The 8 Best Day Hikes at Hatcher Pass (from shortest to longest)

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Hatcher Pass is a stunning mountain pass located in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska, about 56 miles north of Anchorage.

It’s the most popular outdoor recreation spot for locals and for good reason.

Hatcher Pass Alaska Fall Cabins

In Alaska, there aren’t many roads, and definitely not many that traverse into mountain passes. That’s why Hatcher Pass is unique; these roads go high into the mountains.

In fact, it’s a popular outdoor recreation area for all sorts of sports including hiking, skiing/snowboarding, snowmobiling (snowmachining), and paragliding. Here you can also pick blueberries in August, explore an old mine, and take in the panoramic mountain views and glacial lakes.

How is Hiking Different at Hatcher Pass?

The terrain is at a high enough elevation that many of the hikes are above the treeline. And then there are many that start lower in the trees, but eventually make their way high above the trees and brush.

Because of this, there aren’t as many pesky mosquitoes as many of the other popular hiking spots. This is a huge reason why I prefer hiking at Hatcher Pass over other areas, especially in high mosquito season of June-July. Don’t get me wrong, they still very much exist, they’re just not as brutal.

Another benefit of hiking at Hatcher Pass is that for many hikes, you have visibility and can see far away. So if there’s a bear or moose, you aren’t caught off guard. This isn’t the case everywhere, but for many hikes you have this advantage.

Hatcher Pass Alaska
Hatcher Pass

About Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass is characterized by breathtaking alpine landscapes, rugged peaks, and vast expanses of wildflowers during the summer months. It’s located a short 60 miles north of Anchorage (about 1 hour 15 minutes), just Northeast of Palmer.

The area is dotted with crystal-clear lakes, glacial valleys, and mountains that go on for miles. What was once a locals spot, this area has grown increasingly popular with visitors, especially in the summer months.

Hatcher Pass is not overly developed (it’s not all that developed at all) and feels very remote and wild, even though it’s not far from the town of Palmer.

Planning Your Trip to Hatcher Pass

Cell Reception

Most carriers do not have reception at Hatcher Pass. Mine usually drops off as soon as I pass the river and start driving into the mountains. 

Because of this, I recommend planning a hike or two that you want to complete. Don’t worry, there’s only one road in and out so you can’t get lost. But, not all of the trails are well-marked from the road, so be sure to get your bearings before you go.

Typically, if you enter your address in your maps app before you go, it’ll still work once you lose reception.

Weather Conditions

Hatcher Pass is up in the mountains which means weather can be unpredictable and can change in minutes. You can try to check the weather on an app before you go, but you really don’t know what it will be like until you arrive.

Often, Anchorage or even the closest town of Palmer will have a different weather system than in the mountains. My best piece of advice is to pack for any type of weather, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised when you arrive.

I’ve hiked in early September in a snowfall, driven up into thick clouds, and left the sunshine to be met with a downpour. You just never know, but it’s all part of the Alaskan experience!

What to Pack for Hatcher Pass

Overprepare so you aren’t surprised when you arrive. I usually bring multiple layers, even if it’s sunny and beautiful in Anchorage. As stated above, the weather patterns in these mountains can be wildly different than at sea level. Hatcher Pass is usually 4-6 weeks behind summer down at elevation and it’s typically always a bit cooler.

I’ll wear a tank top or t-shirt and bring a long-sleeved layer and a light jacket. If it’s a longer hike, I’ll bring a light rain jacket just in case. I usually opt for light hiking pants just in case there’s brush or pesky bugs.

We always pack typical hiking stuff – snacks, water, mosquito repellant (there’s Deet or a more natural option), and sunscreen (if the sun comes out it can get hot). Speaking of, I always hike with a ball cap to ward off bugs and get some extra sun protection. Hiking or trail shoes work fine. Often we’ll have a picnic at the top of a mountain too – just watch out for wildlife.

Here are the best day hikes at Hatcher Pass. If you have a day here, you should be able to easily combine the first ‘hike’ with one of the other, shorter ones.

Getting to Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass is an easy 90-minute (60 mile/90km) drive from Anchorage. The route mostly bypasses both of the towns nearby and takes you straight back into the mountains. 

It’s an easy day trip from Anchorage. The closest towns are Palmer and Wasilla. Neither are very touristy, but Palmer has a cute downtown area and some good restaurants. 

There are two ways to get to Hatcher Pass. From Anchorage, this side is called the Fishhook or Palmer side and the main road is paved. 

The road turns to gravel at the top, then continues over the pass, and enters the Willow side. 

This side takes you out to a town called Willow, near Talkeetna. Willow and Talkeetna are much further north along the main highway, and almost the entire drive is on a gravel road. 

Gravel roads often kick up rocks and can damage vehicles. Because of this, most car rental companies don’t allow people to drive on these gravel roads. If you want to drive this route (say you want to visit Hatcher Pass then head north to Talkeetna and Denali) then be sure to rent with a company like GoNorth, Rentasubaru, or Alaska 4×4. 

1. Independence Mine State Park

  • Location: Drive up the paved road to nearly the top. Turn left and park at the Independence Mine parking lot.

  • Distance: 1-2 miles

  • Elevation Gain: minimal

  • Time: 1 hour

This area isn’t so much of a traditional hike as it is an old mine that you can explore and hike around.

The old gold mine area has been preserved and turned into an educational area. The mine manager’s house has been converted into a visitor center where you can learn more about the mine. There’s another museum building too. Both have limited hours, so if you want to check them out be sure to check their hours online. 

I always enjoy walking around the old buildings, the post office, the old mining equipment, and peering into windows of furnished homes that haven’t changed since the 1930’s. Some are a bit eerie, but it gives you a good glimpse into mining life back then.

The mine area is ADA accessible and is great with a stroller. There’s a paved path that leads up above the buildings to some old mining carts on a track. The track leads into the mountain, where workers used to go daily. 

If you want to hike around, there are some trails that take you up into higher areas. Just be sure to stay below the homesteaded private land near the top (there are signs posted). 

We typically spend an hour walking around, checking out the buildings and reading about the history, then hiking up and around the area.

2. Summit Lake

  • Location: Located at the top of the gravel road at the Summit Lake Recreation Site

  • Distance: .6-mile loop

  • Elevation Gain: 59 feet

  • Time: 15 minutes

This is the easiest hike on the list. And actually, it doesn’t really qualify for a hike as you don’t make any sort of ascent. It’s more of a nice stroll around a lake, but it’s beautiful here and a great place to stretch your legs. 

The drive up the gravel road to get here is steep, and some rental car companies don’t allow it, so be sure to check with them before you go! This is a popular spot and parking fills up quickly in the summer months.

Hatcher Pass at Summit Lake Willlow Side Fall
Willow side of Hatcher Pass

3. Gold Cord Trail

  • Location: Park at the Independence Mine parking lot. Trail is located across the road and slightly uphill.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 472 feet

  • Time: 1 hour

Gold Cord Lake is one of my favorite quick hikes at Hatcher Pass. It’s a relatively easy hike and is great for kids. We usually hike it a few times in the summer months.

And since you’re at a higher elevation, there are no trees to walk through. This means you get beautiful views for the entire hike.

Gold Cord Lake in early July – still has ice!

The trail starts just across the street from the Independence Mine parking lot.

You’ll see a small footbridge going over a stream, and a small sign posted marking the beginning of the trail.

It starts with an easy walk uphill. You’ll pass some large boulders and an old abandoned cabin.

Then the trail gets more challenging as you make your way toward the steepest section of the trail. It’s not long, but it does get a bit steep and can be slick if it’s been raining. Sometimes we need to use our hands to climb in this short spot. Once you get to the top, you’ll hike along the trail for a bit longer until you reach Gold Cord Lake.

On a hot day it’s normal for people to jump in the freezing cold water!

4. April Bowl Trail

  • Location: Drive all the way to the summit, park at Summit Lake Rec Area

  • Distance: 2.2 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 849 feet

  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

This short but sweet trail rewards you with views the entire way.

April Bowl is a local favorite. It’s a relatively short hike and has a steep climb at the end to feel like you got a good workout. There’s a rocky and steep ascent near the top. The hike starts at the summit of Hatcher Pass (up the gravel road near the top) so be sure to read the fine print of your vehicle rental to see if you are allowed to drive up it. 

Since the elevation is higher (around 3,885ft), the road leading to the summit is typically closed due to snow until at least mid-June. The hike is best completed in July and August (and even early September, although there could be snow already).

In the height of summer, you’ll likely still encounter some snow. Once you ascend you’ll be rewarded with views of the glacial lakes below.

5. Marmot Mountain

  • Location: Fishhook Trailhead

  • Distance: 2.6 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 1,948 feet

  • Time: 3 hours

Marmot Mountain is the most challenging on this list due to the continuous steep grade. It’s a straight shot up and does not have switchbacks to break up the trail. The trail can be covered in snow well into late June, so I recommend the hike from mid-July to early September.

It’s worth the climb though. Once you get to the top of the mountain, the trail continues along the ridgeline, and the views stretch for miles.

6. Blueberry Knoll

  • Location: Government Peak Recreation Area

  • Distance: 3.1 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 1,502 feet

  • Time: 2 1/2 hours

This is the only hike on the list that doesn’t have you driving into the Hatcher Pass Recreation Area.

Instead, you’ll turn left toward the Government Peak Recreation Area just before you enter the park. There’s a really large parking lot here and even from the parking lot, you have views of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and the mountains beyond.

It’s a solid hike that ends with great views at the top. In June and anytime it’s rainy, it can get especially slick, but it’s a fun hike and a great introduction to the Hatcher Pass area.

This is a good hike if you have multiple days to explore. However, if you only have a day to visit Hatcher Pass, then I’d recommend heading into the recreation area.

The trail is considered moderate, although there are some fairly steep sections on the trail.

7. Gold Mint Trail (Short Version)

  • Location: Park at the Gold Mint Trailhead. The parking lot is a right hand turn before the switchback up the mountain.

  • Distance: 6 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 721 feet

  • Time: 1 hour

Gold Mint Trail starts out relatively flat and has an easy sloping ascent for the first few miles. There’s a bridge that crosses over a fast moving river and the entire trail is surrounded by heavy brush. The trail stays well-maintained for the first few miles and the gravel trail is usually clear.

Most people divide Gold Mint trail into the ‘short version’ and the much longer trail to Mint Hut. The short trail is just over 6 miles, which doesn’t have an official ending point.

If you wanted to do the entire route, it’s over a 16 mile out and back trail (with some saying it’s well over 18 miles). The trail isn’t for the faint of heart. It can get incredibly muddy and it gets really overgrown past mile 5.

We’ve always stuck to the shorter 2-4 mile treks. Around mile 2 you’re met with some beautiful views and a beaver dam too.

8. Reed Lakes Trail

Summer in Alaska Reed Lakes Hatcher Pass
  • Location: Drive down Archangel Road. Park just before bridge in gravel parking lot.

  • Distance: 8.7 miles out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 2,247 feet

  • Time: 4-6 hours

Reed Lakes is a local favorite. It’s a challenging trail that starts off deceivingly easy. The parking lots fill quickly, so I recommend getting here early to get started.

If you have a rental car, I recommend parking in the gravel lot BEFORE the bridge (you’ll see it on the left). After the bridge, there are a few parking spots, then there’s a very uneven road where people park. This road has potholes, big boulders, and is really uneven. So unless you have a lifted vehicle, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The trail is tree lined when you start, and you actually descend at the beginning. Soon enough, you start to climb and cross a few footbridges over streams. The trail starts to get steep as you make your way to the first challenge; the boulder field. 

Hatcher Pass Reed Lakes at boulder field summer
Just past the boulder field

This boulder field requires that you can jump and stretch your legs pretty far. Now that my son is seven, I’d consider taking him, but I wouldn’t have attempted this section when he was younger. These are massive boulders (some the size of cars) that you traverse over a rushing creek below. Look for the dirty boulders to see where the main trail goes.

After you cross the boulder field, you’ll continue to climb through the boulder area until you reach standing water on the river. It’s more of a small shallow lake. You’ll have to look for the rocks to cross – if there’s been a lot of rain or if you’re early in the season, expect to get wet.

This lake is perhaps the most challenging part of the hike.

After the lake crossing, the trail is well-marked to the top. You can stop at Lower Reed Lakes, but in about 45-60 minutes you’ll be at Upper Reed Lakes, which is worth it. These lakes are an emerald green color that are simply beautiful. 

Upper Reed Lakes

Final Thoughts

Hatcher Pass is my favorite day trip spot around the Anchorage area. There are so many hiking trails and exploring you can do. It’s also a great spot to take photos and simply enjoy being in nature.

This list only includes day trips. There are much longer and more challenging hikes you can do, and many of these require at least one overnight stay. Most people camp but there are a few state cabins available for use.

Remember to do a bit of pre-planning, be prepared for changing weather conditions, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace to help preserve this pristine wilderness. Happy hiking!

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