Secret Splendor

Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley is filled with subtle beauty

By: Chirstopher Batin

Your clients have just disembarked from the Alaska Railroad, or are making the drive from the Anchorage airport to Denali National Park. Chances are they are so focused on reaching Denali or Fairbanks that they’ll miss the very heart of south-central Alaska tourism, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Once they discover Mat-Su, I’m betting other destinations may slip a notch or two in priority.

Your clients can easily spend a week exploring the Mat-Su Valley. The sights here are subtle but spectacular, and I like to compare them to fish below the surface of a stream: They are often difficult to spot, hiding from view, unless you stick your head below the surface glare. Let’s stick our heads below the glare of the city lights and review some Mat-Su attractions.

Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine State Park
Independence Mine State Park is a must-see for its scenic mountain beauty, old prospector buildings and rich gold-mining history. Its visitor center complex is entertaining as well as educational.

In late August, countless fresh blueberries are widespread and available for the picking in alpine areas. Advise your clients to take a small pail or bucket. Food storage bags work in a pinch. The many varieties of Alaska wild blueberries range from sweet to tart and locals pick them by the gallons to make pies, wine and ice cream. Once your clients have tried wild Alaska blueberries, commercial-grade blueberries will never taste the same. Guaranteed. The picking, and eating, is free.

Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier is easily accessible from the Glenn Highway, a National Scenic Byway. Towering mountains that surround the glacier make this tour one to remember. I took my 70-year-old grandmother hiking on this glacier when I first arrived in Alaska. She still talked about it until her death 20 years later. Choose a morning, guided tour for your clients, and also schedule them on a whitewater float trip down the nearby Matanuska River.

Talkeetna and Mt. McKinley Flightseeing Tour
Advise your clients to leave the Parks Highway and take the 20-minute drive down the Talkeetna Spur Road. Watch for glimpses of Mt. McKinley in the clearings off to the left. Assure them they can’t miss the mountain if skies are clear. McKinley is roughly 60 air miles from Talkeetna, or a half-hour bush plane flight, one way. Views of the mountain are seldom better than here, even from within Denali National Park.

There is a simple rule for viewing Denali. If it’s visible, stop immediately to view it from one of the many pulloffs, or better yet, hop on a plane and see it up close, along with the climbers who have conquered it.

Talkeetna is a jumping-off point for the climbers who scale McKinley each year. Several air charters operate out of Talkeetna, and an aerial flightseeing tour of Denali, with a landing at the Denali base camp, is invigorating. Clients can disembark from the ski plane, walk around on the snow and icepack, and talk to the climbers who have returned.

The Matanuska-Susitna Valley is worth a review for an all-in-one regional destination for your Alaska-bound clients. The only thing you might have to work on is getting the pronunciation right. The rest will take care of itself.


An agents’ first stop should be the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ask for Tammy Bruce, the marketing manager for the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau. Remember the name, as she is your ticket to profitability in Alaska. Her responsibilities include assisting and educating travel-trade professionals. I’ve seen her in action and she takes time to explain tours in detail to agents.

Tammy and her cordial staff provide inside info and current travel tips on rafting to where the fish are biting, often just minutes away.

Additional suggestions: Ask about the best guided tours in the region, scenic hiking trails or specific pulloffs where your clients can enjoy the best views of Mt. McKinley.

Agents looking for a good sales tool should request a DVD from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau entitled, “Visit the Mat-Su.” The footage highlights the adventures and opportunities one can have on established tours or day tours in this region.

“I believe this is a one-of-a-kind DVD, in that no other CVB or Chamber of Commerce has anything quite like it in terms of quality of newness,” says Bruce.

View a Web-friendly version online at


Tammy Bruce