The road over Hatcher Pass opened to vehicles on Wednesday, nearly two weeks early, state transportation officials announced.
Hatcher Pass Road generally closes over the summit in September and reopens on the Fourth of July.
Much of the road below the pass was closed this winter after historic avalanches blanketed the area and blocked popular spots for skiing and snowmachining. Those lower portions of Hatcher Pass Road reopened in April. Large snow slides were still visible at lower elevations into this month.
Transportation crews managed to clear the road in about the same amount of time it normally takes — just earlier than usual, said Jill Reese, an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokeswoman.
“Our guys were just able to get up there sooner than they thought they would and just had some large equipment that they were able to utilize to push it open,” Reese said Wednesday.
The area, which includes Independence Mine State Historical Park, is a summer destination for hikers, bikers, paragliders and other users.
With the pass open, drivers with high-clearance vehicles can now make the slow trip between Palmer and Willow over the summit on the road that winds through the mountains for roughly 60 miles. The road is gravel for 22 miles, and the higher sections involve steep switchbacks that often develop washboarding or ruts, especially after heavy rains.
Crews began clearing the road up to Independence Mine about two weeks ago, Reese said. They spent just over a week afterward clearing Hatcher Pass Road, she said.
Archangel Road, which accesses the popular Reed Lakes Trailhead, has not yet reopened but Reese said crews are working now to clear it. She expected it to open soon.