Summer in Alaska. It's what everyone lives for, and nothing says summer like a road trip. So grab your crew, hit the highway and point your compass north to explore your big Alaskan backyard with four Matanuska and Susitna Valley trips to add some Alaska Grown adventure to your summer bucket list.
Musk ox and farm fresh
Your first destination? Palmer. Every Alaskan knows this farmland town for the Alaska State Fair and it's larger-than-life cabbages, but this historic town has a lot more to offer than just carnival rides and cotton candy come fall.
Palmer's historical downtown district will satisfy history buffs, while boutique-loving folks will enjoy perusing the charming shops for unique gifts. Take an afternoon siesta at one of Palmer's many cafes, like Turkey Red for fresh Mediterranean inspired cuisine. This local favorite often has events and live music, so be sure to check their calendar before heading out.
But the real attraction—not just for young travelers—is Palmer's farmland. Spend the day at a you-pick family farm, loading up on locally grown veggies, or have an up-close and personal encounter with one of the state's more unique animals, the musk ox. Either option is is a great day trip adventure for Alaskans of all ages.
Sometimes you just need to get away from it all and a scenic road trip through Hatcher Pass to a historic gold mine is just the ticket. But first, picnic provisions! Swing into one of Palmer's many cafe's or, if you're traveling through on a Friday, stop by the Friday Flings farmer's market in downtown for all your picnic needs. As you drive north through Palmer's rolling farmland and head into the mountains, you'll be greeted with mountain meadows and cool breezes as you head up to Independence Mine State Historical Park.
At the turn of the century, gold prospectors spread into the Matanuska and Susitna basins in hopes of making a fortune, or what they called "the motherlode." Hike along the self-guided tour path, scout for remnants of the mining camp, like old tin cans, equipment, and tools. Independence Mine operated for 45 years—they shuttered operations in January 1951, but not before the mountain's bounty yielded nearly six million dollars worth of gold. So, be sure to pack your gold pan. You never know—you may hit it big.
If you're feeling more adventurous, have a 4×4 vehicle and the time, the 22-mile unpaved road connecting Hatcher Pass to Willow, which opens in early July (the road is closed in winter), is stunning and will fulfill your "road less traveled" desires. Two miles into the drive you'll reach Summit Lake—the perfect spot to tuck into your picnic and take a selfie.
North of Willow is the town of Talkeetna. A 2.5-hour car drive from Anchorage, it's easy to bypass this charming town, originally built as the Alaska Railroad's headquarters in the early 1900s. Steeped in Alaska history, stroll the downtown district, classified as a National Historic site, which is full of restaurants, galleries and cafe's. For those looking for a ride up the tracks, you can book tickets on the Alaska Railroad and hop off at the Hurricane Turn Flagstop, one of the last in the country to provide flagstop service to travelers, or take a flightseeing tour for larger-than-life views of North America's tallest peak—Denali.
There are many aviation companies that will fly you around the mountain, departing from Anchorage and Talkeetna, but if you really want to treat yourself and have the ultimate glacier experience, select a flight that lands on Ruth Glacier. The mile wide glacier is flanked on both sides by granite cliffs towering 4000 to 5000 feet above the icy floor.
If you want to experience a more hands-on, rugged adventure, an ATV ride or raft trip through the Mat-Su's backcountry will help fulfill your "call of the wild" needs. Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours offers day trips to the base of the stunning Knik Glacier or multi-day-trips though Eureka to experience the majesty of Alaska's "glacier highway." If you're looking to hit the water, opt for a gentle float trip—-or for the brave at heart—-class IV rapids with NOVA Alaska Guides, who offer scenic trips with incomparable views of land, river and ice.
With either adventure, you'll have definitely worked up an appetite and it's worth ending your day, even if you're not staying overnight at the Knik River Lodge's, Raven Perch Restaurant, which offers great fine dining in a beautiful backcountry setting.
Rediscover the Mat-Su
As you rediscover what the Mat-Su has to offer, make sure you dress in layers, bring your camera and be ready for vistas, wildlife, flavor and adventure unlike anywhere else in the world, but thankfully for you, very close to home.
This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with the Mat-Su Convention & Visitor's Bureau. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, at firstname.lastname@example.org.