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 destination not far from Palmer. When you approach, look for the dead trees dotting the landscape. These snags are the remnants of forests that once claimed the area, but were flooded by saltwater after the land dropped. The new habitat—saltwater sloughs, brackish water ponds, and beach grasses—are home to spawning salmon, migrating ducks, geese, and cranes, as well as larger mammals like moose and bear. Birders will find great opportunities here, with snow geese passing through in early spring (April/May) and sandhill cranes in June. There are three main hiking areas in the Hay Flats: Cottonwood Creek Trail, Scout Ridge Loop Trail, and Reflections Lake. The walking is pretty flat but can be muddy, and the tides can flood the trails (and even strand a hiker!), so pay attention to the water levels. Most of the trails are in the open and have gorgeous panoramic views of the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains, as well as Hatcher Pass and Pioneer Peak. You’ll find informational kiosks on the Reflections Lake hike.
- Coordinates: 61.527769, -149.269552