A Perfect Day in the Mat-Su Valley
We love Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley: glaciers, soaring mountains, charming towns, history, and a whole lot more. Best of all it’s assessable by car, foot, skis, snow-machine, bicycle, and our favorite form of transport: helicopter.
The Mat-Su Valley is short for Matanuska-Susitna, two of the major rivers that define the landscape of our much-loved borough. We think it’s the best and most accessible region of Alaska. Mat-Su has gold-mining history, world-class fishing, spectacular scenery, multiday trekking, and the world’s only domesticated musk-ox herd.
In the morning you’ll be dipping your water bottle into pure glacial meltwater, and by the afternoon you’ll be immersing yourself in the life of a 1940s gold miner at Independence Mine Historical Park at Hatcher Pass.
Here are our suggestions for a Perfect Day in the Mat-Su Valley.
Morning: Grand Kink Tour with Alaska Helicopter Tours
Start the day off right with a scenic helicopter flight over Knik Glacier. This 2-hour tour stops at three remote locations!
Your friendly and knowledgeable pilot will fly you over the Knik River Valley and Lake George, looking for moose along the way. First stop: the glacier’s ice wall. Watch out for calving! For your second landing, you will to an alpine meadow where you will have a birds-eye view of the massive Knik Glacier, with Colony and Cataract Glacier visible across Lake George. Look for foraging bears and Dall sheep.
For the final stop, you’ll fly to the middle of Knik Glacier for a third landing at the azure-colored melt pools. See the deep blue ice, and learn about the life cycle of glaciers. Don't forget your water bottle so you can fill it with crystal-clear glacier water! This flight tour is offered year-round.
Lunch in Palmer
We love eating local and Palmer is Alaska’s agricultural heart! Our favorite spot is the Raven’s Perch Restaurant at Knik River Lodge. Luckily, for us, that’s where our helicopter base is located. They have great chefs and serve fresh food all summer long. Try the shrimp ‘n’ grits, Alaska scallops, or fresh halibut. You can’t beat the view from their large deck. If it’s winter, drive into downtown Palmer for more farm-to-table options.
Meet the Reindeers
The Reindeer Farm is just minutes from downtown Palmer. Here you can experience Alaskan hospitality on a family-run farm. During their one-hour tour, you can feed, pet, and interact with the reindeer herd, as well moose, bison, alpacas, a yak, and more. You’ll learn all about these animals, how they differ from wild caribou, as well as how they survive our sub-arctic winters. Open for winter and summer tours. Great for kids.
Drive up to Hatcher Pass
Photo: Juno Kim
After saying goodbye to your new friends, drive up scenic Hatcher Pass Road. There are a few hiking trails along the way and you can even stop at the creek to pan for gold. Most folks are headed to Independence Mine State Historical Park.
What is now called Independence Mine was once two mines, but in 1938 they were brought together under one company. The mining claims covered more than 1,350 acres and included 27 structures, many of them in ruins today. In its peak year, 1941, the mine employed 204 men, and produced gold worth over $17 million in today’s money. After learning this history and enjoying the mountainous surroundings, keep driving through the pass (only open late summer-early fall) to Willow.
There are plenty of good accommodation options in the Mat-Su Valley. If it’s summer, stay with our friends at Knik River Lodge. If you are flying in and out of Anchorage make sure you stop at either or both of the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum. The ANHC is a great place to get an understanding of the Native cultures that have called Alaska home for thousands of years. You can enter traditional dwellings from around the state, watch dancing, listen to stories, see artifacts, and much more.
The Anchorage Museum is another excellent place to educate yourself about the native cultures of Alaska as well as dive into some of the art and more contemporary history as well as temporary exhibitions on life in the Arctic and sub-Arctic.
Located less than an hour from the Anchorage Airport, the Mat-Su Valley is an excellent place to get a taste of the raw splendor of the Alaskan wilderness, learn about the area’s history, and go on some adventures at the same time.