With a name fitting the holiday, the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley’s Independence Mine State Historical Park is a wonderful place to spend the 4th of July. Families, especially, will enjoy the combination of great views, safe spaces, and a bit of a history lesson, too. Located near the top of Hatcher Pass, among the blooming wildflowers and whistling marmots, Independence Mine is a reminder to the siren song of early gold rush days in southcentral Alaska. Visit, and you’ll soon see what I mean.
Created in cooperation among the Alaska Miner’s Association, Friends of Alaska State Parks Mat-Su, and the Independence Mine State Park staff, Independence Day 2013 is shaping up to be a kid-friendly, parent-pleasing event. Arrive anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and find FREE parking (usually one needs an annual park pass or $5 day pass to stop the car) at the mine townsite. The Visitor Center will be open at 11 a.m. for browsing displays, gathering maps and other information, or chatting up the many volunteers who keep this place running smoothly. During the day, encourage kids to participate in gold panning, hiking the many trails surrounding the buildings and above, or touring the restored buildings. Tours depart from the visitor center at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. and cost $6/adults, $3/ kids 6-12.
Our tips for a memorable day at the mine?
– Bring warm, weatherproof clothing. You’ll be at an elevation near 3,800 feet, and wind, rain, or even snow showers could make the unprepared a miserable bunch, indeed. Add hats, gloves, and sturdy boots or hiking shoes for kids; no sandals or slippery rubber boots, here!
– Tour the buildings. Even though a guided tour costs a bit of money, kids of school age should really enjoy the opportunity to learn about life in this isolated community, where school, home, and store were all within spitting distance.
– Take a hike. While some Hatcher Pass/Independence Mine trails are off limits to smaller kids due to narrow, rocky, and/or extremely slippery tread, several exist to appease young hikers. For easy walking, take the paved pathway from the townsite up the hill to the tunnel and little railroad, then watch water come rushing out of the mountainside toward town. Or, for adventurous kids, try a section of the Gold Mint Trail, leading to an icy blue lake, abandoned cabin, and miles of rock and meadow. Be safe, go slow, and savor the view.
– Plan for food/drink. We usually picnic in the parking lot to sweeping views of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley below our feet, but sometimes, especially on rainy days, we head to the Hatcher Pass Lodge just down the hill from the mine parking lot. Nestle up to the coal-fired stove, have a hot cocoa, order a pizza, and revel in the old-time charm of this A-frame lodge and surrounding cabins. Whatever your choice, make sure you have water and snacks for your explorations up the hill.
To reach Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine State Historical Park from Anchorage, drive north on the Glenn Highway to Palmer, then follow the directional signs up Palmer-Fishhook Road, and on to Hatcher Pass Road. The drive takes at least an hour, more if you stop along the Little Susitna River, a rushing waterway drivers follow on their way up the canyon.
Happy 4th of July, Independence Mine!
Read about other Alaska festivals over the July 4th weekend at our Pinterest board, Alaska Fairs and Festivals!