12 Things To Do in Wasilla, Alaska

Last Updated on March 7, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Wasilla is a small town located in southcentral Alaska, about 40 miles north of Anchorage. With its mountain views, abundance of outdoor activities, and proximity to some of Alaska’s most iconic natural landmarks, Wasilla makes for a great base to explore the surrounding wilderness.

ActivityDescription
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race HeadquartersFeatures exhibits, kennels, sled dog cart rides, and Champion’s Park.
Hike Around Hatcher PassOffers scenic trails, historical gold mining sites, and panoramic views.
Whitewater Rafting on the Talkeetna RiverAdventure through rapids with scenic views and wildlife spotting opportunities.
Explore Historic Buildings of KnikVisit early pioneer structures and learn the area’s history.
Glacier Cruise on Matanuska GlacierExperience the glacier up close with guided tours.
Flightseeing Tour Over Denali National ParkAerial views of Denali and its surrounding wilderness.
Pan for Gold at Discovery ClaimGold panning experience with historical insights.
Tour the Alaska State FairgroundsExplore local art installations and historical exhibits.
Wine Tasting in the Matanuska ValleySample local wines in Alaska’s unique vineyards.
Hike Mount Baldy Braden TrailEnjoy fall colors and stunning views from the trail.
Learn at the Alaskan Heritage MuseumDiscover the culture and history of Alaska’s indigenous people.
Shop at Wasilla Saturday MarketLocal market offering fresh produce, crafts, and local specialties.

Though Wasilla itself is relatively quiet, it still offers plenty for visitors to see and do during their stay. From exploring historic pioneer sites to taking flightseeing tours of nearby Denali, Wasilla and its surroundings will give you a quintessential Alaskan experience.

Visit the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters

Name and Location: Visit the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters – The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters is located in Wasilla, Alaska, just off the Parks Highway. The headquarters serves as the nerve center for the annual Iditarod race, which covers over 1,000 miles of rugged Alaskan wilderness from Anchorage to Nome.

History and Significance: The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a long and storied history dating back to the early 1900s, when sled dogs were used to transport mail and supplies across the rugged Alaskan wilderness. The race itself was first run in 1973 as a way to preserve the sled dog culture and the historic Iditarod Trail. Today, the race is a beloved Alaskan tradition and draws mushers and spectators from around the world. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters serves as a museum, gift shop, and administrative center for the race.

What to Expect: Visiting the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters is a must-do for anyone interested in the history and culture of the Iditarod. The headquarters features exhibits on the history of the race, the sled dogs that make it possible, and the mushers who have become legends in the sport. Visitors can also watch videos of past races, see real racing sleds and gear, and even meet some of the sled dogs that have competed in the race. The headquarters also has a gift shop with Iditarod-themed merchandise, including books, clothing, and souvenirs.

Visitor Information: The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters is open year-round, with varying hours depending on the season. Admission is free, although donations are accepted to support the work of the Iditarod Trail Committee. The headquarters is located just off the Parks Highway in Wasilla, with plenty of parking available. If you’re visiting during the race itself, which typically takes place in early March, be sure to check the race schedule and plan accordingly, as the headquarters can be busy with race-related activities.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is one of Alaska’s most iconic winter events. While the 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome takes place in March, you can still get your fill of sled dog action in Wasilla year-round.

The Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters features informational exhibits detailing the history of the race, as well as kennels where you can see sled dogs and even take a summertime cart ride. Don’t miss the Champion’s Park, where you’ll find bronze statues commemorating past winners of the race.

Hike Around Hatcher Pass

Name and Location: Hike Around Hatcher Pass – Hatcher Pass is a scenic mountain pass located in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska, about an hour north of Anchorage. The pass is a popular destination for hiking, with a variety of trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding wilderness.

History and Significance: Hatcher Pass has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s, when gold was discovered in the area. The pass was named after Robert Hatcher, a local prospector who staked many of the early claims in the region. Today, the pass is known for its stunning natural beauty and its role in Alaska’s mining history, with several historic mines and buildings still visible along the trails.

What to Expect: Hiking around Hatcher Pass offers a variety of options for adventurers of all skill levels. The pass features several well-maintained trails that range from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry routes. Some of the most popular hikes include the Gold Cord Lake Trail, which leads to a stunning alpine lake, and the Reed Lakes Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Hikers should come prepared for changing weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including sturdy shoes, warm layers, and plenty of water.

Visitor Information: Hatcher Pass is open year-round, although some trails and roads may be closed during the winter months due to snow. The pass is located about an hour north of Anchorage, and can be accessed via the Hatcher Pass Road. There are several parking areas and trailheads located along the road, with restroom facilities and picnic areas available at some locations. Hikers should be aware of the potential for bear encounters in the area and take appropriate precautions, such as carrying bear spray and making noise while on the trail.

Located about 30 miles north from Wasilla, Hatcher Pass is a mountain pass and recreational area beloved for its scenic hiking trails and gold mining history. Hike along the lush Independence Mine Trail for gorgeous views of mountain peaks and the remains of an old gold mining operation.

For more of a challenge, tackle the steep Summit Trail, which rewards climbers with unbeatable panoramas from its high alpine terrain. Be on the lookout for moose and bears as you explore the area’s forests and meadows filled with wild berries.

Go Whitewater Rafting on the Talkeetna River

Name and Location: Go Whitewater Rafting on the Talkeetna River – The Talkeetna River is a popular destination for whitewater rafting in the Mat-Su Valley, with several local tour operators offering guided trips. The river is located near the town of Talkeetna, about two hours north of Anchorage.

History and Significance: The Talkeetna River has long been a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in Alaska, with its crystal-clear waters and stunning natural beauty drawing visitors from around the world. The river is fed by glacial meltwater from the nearby Alaska Range, which gives it its distinctive blue color and icy temperature. Whitewater rafting on the Talkeetna River has become increasingly popular in recent years, with several local tour operators offering guided trips for adventurers of all skill levels.

What to Expect: Whitewater rafting on the Talkeetna River is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that will leave you breathless. The river features several class III and IV rapids, which provide plenty of thrills and excitement for experienced rafters. However, many local tour operators also offer beginner-friendly trips that are suitable for families and first-time rafters. During the trip, you’ll navigate through the rapids and eddies of the river, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests. You may even spot some of the local wildlife, including bald eagles, moose, and bears.

Visitor Information: There are several local tour operators that offer guided whitewater rafting trips on the Talkeetna River, including Denali Raft Adventures, Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures, and Nova River Runners. Trips typically last between two and four hours and include all necessary gear and equipment, as well as transportation to and from the river. Prices vary depending on the length of the trip and the specific operator, but typically range from $100 to $200 per person. Be sure to book your trip in advance, as spots can fill up quickly during peak season.

For an adventurous day trip from Wasilla, take a scenic drive about 60 miles north to raft down the Talkeetna River. You’ll traverse Class II to IV rapids as you flow past beautiful birch forests filled with birds. Experienced guides will navigate you through thrilling—yet family-friendly—rapids like Caribou Creek and the notorious Chunilna Chutes. At the end of your wildlife-filled rafting adventure, you can enjoy unparalleled views of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) from the banks of the Talkeetna River.

Explore the Historic Buildings of Knik

Name and Location: Explore the Historic Buildings of Knik – Knik is a small, unincorporated community located about 30 miles north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Valley. The community is known for its historic buildings and artifacts, which offer a glimpse into the area’s rich history and cultural heritage.

History and Significance: Knik was once a bustling center of trade and commerce in the Mat-Su Valley, with a thriving population of Native Alaskans, gold miners, and settlers. The community was established in the late 1800s and served as a stopover point for travelers and traders making their way to and from the interior of Alaska. Today, Knik is a small, quiet community, but its historic buildings and artifacts serve as a testament to its rich history and cultural significance.

What to Expect: Exploring the historic buildings of Knik is a fascinating way to learn about the history and culture of the Mat-Su Valley. The community features several well-preserved historic buildings, including the Knik Museum, which is housed in a restored 1920s-era schoolhouse. The museum features exhibits on the history of Knik and the surrounding area, including artifacts from the gold mining era and the Native Alaskan culture. Visitors can also take a self-guided walking tour of the community, which includes stops at several other historic buildings and sites.

Visitor Information: Knik is located about 30 miles north of Anchorage, off the Old Glenn Highway. The community is small and unincorporated, with limited services and amenities. The Knik Museum is open seasonally, typically from June through August, with varying hours depending on the day of the week. Admission to the museum is free, although donations are accepted to support its operations and programs. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including sturdy shoes and warm layers.

Just across Knik Arm from Anchorage, the small settlement of Knik has an outsized history. This area was one of the first European settlements in Alaska, and you can still see remnants of early pioneer life. Browse Knik’s log roadhouse and church built in the early 1900s, both maintained as museum exhibits filled with artifacts chronicling frontier life. Walk along the raised boardwalk overlooking the salt marshes and tidal flats to see how indigenous peoples and early settlers subsisted from the land’s natural bounty.

Take a Glacier Cruise on Matanuska Glacier

Name and Location: Take a Glacier Cruise on Matanuska Glacier – Matanuska Glacier is a massive valley glacier located about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Valley. The glacier is a popular destination for visitors looking to experience the beauty and majesty of Alaska’s glacial landscape.

History and Significance: Matanuska Glacier is one of the largest and most accessible glaciers in Alaska, with a history dating back thousands of years. The glacier was formed during the last ice age and has been slowly retreating over the past several centuries. Today, the glacier is a popular destination for visitors looking to experience the beauty and power of Alaska’s glacial landscape, with several local tour operators offering guided hikes and ice climbing excursions.

What to Expect: Taking a glacier cruise on Matanuska Glacier is an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of the power and beauty of nature. The cruise typically lasts several hours and takes place on a specially designed boat that can navigate the icy waters of the glacier’s terminal lake. During the cruise, you’ll get an up-close look at the massive ice walls and towering seracs of the glacier, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. You may even spot some of the local wildlife, including mountain goats, bears, and bald eagles.

Visitor Information: There are several local tour operators that offer guided glacier cruises on Matanuska Glacier, including MICA Guides and Nova Alaska Guides. Cruises typically depart from a staging area near the glacier’s terminal lake, which is located about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage. Prices vary depending on the length of the cruise and the specific operator, but typically range from $200 to $500 per person. Be sure to book your cruise in advance, as spots can fill up quickly during peak season. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including warm layers and sturdy shoes.

One of Alaska’s few glaciers that is accessible by car, Matanuska Glacier makes for a memorable day trip from Wasilla. Hop on a glacier cruise to get up close and personal with the towering blue ice formation, which stretches over 27 miles long and 4 miles wide.

As your experienced guide navigates through icebergs in Lake George, keep an eye out for mountain goats scaling steep cliffs and bald eagles nesting in trees. Certain tours allow you to actually step foot on the glacier to experience its cracked surface firsthand.

Soar Over Denali National Park on a Flightseeing Tour

Name and Location: Soar Over Denali National Park on a Flightseeing Tour – Denali National Park is a vast wilderness area located about 240 miles north of Anchorage in the Alaska Range. The park is home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), which stands at 20,310 feet tall. One of the best ways to experience the park’s stunning natural beauty is by taking a flightseeing tour.

History and Significance: Denali National Park was established in 1917 and has since become one of Alaska’s most popular tourist destinations. The park is known for its stunning natural beauty, with vast expanses of tundra, glaciers, and towering peaks. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep. Flightseeing tours have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering visitors a unique and breathtaking perspective on the park’s natural wonders.

What to Expect: Soaring over Denali National Park on a flightseeing tour is an unforgettable experience that will leave you breathless. Tours typically last between one and three hours and take place in small, high-wing aircraft that offer stunning views of the park’s natural beauty. During the tour, you’ll fly over the rugged peaks and glaciers of the Alaska Range, with the chance to see Denali up close and personal. You may also spot some of the park’s iconic wildlife from above, including bears, wolves, and caribou.

Visitor Information: There are several local tour operators that offer flightseeing tours over Denali National Park, including K2 Aviation, Talkeetna Air Taxi, and Denali Air. Tours typically depart from Talkeetna, which is located about 60 miles south of the park entrance. Prices vary depending on the length of the tour and the specific operator, but typically range from $300 to $500 per person. Be sure to book your tour in advance, as spots can fill up quickly during peak season. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including warm layers and sturdy shoes.

While the crown jewel of Alaska’s national parks sits about 135 miles north of Wasilla, you can take to the skies for breathtaking aerial views of 20,310-foot Denali and its surrounding wilderness. Flightseeing plane or helicopter tours take off daily from Wasilla for this bucket list adventure that soars over glacier-carved valleys, towering granite spires, and wildlife like Dall sheep and grizzly bears dotting the landscape down below. With Alaska’s famously fickle weather, fly early in your trip for the best chance at crystal-clear views of North America’s tallest peak from base to summit.

Pan for Gold at Discovery Claim

Name and Location: Pan for Gold at Crow Creek Mine – Crow Creek Mine is a historic gold mine located in Girdwood, Alaska, about 40 miles south of Anchorage. The mine offers visitors the chance to try their hand at panning for gold and learn about the area’s rich mining history.

History and Significance: Crow Creek Mine was established in 1896 and quickly became one of the most productive mines in the Girdwood area. The mine operated continuously until the 1940s, producing thousands of ounces of gold over the years. Today, the mine is privately owned and operated as a tourist attraction, offering visitors the chance to learn about the area’s mining history and try their hand at panning for gold.

What to Expect: Panning for gold at Crow Creek Mine is a fun and educational experience that is suitable for visitors of all ages. Upon arrival at the mine, you’ll receive a brief orientation on the history of the mine and the basics of gold panning. You’ll then be given a pan and shown how to properly swirl and sift the sediment to look for gold. The mine has several panning areas set up along the creek, with staff members on hand to offer guidance and assistance. If you’re lucky, you may even find a few flakes of gold to take home as a souvenir!

Visitor Information: Crow Creek Mine is open seasonally, typically from mid-May through mid-September. The mine is located about 3 miles up Crow Creek Road in Girdwood, with plenty of parking available on site. Admission to the mine includes a gold panning demonstration and the use of a pan and other equipment. Prices vary depending on the age of the visitor, but typically range from $15 to $25 per person. The mine also offers guided tours and gold panning lessons for an additional fee. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including sturdy shoes and warm layers.

Try your hand at gold panning like early Alaskan prospectors once did near Wasilla at Discovery Claim. Learn to swirl sediment from the historic Palmer Creek in a pan until small flecks of gold become visible. Situated near scenic Hatcher Pass on the site of an original 1930s gold mining operation, Discovery Claim issues each visitor a permit for whatever gold flakes and nuggets they uncover during their visit. Bring your findings into their on-site assay office to discover their unique mineral composition and estimated monetary value as a unique keepsake.

Tour the Alaska State Fairgrounds

Name and Location: Tour the Alaska State Fairgrounds – The Alaska State Fairgrounds are located in Palmer, Alaska, about 45 miles north of Anchorage. The fairgrounds host the annual Alaska State Fair, which is one of the largest events in the state and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

History and Significance: The Alaska State Fair has a long and storied history dating back to 1936, when the first fair was held in Palmer. The fair was originally established to showcase the agricultural bounty of the Matanuska Valley and to promote the area’s growing economy. Over the years, the fair has grown and evolved, becoming a beloved annual tradition for Alaskans and visitors alike. Today, the fair features a wide variety of exhibits, entertainment, and activities, including carnival rides, live music, and agricultural competitions.

What to Expect: Touring the Alaska State Fairgrounds is a fun and exciting way to experience the sights, sounds, and flavors of one of Alaska’s most beloved annual events. During the fair, which typically takes place in late August and early September, visitors can explore a wide variety of exhibits and attractions, including livestock shows, arts and crafts displays, and culinary competitions. The fairgrounds also feature a midway with carnival rides and games, as well as several stages featuring live music and entertainment. Visitors can also sample a wide variety of food and drink, including classic fair favorites like funnel cakes and corn dogs.

Visitor Information: The Alaska State Fairgrounds are located in Palmer, Alaska, about 45 miles north of Anchorage. The fairgrounds are easily accessible by car, with plenty of parking available on site. Admission to the fair varies depending on the day and time of entry, but typically ranges from $10 to $15 per person. The fair also offers several special event days, including military appreciation day and senior day, with discounted admission prices. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate gear, including comfortable shoes and warm layers.

Every late August, the Alaska State Fair transforms Wasilla into a bustling festival filled with concerts, carnival rides, agricultural exhibits featuring giant vegetables, and quintessential fair food. While the fair only lasts a couple weeks annually, you can still visit the fairgrounds throughout the year to wander exploring local art installations.

Don’t miss the giant Alaska map made of selective timber and the pioneer museum village transporting you back in time to Frontier Alaska. The lush gardens showcase varieties that manage to thrive despite harsh winter conditions.

Go Wine Tasting in the Matanuska Valley

Name and Location: Go Wine Tasting in the Matanuska Valley – The Matanuska Valley is a scenic agricultural region located about an hour north of Anchorage. In recent years, the valley has become known for its thriving wine industry, with several local wineries offering tastings

Did you know that grapes can grow as far north as Alaska? Thanks to an unusually long growing season and fertile soil, the Matanuska Valley is now known as Alaska’s wine country. Located just a quick drive east from Wasilla, you’ll find tasting rooms pouring award winners made from hardy hybrid grapes able to withstand winter temps dropping well below zero degrees. Sip fruit-forward wines as you take in views of towering peaks surrounding vineyards producing varietals like white wine Solar Flare and Raspberry Mead wine Arctic Rose.

Hike Through Majestic fall-color along Mount Baldy Braden Trail

Come September, the valleys and peaks surrounding Wasilla transform into a kaleidoscope of dazzling fall colors. For a front-row view, take the 3-mile hike up Mount Baldy. This steep trail passes through vibrant stands of aspen and birch trees, eventually opening up to spectacular views from an elevation of 2,130 feet.

From the top, gaze out at the changing tapestry of gold, orange, and red leaves cloaking entire mountainsides as far as the eye can see. With fall foliage emerging earlier at higher elevations, this is one of the best hikes to catch the peak of autumn’s brilliance near Wasilla. Just remember to dress in layers to stay comfortable no matter the conditions.

Learn About Native Alaskan Culture at the Alaskan Heritage Museum

Wasilla offers a chance to immerse yourself in the culture of Alaska’s indigenous Athabascan people at the Alaskan Heritage Museum. This small museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts chronicling the lifeways and traditions that Alaska natives have passed down for generations.

Peruse traditional hunting tools, fur clothing essential for frigid winters, and even an authentic log cabin dwelling giving you a glimpse into past village life. Don’t miss the elevated cache for storing whale, walrus, and seal meat to keep important food sources safe from scavenging animals.

Shop Local at Wasilla Saturday Market

One final recommendation for getting a taste of local Wasilla is by browsing the lively Wasilla Saturday Market. Running weekly from May through September, this extensive farmers market and flea market features local artists and growers from around the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Sample just-picked berries and vegetables that manage to ripen during quick Alaskan summers.

Peruse handcrafted knit goods, etched wildlife scenes on antler sheds, fresh-cut flowers, and baked Alaska seafood treats. With live acoustic music and unique finds nowhere else, the Wasilla Saturday Market perfectly encapsulates local culture.

Conclusion


From exploring gold rush history to viewing fall foliage, Wasilla provides easy access to quintessential Alaskan experiences just outside your door. Use the town as a basecamp for flightseeing Denali National Park or as a jumping-off point for Matanuska Glacier tours and rafting the Talkeetna River.

Or stay right in Wasilla to gain insight into the indigenous Athabascan heritage at local museums and markets. However you choose to spend your time, Wasilla offers the perfect blend of outdoor adventure, pioneer spirit, and Alaskan culture to discover during your next northern escape.

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