With Alaska’s infamous beautiful weather here for the summer — at least between rain storms — Valley residents might be looking for some unique ways to take advantage of the long days outdoors. The region is an endless wealth of outdoor activities, but without a plan of attack it’s easy to let the summer days slip by.
If you need a little outdoor inspiration, try one of these family and adult-friendly adventures.
Play Valley tourist. With a world of trails, festivals, food trucks and fun in the Valley’s core area, summer can slip by without ever leaving Palmer or Wasilla. But planning a day trip up to Talkeetna and Denali State Park or over to Glacier View and the Matanuska Glacier is well worth the effort, with plenty of things to do in each area at all price points.
In Talkeetna, X and Y Lakes boasts an incredible network of mountain bike and hiking trails, plus some great swimming from the Borough-maintained beaches. From Talkeetna’s downtown you can rent bikes, book flight-seeing tours and grab food at a variety of delicious restaurants. A drive farther north will take you into Denali State Park where you can check out the new and family-friendly Curry Ridge trail from Kesugi Ken. Or, take on something more challenging by climbing up to Kesugi Ridge from Byers Lake.
If you haven’t headed up the Glenn Highway in a while, Glacier View is well worth the gorgeous drive. While the Matanuska Glacier Park no longer offers self-guided glacier access, Alaskans can book a short tour for $35 per-person through that business, or book a longer, four hour or more tour with nearby MICA Guides. Prices there start at $89 for adults, with a discount for Alaskans using code “AKLocalsRule” (must show Alaska ID upon arrival). When you’re done, head up to Sheep Mountain Lodge for a burger and a slice of their can’t-miss pie.
Go on a playground crawl. The Valley boasts multiple fun playgrounds that make perfect destinations for families looking to soak in the sun and work out some wiggles. Pack some snacks and take the kids on a Valley playground crawl, visiting all of the destinations over a day or afternoon. Start at the Matanuska River Park playground and A-Moosement Park playgrounds in Palmer, before heading to Newcomb Park and, finally, Nunley Park in Wasilla.
Test the ice cream stops. Rumor has it Alaskans consume the most ice cream per-capita of any state in the U.S. Summer is the perfect time to pull your weight for that statistic. When was the last time you stopped at Turner’s Corner to see if their soft serve is actually the “world’s best” like the sign claims? Hit up the new Big Dipper Ice Cream and the Art Cafe in Palmer, Turner’s Corner near Hatcher Pass and Little Miller’s in Big Lake for a complete picture of Valley options.
Go for a swim (without the swimmer’s itch). The warmer the weather, the more pervasive the annoying swimmer’s itch can be for the many who have the allergic reaction caused by microscopic parasites in some Valley lakes. The trick for avoiding it entirely? Swim early in the season, or head to a swimming hole where it isn’t a known issue. Residents have reported Matanuska Lake to be safe in the past years, while Man-Made Lake off Knik River Road is always clear thanks to its fresh water flow from the Knik River.
Take a cycling tour. There’s nothing quite as fun as the whole family hopping on bikes and taking a cruise down one of the Valley’s many designated paths. Try parking at Colony High School and heading towards Palmer with a pit stop at 203 Kombucha or the new Big Dipper Ice Cream — but be prepared to stop and cross the Glenn Highway. Or, cruise from the parking area next to the Matanuska River bridge in Palmer to the Butte and back for about 10 miles of great views and cycling safety on the designated bike path.