Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Mat-Su offers Anchorage a backyard ready to be explored

Although the Matanuska and Susitna valleys just north of Anchorage are about the same size as West Virginia at more than 25,000 square miles, many who live in “the Valley” can easily pinpoint their favorite spots.

Whether hiking a few of its 2,000 miles of trails, riding a river to a glacier, flying over Mount McKinley, visiting a musk ox farm, gliding down a zipline, landing a king salmon, or appreciating the area’s rich indigenous and pioneer history, there’s no shortage of fun and adventure in the state’s fastest-growing borough.
“The diversity of the area is what makes it so unique,” said Casey Ressler, communications director at the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau. “From the Matanuska Glacier and the Glenn Highway Scenic Byway, to Talkeetna and Denali State Park going the other way, there’s honestly something for everyone.”
For Ressler, Hatcher Pass between Wasilla and Willow is at the top of his list because of its amazing views and recreational opportunities. The area includes Independence Mine, an Alaska State Parks gem where visitors can try their hand at gold panning and take a tour of one of the first mining operations in the Valley.

Several other longtime Valley residents mentioned two particular hikes a short drive from Palmer or Wasilla at Hatcher Pass — the Golden Mint Trail and Reed Lakes Trail — for those wanting to stretch their legs in an area filled with beauty and wildlife.

“I go up there hiking a lot,” said Mollie Boyer, who runs Mat-Su’s state-of-the-art recycling center in Palmer. “The Golden Mint Trail is where the beavers are, and in the summer you can go over it and up to the summit lakes. I also love Hatcher Pass Lodge.”
Boyer also recommends a Knik River Glacier boat excursion.

“I recently discovered the boat trip when my cousin was visiting from Ecuador,” Boyer said. “There are monster-sized icebergs on the water, and the guy doing the tour has done it for many years. It’s just awesome.”

Another glacier-related “must do” mentioned by local residents is a unique and non-strenuous stroll on Matanuska Glacier off Mile 100 of the Glenn Highway.
And, of course, anyone wanting to see record-sized vegetables can’t miss the Alaska State Fair in Palmer at summer’s end or local farmer’s markets scattered throughout Mat-Su.

History buffs often stop by the Dorothy Page Museum in Wasilla and the Historical Society Museum in Palmer, said Janet Kincaid, owner of the historic Colony Inn in Palmer.

Kincaid said her guests enjoy her local antiques and often comment on how much Palmer reminds them of where they grew up. Her fondest memories involve two different couples who married at the original Colony Inn and later returned to celebrate their 50th anniversaries.
“That was just really inspiring,” said Kincaid, a Valley resident for 52 years now. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

MAT-SU ATTRACTIONS

Reindeer Farm
What started as a sign on a fence with a donation jar in the late 1980s has become a guided tour of the Williams family’s 150 reindeer, 35 elk, 13 horses, one bull moose and one bison on their colony-era dairy farm at Point Mackenzie near Wasilla. Although still affordable, those on a budget can drive by and see the reindeer from the road for free. Horseback trail rides are offered from mid-May through late August for an additional fee.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily May 1-mid-September; by appointment in the winter
Where: 5561 S. Bodenburg Loop, Palmer
Cost: $7 for adults; $5 for seniors, military and children ages 3-11
Phone: 907-745-4000
Web: www.reindeerfarm.com

Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass
Seventeen miles up the 49-mile road that loops over Hatcher Pass between Wasilla and Willow, visitors can get a first-hand look at how the area’s gold miners extracted their treasures and even try their luck at a little gold panning themselves.
Maintained by Alaska State Parks, the scenic area named after Robert Lee Hatcher — the first to discover gold there in 1906 — also offers hiking, fishing and, in winter, skiing and snowmobiling. The pass is a favorite spot of Valley residents.
When: Hatcher Pass is open year-round;
Independence Mine open in summer from
11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
Where: Mile 17 Hatcher Pass Road,
Palmer
Cost: $5 per vehicle Alaska State Parks parking fee
Phone: 907-745-2827
Web: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/indmine.Htm

Musk Ox Farm
For a close-up experience with “the bearded one,” this 1930s-era colony farm just north of Palmer continues its mission of preserving and domesticating the Ice Age mammal that was once on the brink of extinction. The nonprofit center offers tours, exhibits and a gift shop featuring hand-knit qiviut (musk ox wool) scarves and hats.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily from
Mother’s Day until mid-September
Where: Mile 50 Glenn Highway, Palmer
Cost: $11 for adults; $9 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6-17; free for ages 5 and under
Phone: 907-745-4151
Web: www.muskoxfarm.org

Mat -Su Visitors Center
Conveniently located near the joining of the Glenn and Parks highways in Palmer, the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau can help you get the most out your stay here by offering information on everything from those “secret fishing spots” to unforgettable hiking trails and sightseeing flights or rafting trips.
When: 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily from May-September
Where: Mile 35.5 Parks Highway (take
Trunk Road exit)
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-746-5000
Web: www.alaskavisit.com

Colony House Museum
Get a peek at Palmer’s rich past by visiting this New Deal-era home once owned by Oscar and Irene Beylund. The Palmer Historical Society has helped oversee this long-term restoration project that represents a piece of the 1935 Resettlement Program in which 204 families from the Midwest were relocated in the Matanuska Valley to start a farming community.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday in the summer; by appointment only in the winter
Where: 316 E. Elmwood Ave., Palmer
Cost: $2 per adult; $1 for children 12 and younger
Phone: 907-745-1935
Web: www.palmerhistoricalsociety.org/colonyhouse.htm

Mat-Su Miners Baseball
Valley residents take their local baseball very seriously, as visitors find out when they drop by one of several games played by the Palmer-based team during the summer. The Miners are one of six Alaska Baseball League teams.
When: June and July, at varying locations
Where: Home games at Hermon Brothers Field, Palmer
Cost: $4 per adult; $2 for seniors and kids ages 6-17
Phone: 907-745-6401
Web: www.matsuminers.org

MUSEUM OF ALASKA TRANSPORTATION AND INDUSTRY
Trains, planes, automobiles, tractors and more can be found at this one-of-a-kind museum dedicated to the story of Alaska’s boom and bust eras. Located at about Mile 47 of the Parks Highway, it’s a worthwhile stop for those intrigued by the various industries that continue to keep Alaska strong.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily in the summer, starting on Mother’s Day, May 12, and running until Sept. 2; by appointment only in the winter
Where: 3800 W. Museum Drive, Wasilla
Cost: $8 per adult; $5 for seniors and kids ages 3-17
Phone: 907-376-1211
Web: www.museumofalaska.org

DOROTHY G. PAGE MUSEUM AND HISTORIC TOWN SITE
Nestled between Wasilla’s modern U.S. Post Office and city library on Main Street, the museum features preserved collections representing the historical heritage of Wasilla, Knik and the Willow Creek areas. It is the city’s first museum, opened in 1967 in a building constructed in 1931 as a community hall. Outside the museum are relocated historic buildings that have been set up as models of early-era homes.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday throughout the year.
Where: 323 N. Main St., Wasilla
Cost: $3 per adult; $2.50 for seniors and $2 for military; kids 12 and younger enter free.
Phone: 907-373-9071
Web: www.cityofwasilla.com/index.aspx?page=80

PALMER MUSEUM AND VISITOR CENTER
Fittingly housed in a log cabin in downtown Palmer, the center offers visitors information about the region’s indigenous, mining and colony histories. It includes agricultural showcase gardens featuring flowers and Alaska’s famous giant vegetables. Exhibits also include Native influences, 1900s homesteaders and trapping stories.
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily May 1-Sept. 30; by appointment only in the winter
Where: 723 S. Valley Way, Palmer
Cost: Free; donations appreciated
Phone: 907-745-8878 (907-746-7668 is the museum’s number)
Web: www.cityofpalmer.org or Palmermuseum.org

IDITAROD TRAIL RACE HEADQUARTERS
Besides being Sarah Palin’s home town, Wasilla also is famous for being the original pushing off point for the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The race headquarters off Knik-Goose Bay Road features historic items from the race, including photos, trophies, booties and harnesses. There also is a gift shop, and dog sled rides are available in the summer, weather permitting.
When: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. daily mid-May through mid-September; 8
a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday in the winter
Where: Mile 2.2, Knik Goose Bay Road
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-376-5155
Web: www.iditarod.com

MAT-SU EVENTS CALENDAR

FRIDAY FLING
Fridays in downtown Palmer are filled with live music, food vendors, local artists and farmers bringing their fresh vegetables to market. The atmosphere is festive and a favorite with visitors and locals.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays, May 18-Aug. 17
Where: Downtown Palmer
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-355-9415
Web: On Facebook with the Palmer Chamber of Commerce

PALMER COLONY DAYS
The three-day event celebrates all things small town, with craft vendors, music, food, a parade, bed race, fun run and smoked salmon contest, among other events.
When: June 7-9
Where: Downtown Palmer
Cost: Free for events; $25 to enter the annual Bill Mitchell 5K fun run
Phone: 907-745-2880
Web: www.palmerchamber.org

ALASKA STATE FAIR
For those wanting to see the record-breaking cabbages, pumpkins and zucchinis while also enjoying local foods, rides, music, contests and handmade crafts, the 75-year-old
Alaska State Fair is a must. Be sure to look up special discounts on tickets.
When: noon-10 p.m. (10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday) Aug. 22-Sept. 2
Where: Palmer Fairgrounds, Mile 40, Glenn Highway
Cost: Advance tickets are $9 adults, $5 youth and seniors Monday-Thursday; $10 and $6 on weekends (ticket prices subject to change); plus $5 parking fee
Phone: 907-745-4827
Web: www.alaskastatefair.org

RESOURCES FOR OUTDOOR FUN
Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers: A recreational trail advocacy group that offers hikes and bikes in the area, and works to improve trails in the Valley. Check its calendar for events. vmbah.org, 907-746- 6010
Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats: This nonprofit organization works to preserve responsible stewardship of the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge off the Glenn Highway and offers public events, including birding, hiking and volunteering for visitors and locals alike.
www.palmerhayflats.org, 907-357-8711.
Matanuska Greenbelt Trails Association:
This group received a community service award for its work installing trailhead signs, posts and directional maps.
www.matanuska-greenbelt.org
Matanuska Susitna Trails and Parks
Foundation: The Foundation works to improve and build trails in the area. www.matsutrails.org
Matanuska Susitna Borough Trail Maps:
Download maps at www.matsugov.us/communitydevelopment/trails. Click on the “trail maps” link for details. Or try www.alaskavisit.com/visitors/the-greatoutdoors/ trail-maps, which has an even wider selection of maps.
Valley Fly Fishing: Cast for Arctic char, rainbow trout, grayling and Dolly Varden, among other species, and look up the fishing report and locations for various lakes in the area. www.alaskastillwatercapital.com

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