The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is a short drive from Anchorage. Yes, you could do a one-day there-and-back trip, but there’s so much to explore! This summer is the perfect time to head out into our Alaska backyard, including this extended route through the Valley, with a loop through Hatcher Pass.
Hop on the Glenn Highway north toward Palmer – but this time, instead of taking the main highway through the Palmer Hayflats, try taking the Old Glenn to Palmer instead. This detour takes you through the Butte. Stop to hike up the Butte itself, take a Knik River raft trip, or visit the reindeer farm before heading into the city of Palmer. Stop for lunch and wander the shops in historic downtown Palmer before continuing east on the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway to the Matanuska State Recreation Area (approximately 100 miles from Anchorage). Here, you can hike on the largest road-accessible glacier in the state or just take in the sweeping views. Camp or stay at a local lodge overnight.
As you head back toward Palmer, stop by Sutton to learn about the area’s coal mining history before turning onto Hatcher Pass Road/Palmer Fishhook Road and Hatcher Pass. This road will connect you to the Parks Highway near Willow. As you work your way up from forest to tundra, you’ll find views and trails galore! Stop for a picnic at Independence Mine. At one point over 200 men mined for gold –more than 34,000 ounces of gold were produced from the site before the mine closed for good in 1951. Today, the abandoned buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and make up the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Visit the museum in the former mine manager's house, then explore on your own on a self-guided tour around the site.
Camp overnight at Gold Mint trailhead or at a local lodge.
Head up to Hatcher Pass Summit and take the Summit Lake trail around the lake. In addition to stunning views, you may even see people paragliding from nearby peaks! Then, from Summit Lake, continue west and down the road toward Willow and the Parks Highway. As you make your way south, stop to visit one of the local museums or take a side trip down Knik-Goose Bay Road to see the Iditarod Sled Dog Race Headquarters (call ahead – hours are limited to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday due to COVID-19). Be sure to purchase some Alaska Grown produce at a farmers’ market or farm before making your way home.
Please check with State Parks for current campground status here.