The Hatcher Pass Management Area is a glaciated mountainous region located an hour and a half north of Anchorage, Alaska. While the Hatcher Pass Management Area is not officially designated as a state park because the area combines private, borough, and state land, the area does have two state parks located within its boundaries. The Independence Mine State Historical Park features an old gold mine and information about the Alaskan gold rush, and the Summit Lake State Recreational Site is a popular site for paragliding and blueberry harvesting. The varied ownership of the space, collectively, creates a massive natural area that offers recreationists plenty of opportunities for adventure with a variety of places to stay nearby the activity sites.
Hatcher Pass is a favorite place for Alaskans and guests visiting the state because it is just a short drive from Alaska’s most densely populated towns and cities. Visitors to this management area will find spectacular mountains that create a backdrop for activities such as berry picking, hiking, gold panning, biking, and horseback riding. In the winter, the events change to Nordic activities such as skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Alaska has no shortage of stunning landscapes. Snow-covered mountain tops, active volcanoes, and glacial peaks and valleys frame the grass and wildflower-covered terrain, all of which provide homes to a wide variety of wildlife. The green fields stretch for miles, separated by the rivers and the streams that flow into the inlets and lakes that provide some of the best fishing in the United States. Visitors traveling by RV who are looking for the opportunity to see as much of Alaska’s grandeur as possible should add Hatcher Pass Management Area as a stop on their travel itinerary.
The Hatcher Pass Management Area encompasses 300,000 acres of land, with the two main campgrounds clustered around the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area, which is located approximately 15 miles north of the cities of Palmer and Wasilla, Alaska. The Gold Mint Campground is at mile 13.7 on Hatcher Pass Road, and the Government Peak Campground is located at mile 14 on Hatcher Pass Road.
The public-use area provides several different types of outdoor recreation, including hiking, skiing, and gold panning, in several different sections. There are separate parking areas for each section of the park, and individual parking fees are assessed in each section. These fees are separate charges from camping fees.
The Hatcher Pass area encompasses approximately 300,000 acres of wilderness with a limited number of large RV friendly roads. The only consistently paved road is the Palmer-Fishhook Road, which leads from Palmer to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. The Palmer-Fishhook Road is open year-round except the last mile to Independence Mine which closes during the winter, typically between October 1 and May 31.
The Government Peak Campground is a rustic campground with eight overnight campsites located just 500 feet from the Public Use Area. The campsites are primitive, without any RV hookups, but each is equipped with a designated fire ring with a hibachi-style grill and a picnic table, and spacious enough for campervans up to thirty-five feet in length. Campground quiet hours are from 11 PM to 6 AM. While generators are allowed during the daytime, they should be silenced during designated quiet hours. There are a few well-maintained vault toilets scattered throughout the campground area. Pets are welcome to accompany their human companions to any of Alaska’s state parks and campgrounds but must be restrained by a six-foot or shorter leash anywhere but the backcountry. The leash rule not only protects wildlife from your pets, but it also helps to protect you and your pet from the wildlife. During the winter, the Government Peak Campground is closed for overnight camping, but the area remains open for its Nordic activities, such as skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and winter bicycling.
The Gold Mint Trailhead Campground is the pathway to year-round activities within the Hatcher Pass Management Area, just under fifteen miles north of the small town of Palmer, AK. The larger of the two campgrounds in Hatcher Pass suitable for RVs, this campground offers 10 primitive first-come, first-served campsites, each with a designated fire ring with hibachi-style grill and a picnic table, but without electricity, water, or sewer hookups. Generators are permitted during the daytime. The campground enforces quiet hours between 11 PM and 6 AM, however, and generators must be silenced during these hours. There are no restrictions on RV length in this camping area, and leashed pets are welcome. Overnight camping is only allowed during the summer months, but the area is open as a day-use area year-round. There are vault toilets near the parking lot as well as potable water with a threaded faucet that is available during the summer months. The Gold Mint area is known for its hiking trails, snowmobile trails, and great skiing, as well as being near several streams perfect for gold panning. Campers must pay both the day-use fee and the camping fee at the self-pay stations when entering the campground.
Bring the whole family on a quest to find gold. Recreational gold mining is a favorite activity in the Hatcher Pass area, and panning is allowed anywhere within the boundaries of the public use area, except for a few official and active mining claims. The large boundaries mean that a gold panning adventure can be as simple as pulling off the road next to the Little Susitna River and dipping your pan and shovel in the water. You should head to the Independence Mine State Historical Park Visitor Center first and learn about mining as well as pick up a packet outlining mining rules and regulations in this area. Some places, such as the Little Susitna River, may require a permit from either the Fish and Game Division or the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation before starting any mining activity. You can also sign up for gold-panning lessons at the historic mining park during the summer months.
Be sure to pack your fishing tackle in your campervan or visit one of the area outfitters before heading to the Hatcher Pass area. You will want to ensure that you have all that you need to spend a day fishing in the Hatcher Pass rivers and creeks. Anglers can fish for Dolly Varden and rainbow trout in many of the area’s cold, fast-moving streams, including the Little Susitna River, Willow Creek, and Peters Creek. It is not permitted to harvest salmon from the waters in the Hatcher Pass Management Area, however, because of spawning. Anglers may choose to fish independently, or they can charter a guided fishing tour. A fishing license is required to fish in Alaskan waters, which can be acquired at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and close attention should be paid to the fishing regulations as they may change from one season to the next.
The Hatcher Pass Management Area is well known for its hiking and biking trails. There are plenty of paths to choose from with each trail offering varying levels of difficulty. RVers who stay at the Gold Mint Trailhead Campground have easy access to 16 miles of hiking that range from easy to moderate. The Gold Mint Trail is a moderately easy 13.4-mile trail that starts at this camping area and leads to a picturesque glacier-rimmed valley. Several of the trails in the area, including the Reed Lakes Trail, the Gold Cord Lake Trail, and the April Bowl trail allow both foot traffic and bike traffic. It is important to note that this is bear country. For your safety, don’t wander off trails, keep an eye out for bear signs, such as tracks, scat, or scratch marks on trees, and make plenty of noise. For the most part, bears prefer to avoid humans, so allow them to do so. For more detailed hiking information, you can pick up a trail map from local area shops or the Independence Mine State Historical Park Visitor Center.
Hatcher Pass is known for its winter activities as it is typically one of the first areas to get snow in the fall and the last place that it melts in the spring. The area hosts some of the best skiing in the state and provides options for both cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. The skiing season begins early, usually in October, and the excellent snow conditions provide the base for some of the most popular groomed and well-marked cross country skiing trails in the region. Some of the favorite skiing trails at Hatcher Pass Management Area include the Gold Mint Trail, the Reed Lakes Trail, and Archangel Road, as well as the road to Independence Mine State Historical Park. Less than half a mile from the Government Peak Campground is the Skeetawk alpine ski area, run by the non-profit group Hatcher Alpine Xperience, for those who prefer downhill skiing.
The words dog sledding and Alaska are inextricably connected. While Hatcher Pass area isn’t connected to either of the big dogsledding races, the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest, the Hatcher Pass vicinity offers excellent conditions for mushing throughout the winter and is a fairly popular spot for training dog teams, particularly during the early winter months. The Archangel Road Trail is a non-motorized trail perfect for running your team. If you are a novice who is interested in taking a dog sled ride, there are many area dog sledding schools and dog sledding tours that provide tours for those who fancy seeing the area from a dog-pulled sled.
The entire Hatcher Pass Management Area west of the main pass allows snowmobiling. The Hatcher Pass Trail and The Archangel Road Snowmachine Trail provide both groomed and ungroomed trails for snowmobile activity. Each trail has distinct characteristics and offers differing levels of difficulty. It is important to note that the Archangel Road Snowmachine Trail runs parallel to the Archangel Road Trail, which is a non-motorized trail that is closed to snowmachines. Snowmobiling is a favorite wintertime activity in Alaska, but it does come with risks. All individuals who ride will need to become familiar with snowmobile regulations, trail details, and winter safety rules, especially those related to avalanche safety. Learning how to spot avalanche danger signs could save your life and the lives of those you are snowmobiling with. There are also several establishments in the vicinity that rent out snow machines and offer guided snow machine tours.