiking, climbing, or skiing to seek out the coolest landscapes I could find.

View my Landscape, Seascape, and Coastline Photos
aurora borealis from Granite Tors

Probably the biggest draw to Alaska in the winter months is the hope to view the northern lights. I love being able to step out on my front porch at night and see the sky lit up in green. Even more, I love being able to hike out to beautiful locations and view the aurora borealis from my tent door.

View my aurora borealis photos
columbia glacier

In my 10 years in Alaska, I’ve seen a drastic shrinking of most of the glaciers that I hike to and on. Some of these will be nearly gone in my lifetime and photos will be all we have to remember them. Unfortunately, whatever your political stance is doesn’t seem to matter to the glaciers.

View my Glacier and Iceberg photos
birch trees with snow

The interior of Alaska is mainly covered by boreal forest. White spruce, black spruce, birch, aspen, tamarack, and balsam poplar are really all we have for native trees. The forests are gorgeous and one of the main reasons I love living here. Although, since I do a lot of hiking when I travel there is more than just boreal forest in the collection.

View my Forest Photos

Snowy Aurora

Photo of the Day

Aurora from 30000 feet

Aurora Blog


Northern lights over forest. Fairbanks, AK
2015 02 08
Northern Lights – February 1st, 2015

The morning of disappointing, disappearing aurora Jenn and I managed to do...

Incredible northern lights display over a snow-clad forest in Fairbanks, Alaska.
2015 01 26
Boreal Winter – Black and White, Day and Night

Welcome to the Alaska interior, welcome to the boreal forest. This is...

The week when the northern lights wouldn’t quit
2015 01 08
The week when the northern lights wouldn’t quit

Purchase Print Where do I even begin? I mean, the title kind...

Aurora Landscape in Black and White. A gorgeous moonlit boreal forest in Fairbanks under a sky filled with aurora.
2015 01 07
Photo of the week — “Aurora Landscape”

“Aurora Landscape” — photo of the week ending January 3, 2015 Everything...

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Mt. Shand stands nearly a vertical mile above the Black Rapids Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range.
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Mt. Shand stands nearly a vertical mile above the Black Rapids Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range.

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Cow moose grazing on willows in Denali National Park & Preserve.
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Cow moose grazing on willows in Denali National Park & Preserve. (No watermark on print)

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Gorgeous red landscapes over the Thorofare River and yellow vegetation-covered Muldrow Glacier.
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Gorgeous red landscapes over the Thorofare River and yellow vegetation-covered Muldrow Glacier. And of course Denali, the tallest Mountain in North America at 20,310′ above sea level. (No watermark on print)

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Ice-covered mountains over the Black Rapids Glacier in the Alaska Range
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Ice-Covered – 5″x10″ Float Metal Print

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A lot of snow falls up here covering the mountains of the Trinity Basin of the Alaska Range in ice. This is part of the small remaining accumulation area of the Black Rapids Glacier. I’m amazed at how such a conglomeration of ice and snow can take the appearance of simply being draped over the mountains. (No watermark on print)

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Birch reflections in the seasonal wetlands at Creamer's Field in Fairbanks, Alaska.
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Birch reflections in the seasonal wetlands at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, Alaska. (No watermark on print)

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Anderson Falls near Valdez, Alaska
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Anderson Falls in the Chugach Mountains near Valdez, Alaska. (No watermark on print)

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Auroral Corona
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Not a minute after that eruption on the horizon this auroral corona danced overhead and seemed to last for a really long time. Usually only appearing for a few seconds, I think I had about a minute of shooting this one. In the center, you might be able to make out the big dipper, but the stars were pretty dim compared to the northern lights that night!
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Parhelia over Black Rapids Glacier
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I photographed this awesome sight while doing field work out on the Black Rapids Glacier in the eastern Alaska Range. The view is to the southeast and you can see the Loket Tributary flowing into the main branch of the glacier center-right. Living in Fairbanks (a little under 100 miles north of here) we get to see a lot of optical phenomena from ice in the atmosphere. In the winter we frequently see halos and parhelia (sun dogs). It’s pretty rare to see the tangent arc and even rarer to see a parhelic circle – the line that continues ‘horizontally’ from the sundog. At times this made a full 360° circle around our heads from camp. The stitching together of this 14 image panorama was not fun and it isn’t perfect, but I think it came out nice enough. (No watermark on print)

5″x10″ Float Metal Print – Signed On Back
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Waterfalls and islands in Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska.
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Waterfalls and islands in Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska. (No watermark on print)

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Grizzly bear in fall foliage in Denali National Park
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Grizzly in Fall Colors. Near the Primrose area of Denali National Park & Preserve. (No watermark on print)

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Winter Sunrise – 5″x10″ Float Metal Print

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This is a pretty typical mid-winter scene in the Alaska Interior. There’s not much wind in Fairbanks, so the snow sticks to the trees for a while. The sun is always low on the horizon when it’s up around winter solstice, so it never gets much past the sunrise stage. Beautiful light makes up for the lack of light. (No watermark on print)

5″x10″ Float Metal Print – Signed On Back
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Blue stream on the Black Rapids Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range
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A blue stream forms in the snow on the surface of the Black Rapids Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range. (No watermark on print)

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