Alaska Visitors Guide

Visit Mat-Su and get a taste of everything that’s magic about Alaska

Drive less than an hour north of Anchorage and the landscape changes dramatically as you enter the Matanuska-Susitna region. The view opens up to showcase dramatic peaks rising steeply from a vast, flat valley floor.

This is only the beginning. At 25,000 square miles, this region is nearly the size of West Virginia. The attractions in the area are varied and surprising; you will find everything from world-class and accessible wilderness experiences, historic sites and museums, to delicious and uniquely Alaskan eats.

The charms of Mat-Su start even before its official boundary: in Eagle River (still technically inside the Municipality of Anchorage). Be like a local on a sunny Saturday and hike up Mount Baldy, a short, steep climb to above treeline and terrific views. You’ll earn your lunch (and Schooner-sized signature beer) at Pizza Man, chased by a quick pick-me-up from the well-loved, adorable coffee shop Jitters. Not quite ready to leave the area? Head a little farther north on the Glenn Highway and take the exit to Eklutna Lake. Rent kayaks for the day and paddle out on this pristine, glacial lake that supplies Anchorage its drinking water.

Next stop: Palmer. You could spend an afternoon or a lifetime here and have plenty to do. Downtown is postcard-picturesque with breathtaking mountain views. Park the car and take a walk. Check out the Palmer Museum of History and Art for behind-the-scenes scoop on the area and local guidance; duck into the well-loved independent Fireside Books; and fuel up at delicious and superbly run Turkey Red restaurant. Top off your visit with a flight at 203 Kombucha, a modern and community-minded kombuchery. Need to stretch your legs? Options range from hiking the well-loved local Butte, to more strenuous hiking on Lazy Mountain. On your way out of town, pay a visit to the Musk Ox Farm to learn firsthand about this unique and iconic Arctic creature from knowledgeable guides.

Heading north, don’t miss historic Hatcher Pass. Hatcher Pass Road winds 12 miles from downtown Palmer and over 3,000 feet up into the Talkeetna mountains, with incredible views at every turn. Learn about the area’s mining history firsthand by visiting the unique museum set right in the alpine at Independence Mine State Historic Park; take a hike and see remnants from perilous gold mining operations amidst the jaw-dropping tundra scenery. If an afternoon visit isn’t enough, stay over at Hatcher Pass Lodge in one of the adorable A-frame cabins. Or just grab a bite in the cozy cafe with stellar views.

Wasilla gets a bad rap for its most prominent feature: big box stores. Locals know there’s much more just off the beaten path. Pay a visit to the Wasilla Museum and Visitors Center to orient yourself. Venture down Knik-Goose Bay Road to the Knik Museum, sited at what was once the most populated community along Cook Inlet. Golf much? Keep driving, and tee off at Settlers Bay Golf Course. Back in the core of Wasilla, don’t miss a meal at the creative Basil Ginger restaurant. Take advantage of convenient one-stop-shopping by fueling up the car and getting groceries before continuing north.

Talkeetna is as charming and quirky as Alaska towns come. The walkable downtown is a scene from the TV show “Northern Exposure” (if it were actually filmed in Alaska). The journey down the 14-mile spur road to town from the main highway is long because there’s so much to see. Inventive and tasty Denali Brewing Co. cannot be missed; ditto with Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe, a standalone gem tucked away in the forest. Alaska Wild Harvest offers tours and tastings in its birch syrup production facility, and a wonderful gift shop. Approaching town, the Denali view on a clear day is worth the entire trek. A visit to Talkeetna Roadhouse is a must — either to stay or to feast, or both. Visit Dancing Leaf Gallery for a flavor of well-curated local art and craft. Want to get a closer look at “the Great One” (the Koyukon Athabascan meaning of Denali)? Check out K2 Aviation for flightseeing tours.


Finally, push the boundary of the Mat-Su region and your physical ability by paying a visit to Denali State Park. No, this isn’t the national park and you won’t actually summit The Mountain. But you’ll still experience the thrilling and wild Alaska outdoors with an overnight at K’esugi Ken Campground, and a hike up the slow but steadily uphill Curry Ridge trail that has stellar and consistent Denali views.

If there’s one region in Alaska with a little taste of everything magic about the state, it’s Mat-Su. Fuel up, power down, explore and enjoy all that you’ll find in this amazing corner of the world.

Alli Harvey is an outdoor columnist and artist who lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.