12 Things To Do With Family In Palmer, Alaska

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Robert Wilson


Nestled in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Palmer is a charming small town with a rich agricultural history. Surrounded by gorgeous mountain views, lush farmland, and abundant wildlife, Palmer offers visitors plenty of family-friendly activities year-round.

From farm tours and harvest festivals to hiking and skiing, Palmer has something for everyone. Here are 12 of the top things to do with family when visiting Palmer, Alaska.

Visit The Reindeer Farm


One of the more unique attractions in Palmer is the Reindeer Farm. During set visiting hours, families can feed and pet these intriguing Arctic animals up-close as they learn about reindeer husbandry and the role these domesticated caribou have played in Alaska’s history.

Children will delight in seeing Santa’s helpers up close while adults can sample reindeer sausage and other specialty products available in the gift shop.

The Reindeer Farm allows visitors to safely feed and interact with reindeer. Kids and adults alike will enjoy getting to know these magical creatures up close while learning about their history and importance in Alaska. Make sure to bring a camera for some one-of-a-kind holiday photos and stop by the gift shop to bring home a piece of authentic Alaskan reindeer culture.

Address: 1701 S. Chugach St, Palmer, AK 99645

Go Fruit Picking


From lush berry fields to apple orchards, farms around Palmer overflow with fresh fruit during summer and early fall. Pick your own blueberries, raspberries, apples or pumpkins as a family – it’s a fun way to spend a crisp sunny afternoon and you get to enjoy the literal fruits of your harvest afterwards.

The warm summer months bring acres of ripe, juicy fruit to farms around Palmer. Heading out as a family to pick fresh blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and apples is a time-tested local tradition that makes for a perfect family outing. Kids will love searching the bushes for the biggest berries or climbing ladders to reach the shiniest apples. Afterwards, take home buckets overflowing with fresh-picked fruit to bake into pies, jam, or other tasty treats.

Some top U-Pick farms around Palmer include:

  • Papoose Creek Berry Farm
  • reindeer Farm
  • Arctic Organics

Hike Hatcher Pass

This mountain pass is one of the most scenic hiking areas near Palmer, especially in fall when the landscape glows with vibrant fall colors. The hiking trails here range from easy nature walks to more strenuous routes up into the Talkeetna Mountains. Families with young children can explore the scenic overlooks and peruse the historic buildings that make up the Hatcher Pass Gold Mine Historic Site.

Crisp alpine air, panoramic valley views, and trails winding through colorful autumn tundra are just some of what makes Hatcher Pass one of the best places for family-friendly hikes near Palmer. Easy looping trails like the Nature Walk and scenic drives like the Fishhook Road allow little legs to take in the mountain scenery without having to trek too far into the backcountry.

Meanwhile, more advanced trails leading deeper into the Talkeetna Mountains provide the perfect challenge for avid hiking families. Don’t forget to stop by the Hatcher Pass Gold Mine Historic Site to let kids explore old mining buildings and equipment first-hand.

Tour The Musk Ox Farm

The Musk Ox Farm near Palmer offers one-of-a-kind opportunities to observe these Ice Age animals up close in their natural habitat. Family-oriented tours provide a hands-on experience as you hand-feed the shaggy beasts and feel their soft woolly undercoat called qiviut. You’ll also learn how the Musk Ox project helped rescue these unique animals from extinction.

Part wildlife sanctuary and part fiber farm, the Musk Ox Farm allows visitors to meet these long-haired prehistoric creatures face-to-fuzzy-face. Family-friendly tours lead you out into the fields where you can feed musk ox snacks by hand and even pet their supersoft qiviut undercoats.

As you wander among the animals grazing peacefully on their scenic 80-acre farm, knowledgeable guides will share how “Oomingmak”, as the Iñupiaq people call them, were rescued from extinction in Alaska 100 years ago. Beyond close encounters with the musk ox herd, you can watch artisans transform qiviut into knitting yarn or shop for cozy local crafts in the gift shop. Don’t forget to pose the kids next to the towering musk ox statue out front for an epic family photo!

Address: 12850 E Archie Rd, Palmer, AK 99645

Explore Colony Farm

This living history site lets you stroll through a typical 1935 Alaska pioneer homestead, complete with a farmhouse, barn, chicken coop and vegetable gardens. Costumed interpreters demonstrate heritage farming skills from the Matanuska Colony period, while special seasonal events like hog butchering teach about historic survival skills. It’s free to explore the farm at your own pace along the walking trail.

Step back in time to 1935 Palmer when you visit Colony Farm Museum. This living history site brings you inside a typical farming homestead from the Matanuska Colony era through preserved buildings filled with period furnishings and equipment. As you follow the walking trail past the chicken coop, barn, outhouse and livestock pens, costumed guides share stories of early pioneer grit and ingenuity.

Seasonal activities let kids try heritage skills first-hand, whether planting potatoes in the vegetable garden, grinding grain in the millhouse or visiting farm animals like draft horses. Special events like hog butchering demonstrations showcase historic survival skills from sausage making to soap boiling. Opening hours vary by season, so check their schedule before visiting. With interactive exhibits and rustic architecture nestled under the Chugach Mountains, Colony Farm makes history exciting for families.

Address: Mile 2 Palmer-Wasilla Hwy, Palmer, AK 99645

Pick Up Local Goods at The Palmer Farmers Market

From just-picked produce to artisanal food products and handmade crafts, the lively Palmer Farmers Market and Street Fair is the place to sample authentic local goods while supporting local vendors and craftspeople. The weekly Sunday market runs June through September and features live music and a festive atmosphere reminiscent of small-town street fairs.

For an authentic taste of Palmer’s vibrant local food scene, visit the weekly Sunday Farmers Market held downtown in the summer months. Stroll the outdoor market browsing farm-fresh fruits and veggies, artisan baked goods, honey, fresh-cut flowers and brewed beverages from over 50 Mat-Su vendors. Beyond edible treats, 140+ craft, antique and flea market vendors also offer home & garden wares, upcycled creations, jewelry, knitwear and more.

Grab lunch from a food truck or spread out a picnic blanket on the lawn to enjoy ready-to-eat snacks as you soak up summer tunes from live musical acts. The kids will love exploring the market’s winding booths and festive atmosphere while parents can support the local economy. Open Sunday mornings mid-May through early-September.

Go Gold Panning On Fish Creek

Relive the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush glory days by panning for real gold flakes and nuggets in the clear glacial streams around Palmer. Guided expeditions with local mining history experts teach proper panning techniques for sifting gold from creek sediments. Or obtain a recreational mining permit to try DIY recreational gold panning with the family along Fish Creek and experience why this area attracted hopeful prospectors.

Rich gold deposits lurking in the silt-filled streams around Palmer give visitors of all ages a chance to strike it rich panning for real glittering flakes and nuggets. Local guides lead half-day “Mining for Gold” adventures along remote creek beds that provide hands-on lessons in old-fashioned prospecting techniques. Using traditional metal gold pans, you’ll churn through bucket loads of gravel scooped from the creek bed, patiently washing away lighter sediments until small yellow glints begin swirling in the bottom of your pan.

Or for more DIY prospecting, pick up a recreational mining permit at the Mat-Su Borough offices to pan for gold along Fish Creek. Just be sure to reference regulations on allowable panning locations and cleanup procedures. Whether you discover fist-sized nuggets or tiny golden flecks, panning for authentic Alaskan gold makes for memorable family adventures.

Attend the Alaska State Fair

Every summer, Palmer hosts thousands of visitors who flock to its acclaimed Alaska State Fair featuring carnival rides, live music, quirky contests and lots of livestock exhibitions. Families will love exploring the sprawling fairgrounds to sample fair fare, admire prize-winning giant vegetables, catch a show, or cheer on piglet races around the track!

Biggest. VEGGIES. EVER – BABY ANIMAL BARN!!! Just a couple reasons your family will go crazy for the acclaimed Alaska State Fair held annually for two weeks near the end of August. Sneak eaten-here corndogs in for breakfast before challenging dad to a spinning carnival ride-off. Watch talented Alaskans compete in everything from giant cabbage weighing to outhouse races.

Fuel up on chocolate dipped bacon before cooing over sleepy piglets and adorable has-been racehorses enjoying retirement in the Baby Animal Barn. Catch an ear-splitting demolition derby before stocking up on prize-winning jams and jellies. Enjoying concerts under the midnight sun is all part of the non-stop family fun. So hop the free shuttle from Palmer to enjoy this beloved end-of-summer family tradition in the Mat-Su Valley.

Go Dogsledding on Local Trails

The snowy landscapes surrounding Palmer offer prime terrain for dog sled expeditions and lessons. Local mushers run family-friendly tours ranging from one hour rides pulled by eager sled dogs to multi-day mushing adventures into Alaska’s remote winter wilderness. Glide through snow-draped forests as the dogs eagerly run the trails they know and love.

The breathtaking winter scenery around Palmer provides the perfect playground for dog sled adventures ranging from short rides to extended backcountry expeditions. Snuggle under cozy blankets as a team of energetic dogs pulls your sled down miles of snow-covered trails through silent forests and mountain valleys.

Local guides can customize trips from hour-long rides giving the whole family a thrilling taste of mushing to multi-day snow camping adventures traversing Alaska’s remote wilderness by traditional sled travel. You’ll learn the nuances of driving your team as the lead dog navigates winding routes they know by heart. Back home, kids will be yearning for their very own sled dog team after this quintessential Alaska family experience.

Popular operators include:

  • Husky Homestead Tours
  • Windsock Sled Dog Tours
  • Denali West Sled Dog Tours

Attend the Midnight Sun Festival

Celebrate the summer solstice on the longest day of the year at Palmer’s lively Midnight Sun Festival! This beloved community event in mid-June features a parade, bed races, chainsaw carving, beer garden, carnival rides and a street fair showcasing work by local artists and craft vendors. Live music continues late into the evening under Alaska’s never-setting summer sun.

When summer sunshine lasts almost round the clock, why not throw a party? That’s what Palmer locals have done each summer solstice for over four decades at the wacky weekend-long Midnight Sun Festival. Families eager to celebrate the longest day of the year will love this quirky community event packed with good old-fashioned fun for all ages.

Marvel at master chainsaw carvers transforming raw tree trunks during the day before lining main street to cheer bedazzled bed racers careening by. Continue the revelry at Colony Days with pioneer parades, stick horse rodeo and a lively old-time fair transporting you back to 1935. Let kids blow off steam on carnival rides into the late evening hours. The tradition-steeped weekend wraps up with foot-stomping concerts under Alaska’s midnight sun – all just a hop from Anchorage down the Parks Highway!

Go Berry Picking


From wild low-bush cranberries to lush cultivated blueberry varieties, berry picking opportunities abound on Mat-Su Valley farms when fields ripen mid-summer. Many farms offer pick-your-own berries with kids gobbling almost as many ripe morsels as they gather into their buckets! Take home heaps of sweet berries for homemade jams, baked treats and berries with morning cereal.

When summer sunshine sweetens local berries around Palmer, head out as a family to pluck juicy ripe fruit straight from the bush. Ramble down tidy farm rows munching sun-warmed blueberries, raspberries and strawberries as you fill buckets with plump picked-that-morning bounty. Let kids discover and sample unfamiliar berry varieties they’ll rarely find in stores, like delicate wild salmonberries or tart low-bush cranberries growing amid green tundra.

You may end up with mixed berry jams that taste like no other thanks to unique northern berries locals have enjoyed for generations. While kids are tempted to snack away the haul, you’ll still end up with heaping helpings of ripe fruit bursting with sweet summer flavor for turnover pies, homemade ice cream and fruit smoothies to enjoy for weeks after your berry picking outing.

Popular U-pick berry farms around Palmer include:

  • Reindeer Farm
  • Arctic Organics
  • VanderWeele Farm

Catch Fish on Local Rivers

Famed for world-class salmon fishing, Palmer area rivers like the Matanuska and Knik also harbor rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and grayling to hook families on angling fun. Accessible shore fishing spots abound with kids eagerly reeling in fish after fish from these storied waters. Or book guided river adventures to angles’ hot spots surrounded by spectacular scenery.

With its prime position between two of Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers, families visiting Palmer won’t have any trouble reeling in impressive catches to grill up riverside. The silty Matanuska churns through town transporting sockeye salmon from the ocean back to natal headwaters every summer. Meanwhile Dolly Varden lurk in deep pools as fat rainbow trout dart among glacial boulders tumbling down from towering peaks framing the valley.

Pack the kids’ tackle boxes with size 6 hooks, silver spinners and weighted spoons to start hooking fish after fish once you locate any shoreline eddy or riffle zone to cast into. Not experienced river anglers? Book a guide to unlock the rivers’ best hidden holes where savage strikes yank lines taut as rods lurch and reels sing. However you cast your line, Palmer promises beginners and avid anglers alike bountiful family fishing under the midnight sun.

Sign Up For Acting Camp at the Theatre In the Woods


This beloved community theater company offers summer youth acting workshops for elementary through high school ages. Camps range from half to full day programs focused on acting fundamentals, improvisation techniques, voice work and performance. Public presentations give young thespians a chance to showcase their new talents for family and friends!

Let your aspiring actors steal the spotlight by signing them up for summer drama camps at the Theatre In the Woods just outside Palmer. Half and full day sessions running 1-2 weeks give interested thespians ages 7-18 a chance to unlock natural talents and gain confidence through hands-on acting skill building. Professional actor-educators lead students in theater games, improv exercises, voice work and scene studies – culminating in a short student-created production.

Support friends and family will delight seeing campers’ newfound dramatic talents shine as they perform original sketches and monologues on the charming wooded center stage. Beyond budding acting abilities, your child will forge friendships with other creative kids who share their interest in the dramatic arts. Reserve early as these in-demand workshops fill quickly thanks to the inclusive, supportive environment the theater fosters. Give your talented young performer their first taste of the limelight this summer at Theatre In the Woods!

Conclusion


With gorgeous scenery, rich agricultural heritage and a vibrant community spirit, the small town of Palmer offers visitors authentic Alaskan charm paired with diverse family attractions. Kids and adults alike will delight in adventures like meeting Santa’s reindeer, panning for gold nuggets and picking buckets of ripe berries under the midnight sun.

Shared memories made while hiking alpine trails, whooshing through the snow behind sled dogs or cheering at the beloved State Fair will draw your family back to remarkable Palmer year after year.

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