Must Do’s in the Mat-Su: Visiting “The Valley”

One of the biggest reasons I love living in the Mat-Su Valley is that every day I get to experience an Alaska most people only dream about. From my window I see Pioneer Peak and the Chugach Mountains. Driving along the Parks Highway I see the towering peaks of the Alaska Range. I live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and it never gets old.

View of Denali from Talkeetna Spur Road. (Sharon Nault Photo)

Whenever we have visitors, we always get asked: What are your favorite places? Where should we go? What should we do? Here are a few of my “Must Do in the Mat-Su” items.

Independence Mine State Historical Park.

Hatcher Pass. It is just minutes from Wasilla to the turnoff for Fishhook-Willow/Hatcher Pass Road, and then a 30-mile drive to the pass itself. The views on this drive are spectacular. The must-do on Hatcher Pass Road is Independence Mine State Historical Park, a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Or you can act like an Alaska resident and go berry picking in late summer for blueberries. Hikers have great opportunities here as well, with popular trails like Gold Mint, Gold Cord and Reed Lakes. Whether you are hiking, mountain biking or just out for a Sunday drive, Hatcher Pass never disappoints.

 

Roiling waters on the Devil’s Canyon Tour with Mahay’s Jetboat Adventure in Talkeetna.

Talkeetna. Here’s a little secret: the views of Denali are much better from the south than they are inside the national park. Talkeetna has great views, as does Denali State Park. A day trip to Talkeetna is a ton of fun – it has great restaurants, a fun brewery and lots of cool shops. (From Anchorage, it is a 98-mile drive up the Parks Highway to the turnoff for the 14-mile Talkeetna Spur Road.) The ultimate experience here is a flightseeing trip or a jetboat or rafting trip. Talkeetna is one of our favorite stops.

Matanuska Glacier. Located on the Glenn Highway (part of which is a national scenic byway)‑about a 100 miles from Anchorage, is the largest road-accessible glacier in Alaska. When we go visit, we go on a guided tour; it’s very affordable, and the guides take you to some of the coolest places on the glacier. Last summer, we were able to drink water flowing from an outcropping, water that could have been thousands of years old before it melted. It’s an awe-inspiring trip for sure. There are several roadhouses and lodges to stop at for meals, or also lodging if you want to make it an overnight trip.

Matanuska Glacier.

Fishing. The Mat-Su Valley has runs of all salmon species, and the fishing is often easily accessible via a short walk from the Parks Highway. But going with a guide is your best bet, because they know where the fish are and what they’re biting on. The Little Susitna River, the Deshka River and the Talkeetna River are all good bets for fishing action.

Nancy Lakes. This state park, located about an hour’s drive north from Anchorage on the Parks Highway, offers multi-lake canoe trips (and multi-cabin options for overnight trips). This system of lakes is connected by easy portages. You can rent a canoe and go from lake to lake. We like to reserve one of the Alaska State Parks cabins (you can do that up to six months in advance) and make it a weekend of fishing, paddling and bird watching.

Kesugi Ken Campground. This campground, located at Mile 135.6 Parks Highway within Denali State Park,

A paved road accesses campground loop at Kesugi Ken.

has—for my money—the best views of Denali anywhere in Alaska. There are public-use cabins here, along with RV sites with electrical hookups and tent sites. The trail system that leaves from Kesugi Ken Campground is easy and great for families. Not far from Kesugi Ken on the Parks Highway are two of my favorite spots: Byers Lake (camping, canoeing, fishing) and Kesugi Ridge (top-rated hiking destination, use Upper Troublesome Creek Trailhead).

But don’t take my word for the top spots in the Mat-Su. Get out and explore every corner of the Mat-Su Valley and make your own Must Do list. With 23,000 square miles to enjoy, there’s something for everyone here!

Author Casey Ressler is the marketing and communications manager at the Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau.