12 Parks in Palmer, Alaska

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Robert Wilson


Palmer is a charming and quaint town with city people and small-town values, vintage buildings, and Alaskan history, nestled in the heart of the lush Matanuska-Susitna valleys. Known as the “Gateway to Hatcher Pass”—a vast alpine landscape—and surrounded by mountain vistas dotted with hanging glaciers, this lovely town offers stunning scenery and adventure and is home to over 6,000 full-time residents.

Palmer’s warm summers brimming with 19+ hours of daylight are perfect to enjoy its 12 wonderful parks. With so many outdoor recreation options, it’s clear why Palmer is sometimes called Alaska’s Playground.

Whether you want to hike forested trails, explore the remnants of the historic colony that established the town in the 1930s, play disc golf, geocache, observe salmon runs and migrating trumpeter swans in the fall, skate at the covered ice rink, or enjoy a absorbing museum, Palmer’s parks have something for everyone.

Pioneer Peak Park


This 101-acre park sits at the base of the towering 4,000-foot Pioneer Peak, the signature peak overlooking Palmer. The peak got its name when a group of hopeful pioneers saw it while traveling up the Matanuska River by boat in 1935 to establish the Matanuska Colony that became Palmer. Today’s visitors and residents enjoy impressive views of Pioneer Peak from vantage points throughout the park.

Nested against a backdrop of cottonwood and spruce trees, this peaceful park features several miles of hiking and biking trails that traverse glacial kettle ponds and through forests, providing visitors an opportunity to potentially view moose and other wildlife. A children’s play area features play structures to spark young imaginations. Throughout the park, users will find picnic tables and benches ideal for a relaxing lunch or snack after exploring the trails. Events held at the park range from running races to craft fairs.

Colony Farm Park


Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Colony Farm Park encompasses 135 acres of forests, wetlands, and fields in a peaceful setting only two miles from downtown Palmer. The park preserves remnants of the historic Matanuska Colony including restored buildings and artifacts that tell the story of the colony families who relocated there from the Midwest during the Great Depression to farm the land.

Self-guided walking tours allow visitors to step back in time as they explore the four restored Matanuska Colony farm buildings—a dairy barn, horse barn, workshop, and house—outfitted with artifacts depicting farm life in the 1930s and 1940s heydays of the Colony. A brochure and interpretive signs tell the story of the challenging first years of the Colony and how perseverance led many colonists to eventually thrive here. The Palmer Historical Society manages this site.

In addition to exploring history, the network of trails through forests, along the edge of ponds, and into fields allows visitors to potentially view moose and other wildlife while hiking or cross country skiing. A playground, picnic shelter, disc golf course, and archery range provide additional recreation opportunities for families.

Musk Ox Farm Park


A trip to Palmer would not be complete without visiting the Musk Ox Farm Park which sits on 52 acres of Alaska’s great outdoors only 10 minutes from downtown. The entire Matunuska-Susitna valley in which Palmer rests used to be musk ox habitat during the Ice Age. The unique species disappeared from Alaska until an experiment in the 1950s brought musk ox here from Greenland to see if they could adapt. That successful endeavor led to the establishment of the Musk Ox Farm Park which now protects a sustainable captive herd of nearly 100 musk oxen living in natural conditions.

Visitors can observe the herd grazing on the tundra-like fields and hills from viewing platforms. Along the viewing loop, interpretive signs tell musk ox facts and history. The huge bulls with their long qiviut coats sweep the ground as they lumber along, while the calves innocently play king of the mountain on dirt mounds. Qiviut, the soft undercoat combed from the wild oxen, is eight times warmer than wool and very rare. The park’s gift shop sells exclusive qiviut items that help fund research.

Picnic tables scattered across the property allow visitors to relax with a snack while appreciating the park’s unobstructed panoramic views showcasing the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges stretching across the horizon. These tables also provide prime spots from which to watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky on dark nights.

Palmer Municipal Recreation Complex


Nestled amongst tall spruce trees near the shores of Glacier Lake, Palmer’s 20-acre Municipal Recreation Complex provides a focal point for year-round family recreation and community events. Facilities include the Ott Memorial Pool featuring lap lanes, diving boards, kid pools, and a 178-foot open flume slide; a rollerblade hockey rink and covered ice arena; Needle Arts Learning Center housed in the historic redmessagebox Colony schoolhouse; playground; and band shell with surrounding lawn seating for concertgoers.

The Needle Arts Learning Center features classroom space and guest fiber art exhibits. Instructors teach knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving classes here. Rollerblade hockey teams face off year-round thanks to Alaska’s cold temperatures that keep the outdoor rink frozen. Figure skaters take to the ice from October through March, with open skating offered on weekends.

From May through September, the pool delights kids and families seeking to cool off during long summer days. Musicians take the band shell stage for Wednesday summer concert series, while moviegoers spread blankets on the grass for Saturday evening films. The park comes alive the first week of August when thousands flock here for the Alaska State Fair featuring carnival rides on the lawn.

Veteran’s & Pioneer Park

Honoring Palmer’s history, this scenic 65-acre community park bordered by the Lazy Mountain range overlooks the convergence of the Matanuska and Knik Rivers. Its serene setting belies the devastation when the 1936 Good Friday earthquake collapsed the land here over 10 feet.

Today’s park visitors stroll along the Prayer Walk lined with interpretive signs recounting Palmer’s past. Points of interest include the Pioneer Plaza with a statue honoring early settlers; Boxcar Museum; Art Garden; Log Arch band shell alongside Glenn Highway bordering the park; and Veteran’s Wall.

The wooded terrain offers secluded spots to picnic or geocache using smartphones seeking the park’s hidden treasures. Hikers and mountain bikers follow scenic trails down to the rivers and along their shores. Winter finds folks cross country skiing and snow shoeing under the Northern Lights. Those wishing to extend their stay take advantage of the park’s campground (tent only).

Palmer Depot/Visitor’s Center


History and area recreation opportunities converge at the Palmer Depot Visitor Center complex highlighting the Alaska Railroad and happenings in Palmer and the Mat-Su Valley. Housed in the iconic two-story depot building constructed in 1935, the museum traces area history with artifacts and displays including those honoring military members. Visitors view presentations in the Blue Car about the region and grab Alaska travel brochures inside the depot.

Outside the museum, railroad enthusiasts admire the variety of train cars on display: box car, engine tender, steam engine, and luxury domed vista car allowing riders unobstructed views of Alaska’s sensational scenery. Youngsters eagerly climb the engines and cars, imaginations igniting pretend journeys across Alaska’s rugged and untamed lands those early trains traversed.

Adjacent Greenhouse Park provides a pleasant spot for a relaxing picnic after museum explorations. And connected to the complex, the 6-mile paved pathway stretching along the Knik River makes an ideal trail for walking, bicycling, or accessing Downtown Palmer merely a mile away.

Satcher Park


Nestled along the Glenn Highway providing unobstructed views of Pioneer Peak, this peaceful 10-acre park with scatterings of spruce and cottonwood trees offers visitors options for recreation and relaxation through its amenities. Sports enthusiasts take advantage of the athletic field, basketball and tennis courts, and skate park challenging BMX bikers with its bowls, concrete ramps and rails. Kids delight in the play structures and toy diggers.

Those seeking exercise access the trailhead here for the scenic Government Peak Recreational Trail winding 5 miles through forests past granite outcroppings to Government Peak. Trail trekkers absorb panoramic vistas of the Matanuska and Knik valleys, Talkeetna Mountains and Cook Inlet from the towering peak.

After hiking or biking along the highway pathway stretching from Satcher Park, visitors frequently stop here to picnic while admiring views of Pioneer Peak. Festivals like October’s world-class Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival take place in the park’s gathering spaces.

Palmer Ice Rink


Nestled downtown across the road from the iconic Colony Christmas Cottage, this covered ice arena provides winter skating opportunities October through March. Skaters take to the ice during open skates, participation increasing on Friday nights when colorful lights flash in tune with the music. Hockey teams practice here while parents and friends watch the fast action from heated bleachers.

To develop skating skills, folks enroll in group lessons or book private instruction. And youth and adult hockey leagues face off weekly, sticks clashing as pucks ricochet off walls. In January, skaters show their skills at the annual Ice Classic Competition. Birthday parties love celebrating on the ice with skates included in the party package. The Palmer Ice Rink provides winter fun with skate rentals available.

Traveler’s State Recreation Site


This 125-acre oasis with 70 campsites rests peacefully along the Matanuska River’s scenic banks only two miles north of Palmer. The park bursts with travelers and locals from late spring through fall taking advantage of its wealth of recreation opportunities amidst natural Alaska beauty. Visitors savor long summer days fishing for king and sockeye salmon swimming upriver to spawn, strolling the river’s shores, and watching birds in the onsite aviary originally constructed in 1963 featuring injured Alaska raptors that cannot be released into the wild.

Youngsters expend energy scrambling over the playground and splashing in the wading pool. Families and groups congregate for memorable picnics under the covered pavilions after cooking on the barbecues. Nature trails allow Trekking through forests filled with quintessential Alaska lush foliage during summer that provides brilliant gold and crimson displays come autumn.

Those craving water fun paddle blue kayaks and canoes rentable by the hour along the serene river featuring sweeping views of the Chugach Mountains. Friendly park rangers present enlightening evening programs on wildlife and nature inside the campground amphitheater. Travelers State Recreation Site offers access to Alaska’s stunning landscapes as an ideal base camp for Mat-Su Valley explorations and Palmer adventures.

Finger Lake State Recreation Area


Surrounded by the Talkeetna Mountains, this 480-acre oasis centered around two boreal forest-rimmed lakes provides visitors superb fishing, boating, hiking, and camping opportunities just four miles from downtown Palmer. From knobby tire dirt bikes to kayaks, visitors take advantage of Finger Lake’s off-highway vehicle and non-motorized trails circling the lakeshores. Trout fishing is catch and release using flies or lures with Arctic char occasionally caught.

Hikers traverse trails wandering through tranquil forests with occasional glimpses of beavers swimming across the lakes dotted with lily pads. Interpretive displays highlight natural history topics including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill’s effects still visible in residue layers underground which seep to the surface on rainy days at the Rainbow Peak spill site.

Groomed cross country ski trails allow winter visitors to explore the park’s peaceful, snow-covered terrain. Ice fishing for stocked rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and Arctic char draws anglers here in winter. Those wishing to fully unplug camp lakeside to the melodic sounds of loons serenading summer nights and cascading boreal chickadees flitting amongst towering spruce trees. With basic amenities, this slice of scenic Alaska wilderness is conveniently located minutes from downtown Palmer.

Palmer Library & Visitor Information Center

Centrally located downtown in the historic 1935 red brick Matanuska Colony office building, this architecturally appealing historic library also serves as Palmer’s Visitor Information Center. Tourists browse Alaska travel brochures and chat with friendly staff members to get local insider tips on experiencing Palmer and the Mat-Su Valley. Themed displays such as informative musk ox exhibits enhance visitors’ Alaska know-how, with musk ox qiviut yarn available to touch.

In addition to visitor amenities, library patrons surf the internet on public computers, check out books and movies, use free WiFi, and delve into the Alaska Reference Room featuring an extensive collection of books on Alaska history and reference resources. Children gather for interactive Storytime programs in the basement Youth Services Room also used for innovative maker activities like 3D printing workshops.

Outside, beautiful arctic willow, rose, and lilac gardens surrounding the patio provide sensational displays of color throughout summer. visitors frequently stop to snap selfies there with the building’s amazing flowering backdrop. Picnic tables on the sprawling lawn invite alfresco snacking after a stroll through downtown or visit to the pioneering history-steeped library.

Porter Community Fields


Providing over a dozen acres of recreation amenities, the Porter Community Fields sport complex rests between the Matanuska River and scenic foothills trailing up to the Chugach Mountains. Baseball and softball games happen on five fields, with soccer matches taking place on regulation-size and smaller fields. Youngsters scramble across three playground areas tailored for varying age groups.

Inside the field house, families gather around picnic tables for birthdays or between sibling ballgames. Visitors walk dogs on leashes along the perimeter pathway circling the complex. Athletes improve baseball batting skills at two enclosed batting cages adjacent the main building housing restrooms and concession stand.

Folks meet for runs or walks on the lengthy paved Glenn Highway bike path stretching from the complex over two miles west. Cross country skiers and snow machiners traverse winter trails in the expansive undeveloped borough lands bordering the back edge of the complex. Spectacular views of the Matanuska River, foothills and Chugach Mountains provide stunning scenery for players and fans throughout the complex.

Palmer Moose Preserve

Moose sightings occur often in this 140-acre nature preserve conveniently located right in Palmer thanks to a resident herd typically numbering over 50 giant mooseto the delight of visitors. A 2.3-mile packed gravel trail loops through the rolling terrain, traversing forests and hills with scenic overlooks allowing hikers to potentially glimpse bull moose with huge antlers, cow moose, and gangly legged awkward calves wandering the property. Interpretive signs provide interesting facts about moose behaviour and ecology.

The Alaska Moose Federation operates this site as a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary to conserve moose habitat and provide education. Public use is encouraged through self-guided visits,while respecting this remains the moose domain first. Picnic tables offer spots for snacking while scanning hills dotted with fireweed and forests for moose grazing on willow and birch saplings. Winter transforms the preserve into a peaceful wonderland with moose prints trailing across fresh snow.

As evident by the extensive and diverse parks within and surrounding Palmer, this charming town offers access to incredible mountain scenery, unique wildlife like musk oxen, pioneering history of the Matanuska Colony, and abundance of recreation opportunities. With lively community events, four distinct seasons featuring stunning seasonal foliage transformations, and endless daylight during summer—paired with small town friendliness—it’s easy to see why Palmer delights residents and visitors alike.

Conclusion

That covers overviews of 12 wonderful parks and recreation sites in and around Palmer, Alaska fit for visitors seeking scenery, adventure, history, wildlife viewing, and hometown hospitality. From pioneers who established this town in 1935 to the modern day residents who pride themselves on small-town living paired with big fun, the great out-doors beckon to be explored in Palmer, the Gateway to Alaska’s Playground.

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