Nestled in the middle of the Talkeetna Mountains of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, about 60 miles north of Anchorage, between the towns of Willow and Palmer Alaska, rests one of the most intriguing and beautiful day trips in the Anchorage region; Hatchers Pass and Independence Mine.
The 49-mile rugged Hatcher’s Pass is named after Robert Lee Hatcher, who was a prospector and miner in the area in the early 1900s. Just to the west of Hatcher’s Pass lies the Independence Gold mine, which was home to the mining of 140,000 ounces of Gold before it was shut down just before World War II.
I have visited the Mine three times in 20 years and each time it shocked me by its beauty and history.
The 271-acre mine has re-developed quite a bit since I first started visiting in 1996. It now houses a museum and gift shop operated by the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources and has 1.5 miles of paved walkways. You can take a self-guided tour or even take a $6 guided tour in the summer between 1-3 PM.
Just as easily as you can stroll through the developed part of the park, you can take a hike up in any direction to experience the more natural side of the mine area. Beautiful wildflowers and interesting wildlife are scattered along the hiking trails of the Independence Mine Park. Take a bag lunch and enjoy beautiful views beside one of the high alpine lakes accessible by the trails. Don’t forget your camera as some views are outstanding!
Original Restored Mining Buildings
The Independence Mine has 13 restored mining buildings. This gives you the opportunity to get a feel for the daily life of an Alaska miner in the first quarter of the 20th-century. Throughout the summer months, interpretive guides can be found to answer all of your questions about the mine and the families that sacrificed in search of the mother-lode. Restored buildings and decaying buildings can both be seen at the Independence mine historical park. Your imagination will go wild as you stroll through the abandoned mine village.
Beautiful Scenic Hiking Trials
Miles of hiking trails surround the original mining camp. Gorgeous alpine lakes dot the scenery high above the floor of the camp. Peaks up to 6,000 feet surround the area making for spectacular views. Small wildlife can be seen along the trails such as squirrels, marmots and other intriguing friends of Mother Nature. The curious small game make it a fun place to take pictures if you have a long lens on your camera. If you use a point and shoot, the scenic views will offer some of the best pictures you can get in Alaska, with the snow caps and valleys of white cascading down the mountains. With the abandoned buildings in the background, your pictures will be a great reminder of your awesome day trip.
What to Expect
The weather in Hatcher’s Pass is beautiful in the summer months. You can expect upper 40s and lower 50s at the 4,000 foot base of the mine itself. On average, it rains about 13-14 days per month during the summer months, however, these are often quickly passing showers that will not hinder your visit.
If you hike up the mountains you can expect to trek over some measure of old snow. Good hiking boots and a warm jacket are helpful and make your day more comfortable. There are no food options at the mine, so bring a sack lunch to enjoy on your hike.
There is a $5 per car day use fee as you enter the park and you can choose to take a $6 guided tour if it is available during your visit.
Always check the road conditions before you travel to Hatcher’s Pass. Even during the summer you may find yourself staring at a closed gate if the Maker decided to dump a load of snow or ice on the winding roads of Hatcher’s pass.
Great Photo Opportunities
As I mentioned earlier, there are wonderful photo opportunities at Hatcher Pass. Go up high and get a photo of yourself or your adventure partners with the gold mining buildings in the background. There is a cabin about half-way up the mountain to your right as you travel up the driveway which has a beautiful window which will frame out a great picture. And of course, the lakes offer amazing backdrops to your Alaska vacation photos.
Wildlife photos can also be very fun here with the small animals along the trail who are generally not too shy when you pull out your camera. Wide angle lenses work well in the historical park so you can grab a lot of detail in your frame. Long lenses, of course, are ideal for wildlife.
Perfect Destination for Children
The Independence Gold Mine and Hatcher’s Pass is a perfect Alaskan day trip for the kids. The history is educational and the imagination will fly as the kids explore an authentic Alaskan mining village. The hikes are relatively easy and the destinations are gorgeous. Watch the kids around the lakes as some have quick drop offs and the water can be extremely cold.
How to Get to Independence Mine
Here are some directions courtesy of alaskavisit.com
From Anchorage: Follow the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage north to mile 49.5. Turnoff on Palmer-Fishhook Road and follow the signs to Hatcher Pass Road/Independence Mine State Historical Park.
From Wasilla: Head northeast on Main Street, which becomes Wasilla-Fishhook Road, which connects with the Palmer-Fishhook Road.
From Willow: The Willow-Fishhook Road junction is at Parks Highway mile 71.4 from Anchorage, and mile 290.6 from Fairbanks.
Independence Mine: Mother of Alaskan Day Trips
If time allows on your Alaskan adventure, do not miss this awesome destination. Even the drive up is worth the time and effort. You will be glad you took time out to have a true Alaskan outdoor adventure with your family or friends. Take your food, there are no restaurants for some miles. Fortunately, you will find restrooms in the park which are open every day until sunset.
Enjoy your day and get your hiking boots on for this beautiful Alaskan experience!