Great Alaska Adventure #5-Hatcher Pass


Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine

Even though this is a relatively short trip, I highly recommend this adventure.

Starting Anchorage, you drive out the Glenn highway passing through Palmer, Alaska to milepost 49.5 0f the Glenn Hwy. You will take a left onto the Hatcher Pass/Palmer-Fishhook Road.

At mile 7.8 you will be entering The Hatcher Pass Management Area. This is a designated recreational area, where you can hike, picnic, pick berries, camp, ski, snowmobile, snowboard, fish, hunt, trap, and pan for gold in designated areas. Recreational mining is allowed within the boundaries of the public use area except on land with valid active mining claims.

The Little Susitna River crosses the road at mile 8.3. This is one of our favorite scenic spots. There is some nice parking areas on either side of the road. This is a good place for some fantastic photo ops. There is gold and fish in this beautiful River. The whole scene changes from summer to winter.

There are many trails, camping spots, and places to park along this road. You will be paralleling the River until you reach Motherlode Lodge at mile 13.8. You will see the River, beaver ponds, wildlife, and beautiful scenery along this route.

Many years ago, I would bring my daughter up to this area to go sledding and learn how to ski. We had some great fun.

Also the trails that lead back to the Fern and Snowbird Mines were pretty rugged in early 70s. So, we would use dune buggies to get to get to the mines.

We had some good times exploring these areas as there was really not a lot of activity at that time. Also, there was still mining going on, and there were no official campgrounds or parking areas. We spent several weekends camped at the Snowbird Mine, exploring the mountainsides and hunting for Willow Ptarmigan. I even accidentally stumbled across a grizzly bear den on one of the mountainsides. Fortunately, the bear was still asleep.
What is now The Gold Mint Trail was our dune buggy trail.

The main road will make a sharp left hand curve starting up the mountain at a fairly steep grade. As the road winds its way up, you will notice that you are now above tree line, and in the Alpine area. During the summer, there are many types of alpine flowers along this road. Also, you will see little animals that we call marmots. At the top of this grade there is a pullout on your left, which is a great place for photos of the Valley you just traversed, and in the distance the Matanuska Valley and the Chugach Mountains with Pioneer Peak in the distance.

You will then be headed toward Hatcher Pass Lodge on your right at mile 17.2. You can continue on up Gold Cord Road to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. This mining area was established in 1938 and was a working Gold mine until 1941. They are in the process of refurbishing the old mining buildings, and some are already open for touring. If you scan the mountainsides, you will notice several mine entrances right on the mountainsides.
Go into the visitors center for Park information.

From here, you can go back to mile 17.2 and turn right to go up over the pass. Depending on the snow, this road may or may not be open. Normally it is open by July 1, and closes sometime in October, depending on snow.

The Hatcher Pass Summit is at mile 18.9. You will reach The Summit Lake state recreation site at mile 19.3. This is a great area for photo ops and some rigorous hiking. If you’re lucky, you’ll see hang gliders or para-sailers in this area. The lake itself is well worth the trip to the Summit.

From here, you can either retrace your path or continue on down the other side to the Junction with the Parks Highway at mile post 49.1 of the Hatcher Pass Road and milepost 71.2 of the Parks Highway. You turn left to head back towards Anchorage going through Willow and Wasilla, Alaska, home of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race and the former infamous governor, and U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

I actually live in the Wasilla area in the early 1970s between Hatcher Pass and Wasilla off the Fishhook-Wasilla Road on what is now Steen Road , named after me. At that time there was no road to my property. Only a four-wheel-drive, very rough trail. I lived here through one winter with no modern conveniences, including running water and electricity. It was quite an experience that I would never trade for. In my personal story I will  go into great detail about the experience.

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