Let’s begin by thanking God for Robert L. Hatcher, for without this sourdough’s steadfast belief that there was gold in them thar hills, Hatcher Pass would be but another nameless area on the map of Alaska.
Hatcher filed the first gold hard rock claim in 1906, and led the way for a rich chapter in Alaska’s mining history in the greater Matanuska-Susitna Valley that only ended in 1953 when the Independence Mine closed.
Located just 15 minutes North of Palmer, and about 90 minutes from Anchorage, Hatcher Pass is a strike of stellar proportions when it comes to our family’s criteria for favorite hiking spots; scenery, kid-pleasing activities, and accessibility. The Pass has it all, and more. Guaranteed.
A public use area thanks to the Alaska State Legislature (I guess they are good for something), Hatcher Pass is a designated public-access area managed by DNR, State Parks and Recreation, and the Fish and Game folks. Mostly undeveloped, the State Park and fabulous Independence Mine Historical area, are raw Alaska with a touch of tourist; enough to woo out of town visitors and local hikers, mountain bikers, and even skiers.
For a small fee ($5, locals can buy a State Parks Pass, too), visitors can experience high alpine trekking at its best and gold mining at its boom. The Independence Mine Historical Park still has the entire town/mine site intact (albeit crumbling a bit) and offers tours, interpretive walks, and a charming visitor center with spectacular views of the Mat-Su Valley below.
Kids will delight in hiking alpine trails that lead to and from gold mining streams; we discovered a claim halfway up the mountain that is part of an inholding from an earlier time. Visitors are welcome to try their luck at panning themselves; check out the Visitor Center for rules and equipment.
If you want to stay the night at Hatcher Pass, options are a bit limited. Just below the entrance to the State Park is the Hatcher Pass Lodge. At 3,000 feet and nestled in the dales of the mountain’s curve, the Lodge is a cozy alternative to making the drive back to Anchorage. Nine cabins and three rooms in the Lodge offer guests a no-frills experience. We stayed in a cabin one weekend that afforded us a knockout view of the fall foliage (willow and berry bushes) and nothing else. Sublime. A wonderful sauna a short hike away melted our sore muscles into butter, while a dip in the alpine stream revived us in time to walk back to the Lodge for a glass of wine in front of the coal-fired stove. Rates range from $95/night for rooms and $165/night for cabins. Rates are a bit lower in the shoulder seasons (May/Sept) and accommodations are available all year round, for the skiers in your family. The Lodge offers Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for guests, and Lunch and Dinner options for visitors. The food is surprisingly good; we munched on a gourmet pizza and fresh salads one night and had a hearty breakfast each morning.
Hatcher Pass rates high among our multi-age family and with guests. We hike in the summer and berry pick in the early fall. As parents, we don’t worry about bears at that elevation (a plus in my book), so kids can run free down the trail with little worry. They love the Mine, too, and beg to visit their favorite haunts right away upon arrival.
Don’t overlook a day trip, or even an overnight journey to Hatcher Pass. It’s in all the guidebooks, but many miss it. Don’t be the many. Be the few.