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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
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
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.