When driving to Alaska we had lots of people give us tips and must visit places in Alaska and one recommendation that kept coming up was Hatcher Pass. We thought Hatcher Pass was a single point or a little town, but it’s actually neither. Hatcher Pass is a road that runs through the mountains between the cities of Willow and Palmer.
Hatcher Pass is the quintessential landscape you think of when you plan a trip to Alaska. Tall mountains drain into swirling creeks with old abandoned mining shacks scattered around. It was one of the more picturesque places we found on our Alaska Road Trip itinerary.
How to get to Hatcher Pass
About 60 miles outside of Anchorage is Hatcher Pass which is reachable from two main access points. The Hatcher Pass Road is open in the summer snow depending. The posted signs at the Willow entrance say the road is to be open from July 4th to October 1st. However, it will be open as long as the road is clear. We drove Hatcher Pass Road in late June in 2017.
From Palmer – Coming from Palmer the road is paved all the way to the Independence Mine State Park and then turns to gravel. Along the roadside coming from this way first, you’ll see a rapid following river filled with large boulders and some lined with steep cliffs.
From Willow – The first 10 miles are paved and then turn to dirt and gravel roads which are in good condition in the summer of 2017. The road remains unpaved until you reach the Independence Mine State Park.
Things to do in Hatcher Pass
Independence Mine State Park
The state has turned the once operational mine into a park for visitors to see how the mine looked and worked in the first half of the century. Some buildings have been refurbished and others lie in ruins. The history is interesting and the old buildings make some great photos both when it’s cloudy and on clear days. There is a $5 parking fee (which includes entrance fee for the driver) and $3 entrance fee for all additional visitors.
Hatcher Pass Sign Post
At the highest point on the Hatcher Pass road, there is a stone carved signpost with the elevation. At its highest point, Hatcher Pass is 3,386 feet above sea level. This signpost is close to Summit Lake and is a popular stopping point for a picture with the sign. There are a handful of parking spots here with access to some nearby hikes and photo spots.
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Summit Lake in Hatcher Pass Alaska
To the west of the highest point of Hatcher Pass is Summit Lake. The high elevation lake is a glacial-fed lake and is turquoise colored from glacial flour. Summit Lake is backed by tall peaks and is surrounded by formal and informal hiking trails. There is a small parking lot for visitors to jump out of their cars to see the lake and enjoy the trails.
Golden Mint Trail
One of the most popular formal trails in Hatcher Pass is the state managed Golden Mint Trail. This trail runs about 8 miles along the glacial valley following the Little Susitna River. The end of the trail is about a 1/8 mile steep climb bringing you to the little red hut with stunning mountains in the background if there are no clouds. Camping is possible. The parking fee is $5/day at the parking lot located at the trailhead.
Hatcher Pass Huts, Buildings, and Mine Shacks
There are still a few reminiscences of the mining that took place here in the valleys and they are great photo spots in Hatcher Pass. The easiest to access mine shacks and old buildings are in the Independence Mine State Park
Related Article: Tips For Driving The Alcan Highway
Camping in Hatcher Pass
There are many places you can camp in Hatcher Pass. Many people free camp along the many pullouts along the road, or there are several formal state-run campgrounds. We camped along the roadside in the higher elevation portion of the road and had a peaceful night only seeing a handful of other cars.
Where to Stay in Hatcher Pass
If you want to stay along the drive in Hatcher Pass you’ll have to camp. The closest option is Hatcher Pass Bed & Breakfast, which books up fast during the summer months. Most tourists choose to stay in Wasilla or Palmer as there are more options with accommodation and dining.
- Hatcher Pass Bed & Breakfast Check Rates Hotels.com | Expedia | TripAdvisor
- A Moose Berry Inn Willow Check Rates Hotels.com | Expedia | TripAdvisor
- Best Western Lake Lucille Inn Check Rates Hotels.com | Expedia | TripAdvisor
There are several cabin rentals on Vrbo as well which is a good option for families and those camping in need of a break from the tent. TIP: Make sure the Airbnb rental has a washer & dryer to save time and money at the laundry mat.
Have you been to Alaska or Hatcher Pass? Leave your tips or questions in the comments!
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Tuesday 30th of August 2022
We just drove there on our way from Talkeetna to Anchorage to catch our plane home to Chicago. Wow! What a tremendous place. When we return to Alaska I plan to spend at least a couple days here.
Monday 2nd of May 2022
When driving to/from Hatcher Pass from Palmer, you must stop at The little Gas Station/ grocery/ snack bar. Its just as one begins to drive up the mountains.. It’s great to have a snack and drinks, and the last place to get anything until your trip is over, including gas. (Or pack a lunch) They advertise “the Worlds best ice cream..” well, the world's best is Grammy’s homemade , but its close.
Just before the gas station, , theres a is a big Yellow bus that makes a mean hamburger and other fare. Good old down home cooking and great Alaskan hospitality!
While adventuring in the mountains, From mid July to August keep your eyes our for Wild Blueberries 🫐 as Hatchers Pass is favorite place for locals to go to stock up on berries for our freezers and make jams. In fact, pick up an Alaska Wild Berries Identification Book! We have hundreds of various edible berries, and very few, ( and easily identified) poisonous ones. If in doubt one wont go wrong sticking with blueberries!
You will also find Alaska is one of the friendliest states you will find. So ask us questions, we love sharing about our home state! Enjoy our beautiful Alaska. And please keep it clean, ( Pack it in/pack it out)
Oh and remember to bring some “bug dope” *mosquito repellent with you. Our mosquitos have a voracious appetite for Visitors!
Grammy 45+ year resident!
Saturday 30th of April 2022
There may be some "official" looking sites that say Golden, but the real name of the trail is just Gold Mint Trail.
Also, while the Gold Mint Trail is a great hike, the next valley up is the Reed Lakes trail, and it is spectacular. I would definitely recommend Reed Lakes over Gold Mint to anyone visiting in July-September. It is more strenuous and maybe not good for kids under 12, but, IMHO, one of the best day hikes in Alaska.
Wednesday 27th of October 2021
My son and new daughter-in-law John and Allison Williams were just married at the pass in Aug 2021. They stayed their wedding night in a little red hut. What a beautiful spot. They waited to get married until they had summitted Denali in early June!
Friday 15th of March 2019
This is very informative. I love the mountains and spectacular views . Unfortunately I'm stuck in the middle of corn and bean fields in Illinois. Hoping to come and vacation there . Also am interested in my historical relationship to the area .
Sunday 17th of March 2019
Well you have the right name for it, I hope you make it up there soon!