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Anchorage, Matsu & Cook Inlet
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Anchorage, Matsu & Cook Inlet



Chugach State Park

Seward Highway (AK9)--Portage to Anchorage

Girdwood & Alyeska

Portage Glacier Recreation Area (Chugach National Forest)

Knik Arm

Glenn Highway (AK1)--Anchorage to Parks Highway Junction





Hatcher Pass

Independence Mine State Historic Park

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve


Location/Climate: On Glenn Highway and Matanuska River, 42 miles northeast of Anchorage. 16.5”/yr. precip., 6°F–67°F.

Population: 4,141 (7.7 percent native).

Travel Attractions: Access to Talkeetna Mountains and Matanuska River, musk ox farm, regional agriculture, charming town.

Getting There: Vehicle access via Glenn Highway (AK 1).

Information: Visitor Center (Chamber of Commerce), P.O. Box 45, 723 South Valley Way (downtown by tracks), 745-2880, www.akcache. com/Alaska/Palmer, open May–September daily 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; MatSu Visitors Center, Mile 35.5 Parks Highway, Palmer, AK 99645, 746-5000, www.palmerchamber.org.

"Did I fall asleep and wake up in Iowa" is a common flash in the minds of those entering Palmer. But then, upon looking up to see the surrounding mountains, the illusion is instantly quashed. Located near the mouth of the Matanuska River where it flows into Knik Arm, Palmer is one of Alaska’s more established and steady towns—a notable contrast to the scattered, exploding strip of Wasilla. The area was settled by homesteaders early in the century, but got its biggest boost in 1935 when 200 families arrived to populate the Matanuska Valley Colony—a farm settlement program designed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration as part of the New Deal. Settlers were largely of Scandinavian descent, coming from failed farms in the northern Midwest. The descendants of those who succeeded here still live in the area.

A small but vital agricultural region, the lower Matanuska Valley is wide and flat, the soil rich, and the weather moderate. Much of the famous giant Alaskan produce is grown here, thanks to the months of unending daylight. It’s a fine town for a look about—there are bikes on loan for free at the visitor center. Drop in at the Alaska State Fairgrounds to see the fair (last week in August through Labor Day), or walk through Colony Village—a collection of historic structures, 2075 Glenn Highway, (800) 850-3247, 745-4827, www.alaskastatefair.org. Get a walking-tour pamphlet for the town at the visitor center.

Things to See and Do in Palmer

Musk Ox Farm (private nonprofit corporation)—Qiviut is the soft fur from the underside of a musk ox that’s used in the creation of traditional textile products. The captive herd at the farm is both the source of qiviut for subsistence thread makers and of breeding stock for the reintroduction of musk ox to various parts of the state. Once hunted virtually to extinction, stable wild herds are now established on Nunivak Island, the Arctic Coast, and the North Slope. Mile 50.1, Glenn Highway, 745-4151, www.muskoxfarm.org; open Mother’s Day–September daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; tours every half hour, $8.

Williams’ Reindeer Farm—Over 300 reindeer roam this farm at the base of Bodenburg Butte, between the Matanuska and Knik Rivers south of Palmer. Guided tours, feeding, and petting. Mile 12 Old Glenn Highway, 745-4000, www.reindeerfarm.com; open June, July, and August daily; small admission fee.

Palmer-Area Trails

Several established trails are found in the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains around the head of Knik Arm. They include:

Crevasse Moraine Trail System (7 total miles, less possible, no significant elevation gain)—Several trail loops interconnect in a variety of ways. Good for running, hiking, and cross-country skiing. Trails wind through moraine deposits. From Mile 2 of Palmer-Wasilla Highway, take Loma Prieta Drive to end. RT—H–2 hrs.

Lazy Mountain Trail (3 miles, 3,000' gain)—Begins at Lazy Mountain Recreation Area, then climbs to the summit of Lazy Mountain, with great views of Sutton, the Matanuska valley, and Knik Arm. Take Old Glenn Highway (Arctic Avenue in Palmer) from Mile 42 of Glenn Highway, cross the river, turn left on Clark-Wolverine Road, and turn right on Huntley. RT—5–7 hrs.

Matanuska Peak Trail (7-plus miles, 5,600' gain)—Trail contours up around drainage of McRoberts Creek, crossing several small streams, then climbs up exposed ridge to stellar views from the 6,117-foot summit. Take Old Glenn Highway (Arctic Avenue in Palmer) from Mile 42 of Glenn Highway, cross the river to mile 15.5, turn east on Smith Road, and drive to its end and the trailhead. RT—all day (start early, check weather, be prepared).

Pioneer Ridge–Knik River Trail (6 miles, 5,200' gain)—Take the Glenn Highway to the Old Glenn Highway 4 miles east of Eklutna. From Old Glenn Highway, turn up Knik River Road and continue 3.6 miles to the trailhead. Trail climbs through cleared alder and spruce to high exposed ridge. Fantastic views of Chugach Mountains and Knik Valley. RT—all day (start early, check weather, be prepared).

Where to Stay in Palmer

Colony Inn, 325 Elmwood Street, (800) 478-ROOM (AK only), 745-3330. The Colony Inn is a former teachers’ dorm for the Matanuska Valley Colony. Rooms are $80–$100; there’s a small café.

Fairview Motel and Restaurant, P.O. Box 745, Mile 40.5 Glenn Highway, 745-1505. $50–$65 summer, $45–$60 winter. Basic motel with regular live local bands in the bar.

Valley Hotel, 606 S. Alaska Street, 99645, 745-3330, (800) 478-7666 (AK only), rooms are $55–$75. Roundhouse Cafe inside.

Additional Listings, HERE.

Where to Eat in Palmer

Mary’s Fish and Burgers, 535 W. Evergreen Avenue, 745-0190. Tasty and familiar American cuisine.

Peking Garden, 775 W. Evergreen, 746-5757. The Peking Garden offers a taste of distant lands.

Vagabond Blues Coffee House, 642 S. Alaska Street, South Valley Way, 745-2233. For a fresh cup of the hot stuff or lunch.