What You Need to Know About Hiking Trails in the Mat-Su Valley

From mountain vistas to abundant wildlife, it’s no surprise that adventurers and nature lovers flock to Alaska each year. There’s no shortage of hiking trails in the Mat-Su Valley to explore, and each one is sure to take your breath away! Have you ever seen a massive glacier up close and marveled at its majestic turquoise color? When is the last time you went for a walk and saw caribou trekking across the landscape or bald eagles soaring overhead? If you don’t live in Alaska, you’ve likely never felt the awe that these experiences inspire. Pack your hiking boots and head to the Last Frontier to enjoy it all this year! The first step of your adventure should be exploring our free Vacation Guide to the Mat-Su Valley!

Astonishment Awaits You on These Hiking Trails in the Mat-Su Valley

Explore Our Favorite Alaska Hiking Trails:

Gold Mint Trail at Hatcher Pass

Set your starting point at mile 13.7 on Hatcher Pass Road. Here, you can gain a new appreciation for the incredible landscape of the Mat-Su Valley. The Gold Mint Trail is an eight-mile route along the glacier-fed Little Susitna River, featuring bright blue water and large boulders. Novice hikers are welcome to explore this trail and surround themselves with towering mountain peaks and purple fireweed flowers. There’s also a high chance of spotting beavers splashing through the water as they build impressive dams. For another fun adventure in the Hatcher Pass area, add Independence Mine State Park to your itinerary!

Keep an eye out for ripe berries in the summertime! There are so many prime spots for berry picking in Alaska.

View when you visit Eklutna Lake with Lifetime Adventures in Alaska

Eklutna Lake in Anchorage

Eklutna Lake is the largest lake in Chugach State Park, and its beauty doesn’t stem solely from the shimmering water. The surrounding landscape is just as impressive with magnificent views. The Eklutna Lake Trail System stretches for a total of 26 miles and has three different routes. Explore the Twin Peaks Trail, Eklutna Lakeside Trail, or the Bold Ridge Trail. If you can only pick one, we highly recommend the 13-mile Lakeside Trail. Walk along the shore of Eklutna Lake and end up at the Eklutna Glacier!

Would you feel more comfortable having an expert point you in the right direction and make sure your trip goes smoothly? Lifetime Adventures in Alaska has been showcasing the natural wonders of our area since 1996, and their guides know Eklutna Lake like the back of their hands. Dan and his crew offer options for all skill levels, ages, and group sizes, providing a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. If you want to up the thrill factor, ask them about their kayaking and mountain biking packages!

At Alaska Garden Gate, we offer special add-ons to enhance your stay as well as your daily activities. Enjoy a delicious lunch box to-go and grab a seat at a lakeside picnic table!

Reed Lakes Trail

Feel free to dedicate an entire day to exploration on the Reed Lakes Trail. Before reaching the turquoise, glacier-fed lakes, there are rushing waterfalls to enjoy. The trail starts off easy, with a well-maintained dirt path, but can prove difficult as you get to the boulders. As long as you take your time, you’re sure to have a fantastic experience.

Local tip: If you want to drive up to the trail, it’s best to rent a truck that can traverse the potholes and rocks that are often on the road.

View from the summit of Lazy Mountain in Palmer, AK

Lazy Mountain

For an exciting adventure in the Mat-Su Valley, look no further than Lazy Mountain in Palmer, AK. This 3,720-foot peak is part of the Chugach Range and is a popular destination for hikers and thrill seekers. Keep in mind that climbing Lazy Mountain is no easy task. The trails are slick, steep, and rough, but the views are well worth the effort.

If you’re up for the challenge, you can find the trailhead just east of downtown Palmer, across the Matanuska River. Here, you can choose between the Lazy Mountain Trail, Lazy Moose Trail, or the Morgan Horse Trail. Before leaving this starting point, feel free to take advantage of the public bathrooms and enjoy a snack at the picnic tables.

The Lazy Mountain Trail is three miles long, with an elevation climb of 3,000 feet. Your initial walk brings you through a dense forest before opening up to views of the Matanuska and Knik Rivers. Rain can result in difficult, muddy terrain, so keep an eye on the weather report and plan accordingly.

If you’re in the mood for a leisurely walk, consider the Lazy Moose Trail with a more gradual incline. This hike is longer and takes about an hour and a half to meet back up with the Lazy Mountain Trail, but features easy terrain. There’s an American flag and a mailbox at the top of the mountain. Feel free to sign your name and leave a note about your trip!

While many people choose to go horseback riding, you can also hike along the Morgan Horse Trail. This trail links up with the Matanuska Peak Trail and rewards you with remarkable panoramic vistas!

Local tip: If you’re an extreme sports enthusiast, check out The Crazy Lazy Race in March!  Runners battle the elements on a seven-mile loop up this snowy mountain. Expect to find ice and snow on the trail. We recommend wearing cleats, spikes, or other equipment for traction.

Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park

All of our guests who hike Kesugi Ridge say the same thing — it’s life changing! The path runs along Kesugi Mountain and offers spectacular views of Denali, the tallest peak in North America! Even if Denali was not the main attraction, this would still be a great hike. You can explore a variety of terrain from lush greenery to canyons and tundra. There are some significant elevation gains in store for you, but it’s nothing a seasoned backpacker can’t handle.

Pro tip: Start at the Little Coal Creek Trailhead to avoid about half the elevation gain of the Byers Lake Trailhead. The first two and a half miles are pretty steep as you work your way up the ridge, but there are a few places to rest. We promise the views are worth the climb!

For even more ways to experience the natural marvel of Denali, read our blog on Denali National Park tours. Or, see it all from the clouds on a flightseeing trip!

Up-close view of a moose at Palmer Hay Flats State Refuge

Palmer Hay Flats State Refuge

There are endless things to see at Palmer Hay Flats State Refuge in Alaska, which stretches for 45 square miles. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise filled with diverse landscapes and bustling wildlife. The residents of Alaska have beautifully preserved the Refuge for over 40 years. If you want to experience brilliant sunsets, glistening waterways, and some of the best mountain vistas in the Last Frontier, you can find it all here.

Skate along the icy trail of Rabbit Slough, explore the wetlands of Cottonwood Creek, or wrap around Reflections Lake! There are plenty of walking trails here for all ages and experience levels. Make sure to check the trail map to find your perfect hiking route.

Pioneer Ridge-Austin Helmers Trail at Pioneer Peak

Only expert hikers can tackle the Pioneer Ridge Trail, but it’s a fantastic experience for those that do. The route is incredibly steep, with an elevation change of over 5,000 feet over four and a half miles. Take note of the trail markers to keep track of your progress and maintain your bearings. You can venture up to Pioneer Peak in the summertime and enjoy vibrant wildflowers all around you. Just be sure to wait for clear weather, as rain can make the terrain go from difficult to dangerous in a matter of minutes.

Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood

Friends taking a break on Winner Creek, one of the best Alaska hiking trails
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage | JodyO.Photos

Less than an hour from Anchorage is Winner Creek, a densely wooded trail with gentle elevation changes. For most visitors, we recommend the Lower Creek Trail section. Hike through the Alaskan wilderness and over the Winner Creek Gorge. There’s even a hand tram that takes you over the rushing water of Glacier Creek. It’s perfectly safe, but if you’re afraid of heights, avoid looking down!

Adventurous travelers can conquer the Upper Creek Trail. It brings you through more difficult terrain, but the views at Berry Pass are worth it.

Bodenburg Butte

Whether you’re visiting Alaska in the summertime or the dead of winter, a climb to the top of Bodenburg Butte is a great way to get some fresh air. A short hike with moderate difficulty allows you to reach a one-of-a-kind spot. At the summit, take a moment to appreciate the remarkable 360-degree views and embrace the tranquility. From here, you can see Matanuska Peak, Lazy Mountain, the Knik Glacier, Pioneer Peak, Twin Peaks, and Palmer. Where else can you enjoy a view like that?

There are two ways to reach the summit of Bodenburg Butte in Palmer, AK. You can take The West Butte Trail or the Old South Trail. We suggest taking the West Butte Trail because it’s a well-maintained gravel path. Halfway through, there’s a bench overlooking the Talkeetna Mountains where hikers can pause for a break. From here, the trail leads to a long, wooden staircase that introduces the steeper half of the hike. Take advantage of switchbacks and handholds during this section.

Local Tip: If you need to give your legs a rest, opt for a horseback ride instead! The Williams’ Reindeer Farm is at the foot of the hill and offers guided rides from May to August.

Woman standing in front of Matanuska Glacier in Alaska
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage | Ashley Heimbigner

Matanuska Glacier

At 13,000 feet high and 27 miles long, this solid block of ice is the largest glacier in Alaska that you can reach by car. Alaska Magazine ranked it as No. 2 out of the top 49 things to do in the whole state!

Matanuska Glacier is visible from the Glenn Highway National Scenic Byway if you prefer to drive instead of hike. This 135-mile route takes travelers north of Anchorage and along the historic pathways of Alaska. At mile 91, pull off the road to enjoy a scenic view of the glacier.

A little further up the road, you can find the 300-acre Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area. This site doesn’t offer direct access to the glacier, but it’s a popular location to sightsee. Walk along a trail that parallels the glacier and the Matanuska River, or relax in the pavilion and enjoy the scenery.

If you want to get up close to this natural behemoth, you can do so for a fee. Entrance costs $100 and provides access to the 15-minute hike out to the ice. You can also take a guided tour past frozen caves, tunnels, and canyons. While this is an excellent opportunity for professional photographers and travel enthusiasts, you can still enjoy spectacular views from the highway or Recreation Area for free. After your hike, enjoy a meal at the Long Rifle Lodge with unobstructed views of the glacier from the dining room!

Feel free to take part in several glacier tours throughout Alaska, including the Knik Glacier and Spencer Glacier!

Know Before You Go: Tips for the Adventure of a Lifetime

  • Bring your camera: A picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly the case with these breathtaking spots. Telling the story to friends and family won’t do it justice, so make sure you take plenty of pictures to share your experience!
  • Pack a backpack: For long hikes, make sure that you have plenty of water, nutritional snacks, and proper equipment. There are several shops near Palmer, AK, where you can pick up everything you need.
  • Wear sunscreen: The last thing that people may think about in Alaska is sunburn, but after a day outside, you can expect to get some sun! This is especially true on high-elevation hikes where the ultraviolet rays can be stronger without you realizing it.
  • Take care of pets: Many hiking trails allow pets, as long as you keep them safely on a leash. Certain paths have rough terrain and sharp rocks, though, and can injure their paws. It’s important to exercise caution when bringing animals along. (If your pet is accompanying you on an Alaskan getaway, we invite you both to enjoy pet-friendly accommodations at Alaska Garden Gate!)
  • Be bear-aware: Alaska’s hiking trails are popular with wild animals, too. Before heading out to the trailheads, pack a can of bear spray. We are happy to let you borrow one from our bed and breakfast. Be sure to avoid moose encounters, as well, since they can be even more dangerous than bears!

Put Your Feet Up and Relax at Alaska Garden Gate

After a full day of exploration and sightseeing, make one last trip to our Palmer bed and breakfast and relax for the evening. Alaska Garden Gate is in a central location, featuring excellent accommodations within reach of Alaska’s best hiking trails.

View of kitchen in Forest Haven Apartment at Alaska Garden Gate

To enjoy the utmost comfort in the Mat-Su Valley, consider our Forest Haven Guest Apartment. This cozy space can sleep up to five people and features rustic decor with an inviting atmosphere. Get a good night’s rest and wake up to a full breakfast to fuel up for another exciting day. Plus, you can enjoy stunning mountain views directly from your room!

We’re always happy to help when it comes to planning your Alaskan adventure. View our free Vacation Guide to learn about whale watching, salmon fishing, dog mushing, and more. Whatever brings you to the Last Frontier, it’s sure to be unforgettable and life changing!