|a l a s k a j o u r n e y . c o m|
|Anchorage, Matsu & Cook Inlet|
Location/Climate: On Parks Highway, 43 miles north of Anchorage. 17/yr. precip., 4°F68°F.
Population: 4,635 (5.3 percent native)
Travel Attractions: Access to recreation areas, museums, services.
Getting There: Vehicle access via Parks Highway (AK 3) from Fairbanks and Denali, or via Glenn Highway (AK 1) from Palmer and Anchorage.
Information: MatSu Visitors Center, Mile 35.5 Parks Highway, Palmer, AK 99645, 746-5000, www.alaskavisit.com; Dorothy G. Page Museum and Visitors Center, 323 Main Street, Wasilla, AK 99654, 373-9071.
Named after a Denaina chief, Wasilla was established in 1917 where the new Alaska Railroad crossed the old Carle Trail. It served as a supply town and the gateway to the Willow Creek Mining District. Wasilla has grown from a wide spot in the road along the Parks Highway into a very wide spot in the road along the Parks Highway. As you drive through, youll keep waiting to arrive, only to find after a few miles that youre headed out of town.
Wasilla is representative of a common lifestyle in Alaska. Many state residents prefer to live in relative independence on fairly large plots of land. There are no building codes, property taxes, or zoning in most towns. Development reflects this, appearing random and centerless. Small roads lead away from larger ones, with long drives heading off into the trees, ending at cedar chalets, cabins surrounded by junk, or neat mobile homes. This residential style surrounds the more compact offerings of Wasilla proper.
Numerous lakes in the area host vacation cabins, parks, and lodges. While the Matanuska valley is well drained and suited for farms, the Susitna valley is an extension of the wider Cook Inlet basin, featuring broad, boggy flats and lakes. As the nearest place to Anchorage with a concentration of lake and river recreationand lots of land availableAlaska-style development here is rapid. For a time, Wasilla was the fastest-growing city of its size in the nation.
Things to See and Do near Wasilla
There are a variety of interesting and not-so-interesting travel attractions in and around Wasilla. They include:
Big LakeThe waters, town, and recreational areas of Big Lake mainly attract vacationers, boaters, and fishers. To get there, take the Big Lake Road turnoff from the George Parks Highway about 7 miles west of town. The Big Lake North State Recreation Site (S.R.S.) and Big Lake South State Recreation Site both have campgrounds and lake access. Nearby, Rocky Lake State Recreation Site also offers camping. The Alaska State Fish Hatchery beyond Rocky Lake offers free tours. Services are available on Big Lake Road. A few lodges operate along the lakeshore. For information, contact the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 520067, Big Lake, AK 99652, 892-6109.
A huge fire consumed thousands of acres of spruce forest and destroyed several structures around Big Lake in 1996. The fire scars are visible along area backroads.
Iditarod Trail Dogsled Race HeadquartersYou can check out displays of race history in the museum, talk with a musher, and see sled dogs. Mile 2.2 Knik Road (south from Wasilla), 376-5155, www.iditarod.com. Open daily 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., summer 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free.
Knik Museum and Mushers Hall of FameHoused in a restored turn-of-the-century building, the museum features artifacts and archives of Knika gold-rush village on Cook Inlet from 1898 to 1916. The Hall of Fame features musher portraits, equipment, and race-history exhibits. Mile 13.9 Knik Road, 376-7755. The museum and Hall of Fame are open June 1August 31 WednesdaySunday noon to 6 p.m., $2.
Museum of Alaska Transportation and IndustryTrains, planes, automobiles, and various transportation memorabilia are on display in the hall and on the grounds. There are some real delights for buffs and families. Take West Neuser Drive from Mile 47 of the Parks Highway (AK 2), 3800 West Neuser Drive, Wasilla, www.alaska.net/~rmorris/mati4.htm. Open MaySeptember daily (closed Sunday and Monday in winter).
Old WasillaSeveral historic buildings are preserved in Town Site Park, located behind the Dorothy G. Page Museum and Visitors Center (323 Main Street, 373-9071, open daily in summer). The museum has area heritage displays and provides tourist information. A farmers market is held in the park every summer Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m.
Where to Stay in Wasilla
B&B Association of Alaska: MatSu Chapter (reservation service), (800) 401-7444, 376-4461, www.alaska.net/~akhosts. Represents more than 30 area bed-and-breakfasts, plus cabins, host homes, suites, and apartments.
Lake Lucille Inn (Best Western), 1300 West Lake Lucille Drive, (800) 528-1234, 373-1776. Nice lakeside inn. Rooms are $95$125.
Roadside Inn, Mile 49.5 Parks Highway, 373-4646. Basic, includes a restaurant, $45 and up.
Wasilla Backpackers, 3950 Carefree Drive, Wasilla, 357-3699, www.AlaskaOne.com/akhostel, firstname.lastname@example.org. A clean home hostel located on 3 wooded acres. Beds are $22, one private room is available for $60, tenting sites for $15 per person. Laundry, internet, bike rentals.
Windbreak, Mile 40.5 Parks Highway, 376-4109. Basic rooms, café, $65 and up.
Where to Eat around Wasilla
Fast-food joints abound, but you might try:
The Deli Restaurant & Bakery, 185 East Parks Highway, 376-2914. Breakfast, deli sandwiches, Italian dishes; open MondaySaturday.
Cheppos Fiesta Restaurant, 731 West Parks Highway, 373-5656. Decent Mexican fare right on the highway.