5 Things to Do in Palmer
From its bustling state fair to outdoorsy adventures like riverboating, fishing, and glacier exploration, there’s more to the agricultural community of Palmer than meets the eye. Here are Palmer’s top five activities to get you started.
1. Go to the Alaska State Fair
“Everything’s bigger in Alaska” doesn’t just refer to mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. Alaska’s largest event, the Alaska State Fair, takes place in Palmer in late August and early September. Concerts, performances, exhibits, thrilling rides, and world-record-setting vegetables are all part of the fun. Giant produce — like a 1,471-pound pumpkin and 94-pound cabbage — amaze spectators before becoming dinner for animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and other regional sanctuaries.
The 14-day event features many quirky activities and classic state far staples. From quilting and sewing to honey and beekeeping to baked goods and local art, hundreds of exhibitors show off their crafts at the fair. With competitions like the Diaper Derby and Toddler Trot, Beer Tap, Beard Contest, and Senior Joke and Storytelling, the fair draws visitors of all ages from near and far.
2. Hop on a Freshwater Fishing Charter
The Mat-Su Valley, where Palmer is located, is home to more than 120 lakes and rivers, including the Little Susitna River. With freshwater river, lake, and stream options, anglers in Mat-Su can search for Arctic char, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, grayling, northern pike, and silver and king salmon. Year-round charters guide visitors to the nearby fishing hot spots and hidden gems that produce coveted salmon and trout runs.
Whether you’re looking for a quick day trip or weekend getaway to a remote fishing lodge, there are charter options for beginners and master anglers alike. For a chance to meet the locals and support a good cause, join in one of the many community fishing derbies throughout the year. To experience Alaska’s backcountry wilderness without the hassle, reserve a floatplane or riverboat-fishing excursion that takes you deep into the valley for some of the best fishing opportunities in Southcentral Alaska.
3. Explore Hatcher Pass
Located near Palmer, Hatcher Pass is accessible by the Glenn Highway from the east or the Parks Highway to the west via the scenic Fishhook Road. The 49-mile loop road to the pass is lined with rugged mountains, rushing streams, and scenic viewpoints. In the summer, view gold rush history at Independence Mine State Historical Park or go hiking or backpacking on the many nearby trails winding through mountains and along the Little Susitna River. Take advantage of long summer days to stroll through wildflower fields, go berry picking, and watch paragliders soar through the sky at Summit Lake State Recreation Site. In the winter, go cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, or explore the backcountry on skis or snowmobiles.
Travel back in time to the Alaska Gold Rush at Independence Mine State Historical Park, located at mile 18 of Hatcher Pass Road. Once the country’s largest gold-producing mine and now a state historical park, the abandoned area’s beauty provides insight into the once-booming industry. Relax at the many rustic bed and breakfasts and cabins in the area or strike it rich on a gold-panning adventure.
4. Dig into Matanuska Colony History
From the Dust Bowl to the Last Frontier, more than 200 families relocated to Palmer as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1935. Despite the harsher climate coupled with a short growing season, the settlers established the Matanuska Colony in 1935. Today, the Palmer Museum of History & Art pays tribute to their grit and determination by displaying historical artifacts and photos. Guided walking tours travel through Palmer’s original colony territory, rustic downtown, and to the Colony House Museum, a 1930s farmhouse decorated with original furnishings.
For a little refreshment, try one of the Palmer’s local breweries including Palmer Alehouse, Matanuska Brewing Company, Bleeding Heart Brewery, and Arkose Brewery. The Palmer Alehouse, which served as a trading post and the Matanuska Milk Dairy Building during its early years, now combines its rustic charm with an expansive menu featuring locally craft beers, classic cocktails, and bites.
5. Take a Knik Glacier Tour
Descending from the Chugach Mountains and feeding into glacial lakes and rivers, Knik Glacier is one of Alaska’s oldest and most active glaciers. For 600,000 years, its towering ice walls and hanging glaciers have carved the Mat-Su Valley. As the massive, 25-mile-long glacier continues sculpting the landscape, chunks of ice plunge into crystal-blue water that’s filled with floating icebergs.
Adventures out to Knik Glacier start just an hour away from Anchorage by car. No road leads out to the glacier so the only way to access it are by boat or air, and by snowmachine and fat tire bike in winter. Local tour operators lead boat trips up the river or take flightseeing and helicopter tours out to the glacier. From there, adventurous visitors can embark on glacier trekking or a dog sled ride across the ice field.
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