Hatcher Pass is a must-visit destination in Southcentral Alaska. In this guide we’re sharing 8+ epic things to do in Hatcher Pass, plus things to know before you go, to help you plan your own adventure.
It’s no secret that Hatcher Pass was one of our favorite areas in Alaska. Tucked into the Talkeetna Mountains, Hatcher Pass is an alpine paradise filled with bright blue lakes, over 30 glacial mountain peaks, unique history, and so much more.
We spent a total of four days exploring this region and had some of our most memorable experiences in the entire state. There were many highs, like visiting stunning lakes, sleeping by a mountain hut, and Adam catching his first fish. But also some less fun moments, like bushwhacking, hiking in deep mud, and getting stung by wasps.
This area both challenged and rewarded us, all while fulfilling all of our dreams of what Alaska would be.
And unlike most of Alaska, which can be difficult to get to, Hatcher Pass is an easy day trip from Anchorage. So visiting is a no brainer!
In this guide we’re sharing 8+ epic things to do in Hatcher Pass in Alaska, plus important things to know before visiting, to ensure you have a safe and fun adventure of your own.
Looking for more things to do in Alaska?
- How to backpack to the Mint Hut on the Gold Mint Trail
- Hiking the Reed Lakes Trail in Hatcher Pass
- The 24 BEST hikes in Alaska
- The ULTIMATE Summer Alaska Packing List
- 12+ FUN things to do in Valdez, Alaska
- Things to do in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- How to hike the Portage Pass Trail in Whittier, Alaska
- Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail at Kenai Fjords National Park
- 8 EPIC things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park
- The ULTIMATE guide to visiting Denali National Park (Mile 0-43)
- RVing Alaska: Our top tips & things to know!
- The ULTIMATE guide to driving the Alaska Highway
- How to spend 7 days in Alaska (4 itinerary options!)
- All of our Alaska vlogs
- All of our Alaska guides
8+ EPIC things to do in Hatcher Pass
One thing we love about Hatcher Pass is that it has a wide variety of activities for all ages and abilities. You can go for scenic car rides, tour a mining village, or conquer strenuous mountain hikes. There’s a little something for everyone!
Below are the top things to do in Hatcher Pass, based on our experience and what we hope to tackle next time. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll be able to witness the striking beauty of this region!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Gold Mint trail to Mint Hut
Miles (roundtrip): 16.6
Elevation gain: 3,543 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Gold Mint trail to the Mint Hut was home to our favorite view in Hatcher Pass. But we will say, it’s not for everyone.
This hike takes you along the Little Susitna River, through a valley surrounded by rugged peaks. While the first part of the trail is relatively easy from an elevation gain perspective, it is mentally challenging, as you’ll encounter tons of mud, bushwhacking, and if you’re unlucky, wasps.
If you can conquer this section, you’ll have the mental fortitude to tackle the final stretch, which is much steeper and rockier, as you ascend to the iconic red Mint Hut.
Despite the times we cursed and were slightly miserable on this hike, the views from the hut were 1000% worth it. There are endless jagged, glacial peaks surrounding you! You also have the option to hike up to two bright blue lakes, which only makes the experience better.
Want to backpack this trail? We’re sharing everything you need to know in our guide to backpacking the Gold Mint Trail to the Mint Hut. Including how to stay in the hut, what to expect by section, and more!
Reed Lakes trail
Miles (roundtrip): 8.7
Elevation (gain): 2,247 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Reed Lakes trail is one of the most popular trails in the Hatcher Pass area and for good reason! It’s a fun, moderately challenging route that takes you through a valley and boulder fields, with mountain views, waterfalls, a beaver dam, and Gatorade blue lakes along the way.
While the Gold Mint trail had our favorite views in Hatcher Pass, if you can only do one hike in Hatcher Pass, the Reed Lakes trail is what we’d suggest. It is a much more enjoyable trail experience and the views are still epic!
Want to learn more about this hike? Read our guide to hiking the Reed Lakes Trail to find out everything you need to know before you go!
Miles (roundtrip): 20.5
Elevation gain: 5,921 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
If you’re up for a big challenge, the Bomber Traverse may be for you!
The Bomber Traverse is a route that connects the Gold Mint trail to the Reed Lakes trail, with the Mint Hut, plus Penny Royal and Bomber Glaciers along the way.
You may be thinking, “I want to hike to both the Mint Hut and Reed Lakes, so this sounds perfect!” But before you attempt this hike there are a few things to know.
It is NOT an easy route. You will have to walk on glaciers and be mindful of crevasses (crampons or spikes are a MUST) and will encounter steep, rocky slopes to scramble. All while carrying gear. It is NOT for the inexperienced hiker!
You will need proper equipment, plenty of food, and three days to spend. And since the hike starts and ends at different trailheads, you may want to have two cars to shuttle between the two or be prepared to walk between the two.
While we didn’t personally attempt the Bomber Traverse, we can only imagine how epic it is, based on experiencing the front and back sides of the hike. If you’re interested in learning more, we’d suggest reading about the hike on this website.
Drive to the Hatcher Pass Summit
Want to experience Hatcher Pass from the car? Drive to the Hatcher Pass Summit!
The Hatcher Pass Summit sits at 3,886 feet above sea level and is reachable by car. However, a couple things to keep in mind is that the road is only open in the summer months, usually from July through mid September.
It’s also a dirt road and while maintained, conditions may vary. Large vehicles and RVs are not recommended, but we made it just fine in our 170 WB Mercedes Sprinter van!
Once at the top, you’ll find amazing views, different hikes, a gorgeous little lake, and paragliders soaring through the sky. And if you visit on a clear day, you may get to see Denali off in the distance!
One thing to keep in mind when visiting is that parking can be tight on a really busy day. There is enough room for approximately 20-30 cars in total. If it’s really busy, you may have to park along the side of the road, just before the pass overlook.
Summit Lake, which is located at the Hatcher Pass Summit, is a great stop for a picnic, an easy stroll, or to fish!
The lake is stocked with greyling and rainbow trout and this is where Adam caught his first rainbow trout! So if you’re an angler, we can confirm Summit Lake is fishy! Just don’t forget your fishing license.
April Bowl trail
Miles (roundtrip): 2.2
Elevation (gain): 856 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
If you want to get a hike in while visiting the Hatcher Pass Summit area, check out the April Bowl Trail. This trail starts from the Summit Lake parking area and while short, it definitely works the legs a bit!
You’ll climb up from the Summit Lake area to a couple small alpine lakes, which are a great spot to dip your toes. The views from this area are amazing, with the rugged peaks of Hatcher Pass right in front of you, plus snowy peaks off in the distance. We saw a bunch of paragliders too!
While you could turn around here, we recommend going all the way up to Hatch Peak. It’s a steep and rocky climb, but you’ll get a great view looking down on the lakes you just hiked past, plus higher views of the area.
This trail was one of the best surprises for us in Hatcher Pass. We sometimes assume that a short hike equals less views. But this hike is proof that you don’t always have to hike many miles for an amazing payoff!
Visit the Independence Mine State Historical Park
For the history lovers, the Independence Mine State Historical Park is a must visit!
Mining began in the area back in 1906 when Robert Lee Hatcher discovered and staked the first lode gold claim and many others followed his lead. Due to the high costs of operating these mines, operators merged.
What is now known as the Independence Mine actually started out as two different mining companies. It was combined in 1938, making it the second most productive hardrock gold mine in Alaska. At its peak it had about 200 employees, blasted almost 12 miles of tunnels, and recovered enough gold that in today’s money would be worth about $18 million.
The mine closed for good in 1951 and became Independence Mine State Historical Park in 1980. Since then, the state has worked to restore some of the remaining buildings and tunnels for visitors to enjoy.
We’ve visited several old mining towns, but this one may have the most gorgeous backdrop!
A few things to know before you go:
- The park is usually open from mid June to Labor Day.
- It costs $5 to park at the mine’s parking lot
- If you’re interested in going inside some of the buildings you’ll need to book a tour with Salmonberry Tours. They offer a 45 minute tour that tells the story of the mine, including the people, the tools, and the milling process. You’ll get to tour Bunkhouse No. 2, the General Managers House, and the Assay Office.
- If you’re hoping to strike it rich while in gold country, you can also pan for gold in the park as long as you’re only using a shovel.
Gold Cord Lake
Miles (roundtrip): 1.5
Elevation (gain): 482 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
Besides all the mining history and buildings to check out at the Independence Mine, there are also some trails nearby. The Gold Cord Lake trail begins right across the street from the mine’s main parking lot. And is well worth adding on to your time at the mine!
It’s a short hike, with a steady incline, that ends at the beautiful Gold Cord Lake, which is nestled in a bowl of towering jagged mountains. Similar to April Bowl, it’s amazing how much epic scenery you can see in Hatcher Pass without hiking for miles.
When we visited Gold Cord Lake, it was a gloomy day, but it was still stunning! In fact, the fog added a moodiness to the hike. And it gave us a different perspective of the area than we had the previous three sunny days!
Marmot Mountain (Fishhook trail)
Miles (roundtrip): 2.6
Elevation (gain): 1,948 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
If you’re really looking for a good workout, hike the Fishhook trail to Marmot Mountain! This hike gains almost 2,000 feet in around 1.3 miles. So it’s guaranteed to be a leg burner!
You will have views the entire way, so if going the entire way is too strenuous for you, going as far as you can is still worth it! While we personally didn’t hike this trail, it’s on our list for next time.
Visiting in the winter? Play in the snow!
Although you cannot hike these trails in the wintertime, that doesn’t mean you still can’t explore Hatcher Pass. If you find yourself in the area during the winter, Hatcher Pass is a playground for winter lovers!
The area gets snow sometimes as early as September and it can stick around until June or July, giving you a long season to enjoy the powder.
During the winter you can snowshoe, ski, snowboard, and snow mobile. To learn more about the winter activities and winter safety, check out this guide from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Planning your trip to Hatcher Pass
Where is Hatcher Pass?
Hatcher Pass is located in Southcentral Alaska, about 30 minutes north of the towns of Palmer and Wasilla and under 1.5 hours northeast of Anchorage. If you’re road tripping around Alaska it makes for a great detour on the way to or from Denali National Park or Valdez.
When to visit Hatcher Pass
Although Hatcher Pass can be enjoyed year round, the best time to visit Hatcher Pass for hiking and sightseeing would be the summer months between June and September.
As we mentioned above, the Hatcher Pass summit road does not even open until July 1 and usually closes by September 15. While some of these hikes are not on that road, it’s a good indication of when the conditions are best. If visiting on the earlier or later end of that timeframe, make sure to check AllTrails beforehand to get an idea of the conditions.
We explored Hatcher Pass at the very end of July and it was perfect. Despite it being a very rainy summer in Alaska, we lucked out with three sunny days and only one rainy day. Regardless of when you visit, make sure to have lots of layers on you for chilly mornings, rain, or surprise snow!
How long do you need in Hatcher Pass?
We’d suggest at least one full day to do one larger hike or multiple smaller ones, but two to four days will give you the chance to experience more of the area. Or go on an overnight backpacking trip!
We spent three and a half days in Hatcher Pass. The first two days were for our backpacking trip on the Gold Mint trail to the Mint Hut. We then spent one day hiking to Reed Lakes and April Bowl (this was a lot for one day!) and half a day visiting the mines and Gold Cord Lake.
In the future, we’d combine April Bowl with Gold Cord Lake and the mines, but due to weather forecasts, we wanted to do it on a nicer day.
Where to stay in and near Hatcher Pass
There are a handful of lodging options to choose from in and near the Hatcher Pass area.
Gold Mint Trailhead campsites
If you’d like to get a really early start, finish hiking late, or just need a quick and easy spot to sleep, you can tent camp at the Gold Mint Trailhead. This costs $15 per night, which you can pay via credit card at the pay station. These sites are located right by the parking lot and aren’t glamorous, but there is a restroom!
We also slept in our van at the trailhead, paying the $5 day use fee, and had no issues.
Government Peak Campground
The Government Peak Campground is located in Hatcher Pass, making it a convenient place to camp. This is a small, first come, first served campground with 8 sites. It is suitable for tents or small RVs and costs $15/site.
Hatcher Pass Lodge
The Hatcher Pass Lodge is an iconic accommodation in Hatcher Pass. If you Google Hatcher Pass, you’ll likely see photos of the handful of small red cabins on the sweeping valley floor. It’s a very photogenic location that makes for a relaxing stay just minutes from epic adventures!
The lodge offers 10 small, rustic cabins near the Independence Mine State Historical Park property. Also on property is the lodge and restaurant where you’ll find a continental breakfast each morning and you can order lunch, dinner, and drinks.
To top it all off there is a sauna just steps away from the lodge! Consider us sold!
Some other solid options in Palmer and nearby Wasilla include:
Alaska Knotty Pine B&B – Palmer
Pioneer Motel – Palmer
Alaska’s Lake Lucille Bed & Breakfast – Wasilla
Meier Lake Resort – Wasilla
Best Western Lake Lucille Inn – Wasilla
Things to know before visiting Hatcher Pass
Dogs are allowed on most trails
Your furry friend can join you in Hatcher Pass. But since this is bear country and a popular area for both humans and dogs, make sure to keep your pets under control. Not all humans or dogs (like our pup Kona) appreciate strange dogs running up to them. Also, please pick up after your dog (and pack it out)!
There is limited to no cell service in the Hatcher Pass area, so be sure to download offline Google Maps and AllTrails maps ahead of time. While some trails are well marked, others have junctions and aren’t as clear, so having an offline AllTrails map came in handy!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
The parking areas for many of the things we suggest to do in this guide cost $5 per day. The exceptions are the Reed Lakes trailhead and Summit Lake area. The Gold Mint trailhead does accept credit cards, but we did pay cash for the mine.
What to bring to Hatcher Pass
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. But here are a few items we really want to stress bringing with you to Hatcher Pass.
With rocky terrain at times, good shoes are a must! Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots.
Water filter and storage
We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go. There are water sources along the trail, like a creek and lakes, just make sure to filter it. We use the Sawyer water filtration kit!
Alaska is home to a variety of wildlife, including both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.
Although we didn’t see any bears in Hatcher Pass, they could be around, so carrying bear spray is highly recommended. We always have our bear spray strapped to our hip or chest when hiking on trails, plus next to us in our tent at night.
Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar.
If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Although we didn’t have an issue with mosquitos during our adventures in Hatcher Pass, we may have just gotten lucky. In order to not have a miserable time swatting mosquitoes all day, make sure to bring bug spray with DEET!
The region is very exposed, with little tree cover, so make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
You will be in a remote area with limited to no cell service. Having some sort of satellite communication device, like a Garmin inReach Mini, will be extremely valuable in case you need help. We take this with us everywhere and it has come in handy several times on our adventures, mostly to text family (not for SOS reasons thankfully)!
Many of the hikes in Hatcher Pass have steep and slick sections. Trekking poles may be useful for these portions. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!
Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. Carrying some layers will help you be prepared for all conditions in Alaska.
Rain jacket and rain pants
Similar to above, it can rain or snow any day of the year, so having rain gear is recommended. Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears a Columbia rain jacket.
Rain pants or waterproof pants are another highly recommended item that we did not have, but will hopefully have for future Alaska trips. Many trails in Alaska require you to go through brush, which can often be wet and soak your pants.
Ready to explore Hatcher Pass?
Pin this guide with the best things to do in Hatcher Pass to help plan your trip!