Outdoor Adventures in the Mat-Su Valley
Want to try ice climbing at the glaciers, whitewater rafting, backcountry ATV’ing, Jeep Safaris, dog mushing/ tours, and flightseeing? These activities get you into the “real Alaska” not seen from the road system, and for less than you might think. One of the top reasons people come to see Alaska is to experience wilderness and the great vastness of Alaska’s natural beauty. You might not know how to get “out there” and into the wild in ways that are safe, fun and easy. Here are resources that will help you see and do the Alaska that few people ever do, even those of us that live just miles from these pristine backcountry wonders.
These are all do-able daytrips from the B&B. Suggestions are ranked from easiest to more intensive requirements of time, skill, or money. (With any of these suggestions, your personal safety is your own responsibility: have appropriate gear and knowledge of how to behave around wildlife, especially if you are not going with a guide. Hypothermia, falls, and encounters with critters can be serious.)
Climb a mountain seen from the B&B
If enjoying the view from the couch isn’t enough, take your pick between Lazy Mountain, the Talkeetna mountains, Matanuska Peak or Pioneer Peak, in level of difficulty. Lazy Mountain is so named because it was a good Sunday picnic spot in the early days of the farm colonists, however there is little that is lazy about that hike. Matanuska Peak is used for ultra bike and running races. Pioneer Peak is the Valley’s most challenging, rugged, and tallest at 6,600 ft. It’s 8 hours round trip for those in prime condition. Or, pick a peak in the Talkeetnas, accessed by road in Hatcher Pass. Several great trails are marked or chart your own path. Old gold mine shafts dot the upper mountains.
• Trailheads are marked off the roads around these peaks. Use the maps at the B&B or stop at the Palmer Visitor Centerfor a photocopied map.
• Maps can also be found on the Mat-Su Borough’s website
In just a few miles, you can go from tidewater salmon spawning to wetlands with tundra swans and migratory fowl to uplands and alpine reaches where grizzlies hunt mountain goats. Such quick transitions between ecosystems allows us to see incredible biodiversity in nearly untouched surroundings. It is an under appreciated area which is not even much-visited by Alaskans except in hunting season.
• Take an airboat tour to the glacier
• Go by plane (Grasshopper Adventures 907-746-6923 or Bear Air 907-373-3373) from the Palmer airport
• Go with a guide on ATVs. Half-day or all-day tours are popular. Ask about overnight trips into caribou migration routes.
• Drive to the river and hike the riverbed to the face of the glacier
Matanuska Glacier and River
This broad, braided river stretches 95 miles from its source at the glacier, the largest glacier accessible from the road system.
• Drive to the glacier, pay the entry fee, and walk up to the face of the glacier in tennis.
• Go with Mica Guides to trek back onto the glacier for miles and ice-climb frozen falls and walls.
• Whitewater raft the river
Experience birch and spruce forests, bogs, and numerous rivers which transition to alpine and tundra ecosystems above treeline. Rich wildlife populations (moose, caribou, wolves, bears, beaver, eagles, and more) inhabit the state and national parks. Ask guides, park rangers, or locals where the best places are to view critters.
• Flightsee around The Great One with the option of a glacier landing
• Take a jetboat tour upriver towards Denali
• Rent Jeeps and drive over rugged “roads” into the back country
• Get dropped into Denali to hike remotely
On the water
Kayak or canoe at several nearby lakes.
Depending on when you come, you may be able to mush with an Iditarod competitor or learn firsthand about operations at their kennels. Contact local favorites Vern Halter or Martin Buser to set up your adventure.
Winter active adventures:
Why more people don’t come to Alaska in the winter is a mystery to us. We prefer the prime, ideal snow conditions and scenic beauty to summer any day. And flights up here are cheaper in winter, too.
• Ice skate on groomed Wasilla Lake, ringed by mountains and lit at night
• Cross-country ski at Hatcher Pass on groomed trails through the backcountry. Snowboarding is popular on weekends (no lift: just pickup trucks transporting you and the teenagers up to the top)
• Drive to Alyeska Ski Resort 2 hours south, if you must.
• Rent toys and trailer up to drive to your own destination. Rent from Alaska Toy Rental, 907-775-1880 or Toll Free (888) 640-1880.
• ATV or snowmachine to the Knik Glacier
• Snowmachine in the shadow of The Great One
• Ice climb glaciers and frozen falls
• Take part in a winter marathon or ultra challenge such as the bike/ski/hike race which follows the Iditarod trail
Rainy Day or Hard-Core Exercise Enthusiasts:
Ask us about passes to the Alaska Club gym, located in both Palmer and Wasilla.
You can study up before you come to Alaska, or peruse books and resources at Alaska Garden Gate B&B to plan your adventures. Here are some reading/maps resources, and below this list is where and what you’ve gotta get out and do!
The B&B is ringed on three sides with mountains, all of them hike-able and explore-able. Just one book covers many, many of the routes found right in our back yard. You can borrow it from the B&B’s library, or get your own copy of 55 Ways into the Wilderness. The other main book you’ll use is Hiking Alaska. The books at the B&B are stuffed with tattered Xeroxed copies of other local routes into the mountains and backcountry. These are simple PDF brochures created by the Matanuska Susitna Borough and can be found on their website. There are many fun wildlife books which will help you identify paw prints and scat, etc. For birders, get Guide to the Birds of Alaska. Other inspiring and fun books we recommend are Walking My Dog, Jane,and Midnight Wilderness, given to me by the author when she stayed here. Also look for Arctic Daughter, Walk Softly With Me, and Alaska