This five-day driving itinerary uses the Matanuska-Susitna Valley as base camp for the type of adventures you can only experience in Alaska. Walk on a glacier, fly circles around North America’s tallest peak and reel in a Pacific salmon, all without leaving Alaska’s paved highway system.
Day 1 Anchorage to Palmer
Starting in Anchorage, rent a car and make the 45-mile drive to the farming community of Palmer, where you’ll board an airboat or jet boat and journey upriver, coming close to the glistening blue face of the Knik Glacier. Overnight in Palmer, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough seat.
Day 2 Hatcher Pass and Palmer
Spend a day enjoying the history and beauty of Hatcher Pass, an alpine wilderness area just 20 miles north of Palmer. Start with a guided tour of the historic buildings at Independence Mine State Historical Park, which was actively mined until 1951. Then take a hike on one of several trails that give you sweeping views over the nearby mountains. Take a picnic lunch or dine at one of the area lodges. Head back to Palmer in the afternoon, where the visitor center and the Colony House Museum showcase this area’s agricultural roots. Overnight in Palmer.
Day 3 Matanuska Glacier
Drive 50 miles up the Glenn Highway, north and east of Palmer, to the largest road-accessible glacier in Alaska: The Matanuska Glacier. Take a guided trekking or ice climbing tour on the glacier, then book either a fun, splashy whitewater rafting trip or a ziplining adventure for the afternoon. Return to Palmer for the night.
Day 4 Wasilla and Talkeetna
After breakfast, drive approximately 13 miles to Wasilla. Here, you can visit the headquarters of the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, visit a working dog kennel, or take a dogsled ride. Then, drive 85 miles north to the quaint town of Talkeetna, the first stop for any climber hoping to summit Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley. More than a thousand climbers attempt to summit North America’s tallest peak every year; if your timing is right, you can watch the planes that carry them to base camp taking off from the community airstrip. You can also take a scenic flightseeing trip for an up-close look at Denali yourself, using the same air carriers that shuttle climbers back and forth. While you’re in town, visit the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station to learn more about the town’s climbing history, and scope out the scale model of Denali in the Talkeetna Historical Society’s downtown museum. After lunch at one of Talkeetna’s many excellent restaurants, take a scenic float or jet boat ride up the Susitna River to watch for wildlife and photograph Denali. Overnight in Talkeetna.
Day 5 Talkeetna
It’s time to head back out onto the rivers around Talkeetna—this time, on a guided full-day or half-day trip to go fishing for salmon. If someone in your party doesn’t want to fish, send them on the Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Turn train instead. This narrated rail adventure offers wildlife sightings, beautiful landscapes, and peeks into Alaska’s pioneer history. In fact, it still serves as flag stop service—sort of like waving a cab down, but with a train—for a few hunters, rafters, and homesteaders in the area. Talkeetna boasts great live music, so catch a show tonight if you can. Tomorrow, you’ll drive back to Anchorage and catch your flight home.