Mat-Su Valley Parks & Trails

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Parks & Trails

Difficulty: Moderate

How to get ThereThe Plum­ley-Maud Trail can be accessed from the end of Maud Road, or from the cor­ner on Plum­ley Road near Caudill Road. 1) Access from Maud Road: From Palmer go south east 3 12 miles on the Old Glenn High­way, take a left on Maud Road, fol­low Maud Road for 1 12 miles. There is a small turn around and lim­it­ed park­ing before the creek direct­ly east of the road. Please be care­ful not to block the entrance to the trail or the…  ...more

Difficulty: Easy

Two trails trav­el over the Mat-Su Col­lege lands; one from the col­lege and one from Snod­grass Hall. The Mat-Su Col­lege trail­head leads to a hilly loop and opens to beau­ti­ful views of Lazy Moun­tain, Twin Peaks, Boden­burge Butte, and Knik Glac­i­er — the best moun­tain views in the entire green­belt system.

Some 50 miles north of Anchor­age, this 1.5‑mile trail makes for a fine fam­i­ly out­ing. From the pic­nic table at the upper­most end of the trail, you’ll find a sat­is­fy­ing panoram­ic view of the Matanus­ka Riv­er and Knik Riv­er val­leys. It’s a view as good, or bet­ter, than that from many summits.

Distance: 2 miles Elevation Gain: 800 feet

Sum­mit Lake, locat­ed some 60 miles north of Anchor­age at the crest of Hatch­er Pass, offers a short, mem­o­rable lake­side ram­ble. Here you can explore the sur­round­ing gul­lies and slopes or just sit and watch hang glid­ers drift out over the long Wil­low Creek Val­ley, which extends for miles from the west side of the pass.

Vis­i­ble out­side the win­dows of the Mat-Su Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau, this state wildlife refuge is the result of the 1964 earth­quake. Lit­er­al­ly overnight, the land dropped by 6 to 20 feet; hay fields and pas­ture­land became salt flats and marsh­land. Once home to cows and grains, the land is now prime habi­tat for moose, birds, and fish. Some 20,000 acres are pro­tect­ed in the refuge, which is a pop­u­lar recre­ation and wildlife-viewing…  ...more

Difficulty: Difficult Elevation Gain: 5670 feet

No offi­cial trail in South­cen­tral Alas­ka climbs as high as Matanus­ka Peak Trail. Begin­ning in a sub­di­vi­sion across the Matanus­ka Riv­er from Palmer, this near­ly 6‑mile-long trail runs up some 5,700 ver­ti­cal feet. Your des­ti­na­tion is the 6,119-foot sum­mit of Matanus­ka Peak, the very promi­nent rock spire that fills the sky just east of Palmer. But despite the impos­ing appear­ance of this moun­tain, the trail to its sum­mit requires no extensive  ...more

Difficulty: Moderate Elevation Gain: 2200 feet

About a half a mile past where the road turns sharply left (by the old Moth­er­lode Restau­rant) is a pull off on the left and archangel road to the right. The road is dirt, and in the sum­mer­time you can dri­ve the trail for a mile or two, but it is pit­ted with deep holes and rocks. After a mile or two, a park­ing area and trail turns off to the right. Here the trail con­tin­ues with lit­tle ele­va­tion gain ini­tial­ly, but after a mile or so you will  ...more

This recre­ation area is just a mile and a half from town, but it feels like wilder­ness — with deep woods and sev­er­al lakes, it’s a great place to hike, run, canoe, fish, or look for wildlife. Watch for otters, beavers, bears, fox­es, moose, and more than 100 species of birds, includ­ing rap­tors and loons. The park’s best fea­ture is a nice­ly groomed 3.5‑mile walk­ing trail around X Lake through lush old-growth for­est. Cus­tom log bench­es are a nice…  ...more

Difficulty: Easy

With a length of just 1.5 miles and a sum­mit reach­ing only 874 feet, West Butte Trail on Boden­burg Butte — a 45-minute dri­ve north of Anchor­age — makes for a fine fam­i­ly out­ing. But even if you’re a more expe­ri­enced hik­er, don’t let the butte’s dwarf-like height dis­suade you. This small bump in the cen­ter of a grand allu­vial plain offers far-reach­ing views from its sum­mit; plus, the climb includes a pulse-quick­en­ing 0.25 miles of stairs up the steep  ...more

Where else can you walk to the end of Main Street and find your­self at the con­flu­ence of three wild rivers, over­look­ing a 20,000-foot peak? Close to down­town, this large, riv­er-cen­tered park offers wide open, untouched spaces, along with great panoram­ic view of the Alas­ka Range.

Difficulty: Difficult Elevation Gain: 5200 feet

Are you a moun­tain run­ner look­ing for a tough work­out? Con­sid­er Pio­neer Ridge Trail. This trail, locat­ed a 1‑hour dri­ve north of Anchor­age on scenic Knik Riv­er Road, climbs some 5,200 feet over its 6 miles. Oth­er trails, like Lazy Moun­tain Trail and Mount Marathon Race Route, may be steep­er or rock­i­er, but no trail in the Chugach Moun­tains climbs so steadi­ly for so long as Pio­neer Ridge.

Want to feel dwarfed by Alaska’s moun­tains? Take a 2‑hour dri­ve north on the Parks High­way and then up Hatch­er Pass Road, where you’ll find this 2‑mile-long ATV trail — a wide but occa­sion­al­ly steep path that leads to the crest of Box Lake Ridge. From the big, round­ed top of this ridge, you can’t help but feel over­whelmed by the enor­mous Tal­keet­na Moun­tains that sur­round you.

Distance: 7 miles Elevation Gain: 3300 feet

Begin­ning almost 120 miles north­east of Anchor­age on the Glenn High­way, the trail to the sum­mit of Gun­sight Moun­tain takes a while to reach. After all, it involves a 3.5‑mile, 3,300-foot climb through some very big coun­try. But the view from the top makes for an all-day excur­sion that you won’t eas­i­ly forget.

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 10 miles Elevation Gain: 1300 feet

The 5‑mile-long Eska Falls Trail is locat­ed a 2‑hour dri­ve north of Anchor­age in the moun­tains above the town of Sut­ton. And it leads to one of nature’s sym­met­ri­cal­ly framed won­ders — a 100-foot water­fall locat­ed at the end of a mile-long val­ley that’s flanked by two mas­sive sum­mits. This set­ting makes Eska Falls not so much a hike to a des­ti­na­tion as much as a hike to a presentation.

There are some nice long down­hills with banked turns, a few shal­low creek cross­ings, and some chunk sec­tions. Most of this trail lies on south-fac­ing hill­sides, with views of the Knik Riv­er Val­ley and Pio­neer Peak.

Difficulty: Difficult

Dur­ing peri­ods of clear weath­er, this route through Denali State Park offers sim­i­lar ter­rain and scenery to Denali Nation­al Park — includ­ing unpar­al­leled views of Denali — with­out the cum­ber­some per­mit­ting process. This trail sys­tem offers many options for start­ing and end­ing points, as there are four trail­heads along its length. 

In the Tal­keet­na Moun­tains between the towns of Wil­low and Palmer, Hatch­er Pass is a local favorite for recre­ation or a scenic dri­ve. Hike in alpine tun­dra dot­ted with wild­flow­ers and ptarmi­gan, ski fresh, deep pow­der, or vis­it Inde­pen­dence Mine His­tor­i­cal State Park.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile

This short, paved trail is an hour’s dri­ve north of Anchor­age in south­ern Wasil­la. It leads out to a bluff on Palmer Hay Flats — a large stretch of wet­lands with all kinds of wildlife. There, a view­ing plat­form over­looks the flats and the Chugach Moun­tains beyond.

Difficulty: Moderate

Locat­ed one-third of the way from Palmer to Wasil­la, this 33-mile trail sys­tem mean­ders through bore­al for­est, farm­land, and the rolling moraines left by the glac­i­ers of the last Ice Age. The trails are some of the only non-moun­tain, non-motor­ized path­ways in the area, and they’re pop­u­lar with dog walk­ers, moun­tain bik­ers, geo-cachers, cross-coun­try skiers, run­ners, and equestrians.

Explore the expan­sive grav­el beds or mean­der along the mighty Matanus­ka-Susit­na Riv­er and link up with the Mat­su Riv­er Park trails, locat­ed in the trees to the west.

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 16 miles Elevation Gain: 2900 feet

A straight­for­ward trip with big scenery pay­offs, like the pic­turesque Mint Hut and a val­ley dot­ted with hang­ing glac­i­ers. This trip is a great first back­pack­ing trip in Alas­ka with sim­ple logis­tics. It’s 16 miles with options for addi­tion­al miles and side trips.

Difficulty: Moderate Elevation Gain: 3700 feet

Begin­ning a 1‑hour dri­ve north of Anchor­age in Gov­ern­ment Hill Recre­ation Area, Gov­ern­ment Peak Race Trail offers a fine oppor­tu­ni­ty for a hard work­out; it climbs some 3,700 ver­ti­cal feet in just 3 miles. Plus, this climb doesn’t include any extra­or­di­nary dan­gers. (A friend refers to one short ledge on this trail as death rock,” but she tends to exag­ger­ate.) Some sec­tions require spe­cial care to nego­ti­ate, but you won’t have to tra­verse any  ...more

Difficulty: Difficult Distance: 10 miles

It’s not very often that peo­ple can see a glac­i­er in an untamed and remote loca­tion, far from any road or cruise-ship route. But if you feel capa­ble and con­fi­dent enough to climb a very rough trail up many ver­ti­cal feet of rocky ter­rain, then you might con­sid­er under­tak­ing the hike to Snow­bird Pass, locat­ed high in the Tal­keet­na Moun­tains just north of Hatch­er Pass. From this van­tage point you can look down the entire length of Snow­bird Glacier.  ...more

Difficulty: Difficult Elevation Gain: 3000 feet

Why Take This Hike This trail, locat­ed 90 min­utes north of Anchor­age just across the Matanus­ka Riv­er from down­town Palmer, makes no pre­tense about its pur­pose. Almost imme­di­ate­ly after leav­ing the park­ing area, it begins to climb straight up the steep west face of Lazy Moun­tain. For some 2,000 feet, there’s nary a switch­back or respite as the trail winds up to the sum­mit ridge. It’s a tru­ly breath­less work­out. The Details Out of Palmer,…  ...more

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile

As you approach the Inde­pen­dence Mine Park­ing Lot, the trail can be seen to the far right end. It cross­es over a small bridge, and winds up past an old aban­doned min­ing cab­in, and then up a debris field and final­ly to the lake. Round trip, the hike is almost 2 miles, and the ele­va­tion gain is approx­i­mate­ly 600 feet. The trail can be mud­dy and wet for the first .25 miles, but it’s worth the hike to see Gold Cord Lake, and a great view of the Mine  ...more

The Fish­hook Trail­head park­ing lot is locat­ed at mile 16.5 of Hatch­er Pass Road. This area is active­ly used year round. In the sum­mer it’s a great area to hike and in late sum­mer the slopes are abun­dant with blue­ber­ries. This trail­head also leads to Mar­mot Moun­tain, were paraglid­ers launch from the top and land in the park­ing lot. In the win­ter, the area draws indi­vid­u­als to sled, ski and snow­ma­chine. This trail­head inter­sects with The Hatcher  ...more

Syn­cline Moun­tain fea­tures two sum­mits— whichev­er you choose, you’ll hike beneath a whole lot of sky and look out on a whole lot of country.

This 4.5‑mile trail, some 2 hours north of Anchor­age on the west side of Hatch­er Pass, climbs 1,000 feet up a very typ­i­cal Tal­keet­na val­ley — long, broad, and lined with tow­er­ing peaks on both sides. It also pass­es by relics and ruins of old min­ing days, when these val­leys echoed with the sounds of picks and drills.

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