Alaska Visitors Guide

Visit Mat-Su, and you’ll get a taste of everything magic about Alaska

Drive less than an hour north of Anchorage and the landscape changes dramatically. As you enter the Matanuska-Susitna area, 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, the Mat-Su Borough is nearly the size of West Virginia. The attractions in this region are varied and surprising; you’ll find everything from world-class and accessible wilderness to historic sites and delicious, uniquely Alaska eats.

The charms of Mat-Su start even before its official boundary — in Eagle River, which is part of the Municipality of Anchorage. Be like a local on a sunny Saturday and hike up Mount Baldy. It’s a short, steep climb to get above the treeline to terrific views. You’ll earn your lunch (and schooner-sized signature beer) at Pizza Man, chased by a quick pick-me-up from the 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 with 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. You can check out the Palmer Museum of History and Art for a behind-the-scenes scoop on the area, duck into the well-loved Fireside Books, fuel up at delicious and often locally sourced Turkey Red restaurant, and 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 up the well-loved Bodenburg Butte to more strenuous venture up Lazy Mountain. On your way out of town, pay a visit to the Musk Ox Farm to see this unique and iconic Arctic creature firsthand and learn from knowledgeable guides. Beer lovers: Don’t skip Bleeding Heart Brewery, right at the foot of the iconic Palmer water tower.

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 a unique museum set right in the alpine at Independence Mine State Historic Park. You can hike to the remnants of perilous gold mining operations amid jaw-dropping tundra scenery. If an afternoon visit isn’t enough, stay overnight at Hatcher Pass Lodge in one of the adorable, red A-frame cabins. Or, just grab a bite in the cozy cafe with stellar views.

Wasilla gets a bad rap for one of its most prominent features: 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 cozy gem of a Laotian eatery, Cafe Khao Neow, or opt for the fancier and equally delicious Grape Tap. 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 like a scene from the ‘90s TV show “Northern Exposure” (if it had actually been 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. is wonderful; ditto with Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe, a standalone cabin tucked away in the forest. Alaska Wild Harvest offers tours and tastings in its birch syrup production facility and has a wonderful gift shop. Approaching town, the view of Denali on a clear day is worth the entire trip. A visit to Talkeetna Roadhouse is a must — either to stay overnight, 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 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 thrilling and wild Alaska outdoors with an overnight stay at K’esugi Ken Campground and a hike up the Curry Ridge trail, where you’ll earn stellar and consistent Denali views.

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