Just 45 minutes north of Anchorage, these two adjoining towns offer easy access to the gorgeous Matanuska Valley, as well as mountains and glaciers.
1. Visit the Matanuska Glacier
For a great day trip, follow the Glenn Highway on your way to Palmer and the Matanuska River Valley; within an hour you’ll be surrounded by dramatic scenery. There’s lots to see and do on this scenic drive, including an easy hike to a 200-foot waterfall and a historic village. For other activities, go with a guide: You can experience the thrill of walking on the gorgeous glacier, take an ATV or Jeep tour, go rafting on a glacial river, or try ziplining. You can even combine the thrill of dogsledding on a glacier with an exciting flighseeing trip that lands right on the glacier, where you’ll meet the dogs before they pull you around the ice!
2. Take a Scenic Drive to Hatcher Pass & Independence Mine
Explore scenic Hatcher Pass on a 3-hour round-trip drive from Anchorage—the road is about 60 miles long and offers lots of opportunities for recreation. The gorgeous alpine tundra bursts with wildflowers in the summer and is packed with snow in winter. At the top of the pass you’ll find amazing views of mountain ranges and peaks, some great blueberry picking, and Independence Mine Historical State Park—a former gold mine where you can explore the fascinating old buildings.
3. Devour the Agriculture
In the fertile Matanuska Valley, where vegetables grow to be monster-sized, agricultural tourism is definitely a thing. Drive the Old Glenn Highway, a country road through land that has been farmed for decades. See animal-raising in action (and get a history lesson) at the Musk Ox Farm, and take the kids to pet a reindeer at the Reindeer Farm. Want to go with a guide? Sign up for a tour with Alaska Farm Tours and stop at 3 farms to experience what life is really like for Alaska’s farmers. And to sample the goods, head to Raven’s Perch, at the Knik River Lodge, which serves farm-to-table dishes with spectacular views.
4. Go for a Hike
This area serves up a wealth of scenic parks and trails to explore. One amazing option is The Butte, a small mountain with a short but steep climb that gives you a great view out over the area’s farmland and out to craggy peaks and the Knik Glacier.
5. Explore the History
This area offers a fascinating look at how settlers arrived and how agriculture developed. One of the most interesting stops is the Colony House Museum in Palmer, which was built for the New Deal resettlement project undertaken by the Roosevelt Administration in 1935. You’ll learn how this project came to be—possibly even from descendants of the original colonists who settled here back in the day.
6. Visit Local Breweries
“Fresh and local” doesn’t just apply to the produce in the Palmer/Wasilla area—you’ll also find a wealth of innovative breweries creating unique beers. It’s truly a local experience—not only is the beer brewed locally, but the breweries are great way to meet locals and experience the local culture for yourself. Stop by craft breweries like Bleeding Heart, Arkose, Bear Paw River Brewing, and Matanuska Brewing and see what flavors they have on offer!
7. Celebrate at the Alaska State Fair
Come late summer, everyone gears up for the Alaska State Fair, which has been around for 75 years and takes place at the fairgrounds in Palmer. Alaskans love it and so will you! Expect carnival rides and games, fantastic concerts, uniquely Alaskan food, and vendors selling only-in-Alaska goods that are perfect for souvenirs. You’ll even see some of the giant vegetables this area is famous for…a 127-pound cabbage, anyone?!
8. Come for Winter Fun
This area rocks the cold weather with lots to do. Start with a dog sledding excursion, where you can learn what the Iditarod is really like at a mushing school or even up on the Matanuska Glacier itself! Or breathe in the fresh Alaskan air combined with some gorgeous scenery along one of the area’s cross-country ski trails. Another option: turn up the excitement and head out on a thrilling snowmobile tour, where you’ll drive your snow machine through the wilderness looking for wildlife. No experience is necessary!
Palmer / Wasilla
Palmer / Wasilla Area Day Tours & Attractions View All
Hop aboard an eco-friendly snowmobile in Girdwood and ride on groomed trails beneath massive, 7,000-foot glaciated peaks or visit the dazzling blue ice of Spencer Glacier. Or, head north of Anchorage for a trail ride through mid-alpine black spruce forests. No experience necessary, all gear provided, and warm beverages and snacks included.
Experience the excitement of racing champion sled dogs at the Alaska Mushing School, just 75 minutes from Anchorage. Get a professional’s insight into the mushing lifestyle as you ride behind a team of energetic sled dogs on trails connected to the famous Iditarod route. Bundle up and ride in comfort, or brave the cold and drive the team yourself!
Head out into the Alaskan wilderness on this exciting ATV adventure, driving through woods and splashing through rivers on your way to a gorgeous glacial moraine surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks. Transportation from Anchorage included.
Tour working farms in Palmer, Anchorage, and Talkeetna. You’ll take guided walks around the farms, touching plants, breathing in the air and sometimes even tasting something freshly picked. But there is also a lot of storytelling, learning about the unique challenges that Alaska farmers face. Some tours offer option to sample other local products like Alaska beer and birch syrup.
Stunning scenery, a thrilling ride and happy puppies: this tour out of the Anchorage area offers an unbeatable combination of classic Alaska experiences that will delight families or — really, anybody. Taking a total of about 90 minutes, and running from mid-May to early September, this tour includes a Flightseeing round trip, a small friendly group environment, and plenty of one-on-one time with the dogs and their mushers.
With Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours, you can experience glaciers inaccessible by road. Never fear if you’ve never driven an before; this company teaches you to maneuver your ATV through the Alaskan wilderness with your guide at the lead. Your destination is the magnificent Knik Glacier, where you’ll enjoy lunch and gorgeous scenery.
Winter or summer, experience the thrill of running Iditarod sled dogs and even have a chance to drive! Meet the sled dogs and hear first-hand just what it’s like to run the Iditarod.
Explore the rivers of southcentral Alaska on a float or fishing trip guided by Hell Bent Fishing Charters. Raft along a scenic river hiding away just minutes off the road system. It fits perfectly into a half day or full day, when you want to step out of the hustle and bustle of your vacation and into authentic Alaska.
Riding Alaska ATV Tours showcase the wonders of the glacially-fed Eklutna Lake area, a local favorite hidden away just outside Anchorage. Bring the family for a fully-guided ride along the lake and beyond – across gravel moraines, over rushing rivers and through woodlands, to within sight of Eklutna glacier itself. Sit back and relax while your driver does all the work! Keep a look out: the peaceful landscape is alive with wildlife, including ...more
Owners Matti and Dan cannot think of a better way to appreciate Alaska than sharing it with others. Matti was born and raised in Palmer, Alaska and has been on snowmachines most of her life. Alaska Backcountry Adventures offers “mild to wild” experiences and prides itself on providing a customized experience for all levels of ability. It offers the widest variety of expeditions on the latest and greatest equipment.
Feel the thrill of exploring the Alaskan wilderness while driving your own snowmobile over the tundra, looking for wildlife and taking in amazing views. And on a clear day you’ll get an amazing view of Denali.
Palmer / Wasilla Hiking Trails View All
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 1⁄2 miles on the Old Glenn Highway, take a left on Maud Road, follow Maud Road for 1 1⁄2 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
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.
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
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.