Wasilla may be equally famous and infamous – well known as the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, it gained a new level of notoriety when Sarah Palin was named as John McCain’s running mate during the 2008 presidential election.
Wasilla’s 7,000 residents were thrust into the national spotlight thanks to Palin. When the national media came calling during the presidential election, it discovered a scenic Alaska town nestled between Lake Lucille and Lake Wasilla and surrounded by the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains.
Wasilla was established in 1917 as a supply base for gold and coal mining in the area. It remained a small town servicing the needs of local farmers until the early 1970s, when the George Parks Highway was built, providing access between Wasilla and Anchorage to the south and Denali National Park and Preserve and Fairbanks to the north. The highway turned Wasilla into an important commercial center for visitors and other travelers passing through and a bedroom community for those who work in Anchorage but didn’t want to live in the city, which is just 43 miles to the south.
Things to do
Just outside of Wasilla is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters, a log cabin museum featuring historical displays, video exhibits, photos of past champions and race paraphernalia. More information on dog mushing and racing can be enjoyed at the Knik Museum & Sled Dog Musher's Hall of Fame, while a number of Iditarod racers live north of Wasilla and during the summer offer tours of their kennels, mushing demonstrations and even rides in a sled.
Wasilla also serves as a gateway to the alpine adventure and beauty of Hatcher Pass. At 3,886 feet in elevation, the pass is above the tree line and a popular destination for its views of the shattered granite peaks of the Talkeetna Mountains, gold mine artifacts and Independence Mine State Historical Park. The 272-acre park preserves the 16 buildings, shafts and other remains of the Alaska-Pacific Mining Company, one of the leading hard rock gold mines in Alaska before it closed in 1955.
Surrounding Wasilla in the Mat-Su Valley are lakes and rivers with fisheries that range from rainbow trout and grayling to lake trout and Arctic char. Among the most popular species is king salmon, which begin to move into the clear-water streams of the Susitna River drainage in early June. The Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau visitor center provides information on road accessible sites, boat rentals and outfitters and guides that can provide a day of trophy fishing in area waters.