Independence Mine State Historical Park is an abandoned gold mine that sits near the top of Hatcher Pass, just north of Palmer, Alaska. It is a part of the Hatcher Pass Management Area, 300,000 spectacular acres of wilderness—including more than 30 prominent summits and associated glaciers. Whether you prefer to spend a few hours learning about the gold mine’s history or are seeking adventure on one of the area’s trails, this is summer destination you’ll want to add to your Alaska travel bucket list!
The 271-acre Independence Mine State Historical Park includes the remains of one of Alaska’s largest hard-rock gold mining camps. Grab a map and wander through the mine camp to explore historic mine structures. Hike one of several trails in the park leading to alpine lakes and glacier-rimmed valleys. Or just take in the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Talkeetna Mountains.
The scenic drive up to Hatcher Pass Road alone will take your breath away. Coupling the drive with exploration of the mine and surrounding area makes for a day trip you’ll never forget! We hope our guide will be helpful with your Alaska trip planning and give you an idea of what to expect when visiting the park.
INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK HISTORY
The discovery of gold in the late 1800s drew thousands of adventurers to Alaska. Robert Lee Thatcher discovered hard-rock (lode) gold near the summit of Skyscraper Mountain in 1906 and staked the first lode claim, Alaska Free Gold Mine. Others soon followed, and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain opened in 1908. In 1938, the two mines merged into the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company.
At its peak in 1941, the mining company employed over 200 workers, blasted close to a dozen miles of tunnels, and recovered over 34,000 ounces of gold before World War II interrupted the mining operation. Gold mining was declared non-essential to the war effort and the gold mines fell silent.
In 1974, the mining camp was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. Independence Mine State Historical Park was established in 1980, when the title to 271 acres, including the mining camp, was transferred to the State of Alaska. The area including and surrounding the mines and Hatcher Pass has become known for its spectacular scenery and recreational opportunities.
VISITING INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK (SUMMER)
Independence Mine State Historical Park map, courtesy of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Between the scenic drive up to Hatcher Pass and time at Independence Mine, it would be easy to spend an entire day exploring the area; however, be sure to allow at least a half day, including travel time from Palmer.
Independence Mine is fully open from mid-June to Labor Day (the park is open to the public year-round; however, the visitor center and other buildings are only open in the summer). The gate to the upper lot is open from 9 AM to 7 PM, with the last car allowed into the upper lot at 6 PM. Note: the gate at the upper lot is locked at 7 PM and there is no entry or exit until the following morning at 9 AM. For current information on hours of operation, park opening dates and trail reports check park condition reports on the Alaska DNR website. Admission to the park is free; however, there is an Alaska State Parks day use parking fee of $5 (unless you have the Alaska State Parks pass).
When visiting Independence Mine, our recommendations include:
- Independence Mine Visitor Center/Manager’s House. Learn what it was like to live and work in one of Alaska’s largest hard-rock gold mines. The Manager’s House, which houses the Independence Mine Visitor Center, is a great place to begin your tour through the mine camp. Inside the visitor center, you’ll find a map of the park, displays on the ways to mine gold and other interpretive exhibits. To take a free self-guided tour, pick up a map of the property at the visitor center.
Self-guided Tour. From the Manager’s House, follow Hardrock Trail past other restored building at the Independence Mine site. Interpretive signs describe the remaining historic mine buildings, including mess halls, bunkhouses and the partially collapsed mill and equipment you’ll pass along the way. There are three buildings open—the Manager’s House, Bunkhouse No. 2 and the Assay Office (all are open from 10 am to 6 pm daily). Make sure to climb the trail all the way up to the water tunnel portal, where cool, damp air pours out of the mountain. This high spot on the trail also provides a great view of the entire mine complex. At Bunkhouse No.2, you can check in for a guided tour ($15 per person for a 45-minute tour), check out the gift shop or grab snacks for your day in Hatcher Pass.
There are several great hiking trails in the Independence Mine/Hatcher Pass area that lead to alpine lakes, mining ruins and stunning views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. We recommend the following hikes:
- The 1.7-mile Gold Cord Lake Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area due to its easy access and stunning views. This out-and-back hike with modest elevation gain meanders through meadows, along a creek and past an abandoned cabin before climbing a series of switchbacks up to a scenic alpine lake. Enjoy views from high above Independence Mine and the Matanuska Valley! Gold Cord Lake Trailhead: Leave from the upper lot of Independence Mine and follow the entrance road for a short distance. A footbridge over a creek marks the start of the trail.
- Another popular hike, the April Bowl Lake Trail (2.2 miles RT), starts from Hatcher Pass and climbs a set of steep switchbacks to a set of glacial lakes. The trail then continues up a ridge and ends at Hatch Peak, which provides scenic views to the west. April Bowl Lake Trailhead: Park at Hatcher Pass Summit (about 2 miles past Independence Mine) and carefully cross the road to reach the trailhead.
- Gold Mint Trail is a popular trail for hikers and mountain bikers in the summer. This 16-mile RT trail is relatively easy as it follows along the Susitna River but steepens into a glacier-rimmed valley toward the trail’s end. Gold Mint Trailhead: The trailhead, just off Hatcher Pass Road at Milepost 14 (before reaching Independence Mine), has a large parking area (day use fee $5 or free with Alaska State Parks pass), restrooms, car camping ($15 fee) and picnicking.
- For those looking for more of a challenge, hike the Reed Lakes Trail. This 9-mile RT hike is rated as difficult. The trail follows an old road for the 1.5 miles, but the trail gets rugged as it heads through a boulder field and further into the mountains. Reed Lakes Trailhead: Turnoff Hatcher Pass Road onto Archangel Road. Limited parking is available just before the Archangel Creek bridge.
- Summer visitors looking for more of a walk than a climb can visit the Summit Lake State Recreation Site. Follow the easy 0.6-mile trail around Summit Lake, which is the headwaters of Willow Creek. To access Summit Lake: Continue another couple miles up Hatcher Pass Road and beyond the Hatcher Pass Summit sign, to the parking area at the Summit Lake State Recreation Site.
See the map inside the Hatcher Pass brochure for more information about these trails.
- Panning for gold. Although the mine is no longer in operation, there’s still a bit of gold left. Panning for gold is allowed in the park—provided it is only with a pan and shovel. Speak with park staff at the Independence Mine visitor center before panning.
- Other summer recreation opportunities in the Hatcher Pass area. Visitors also enjoy mountain biking (at Craggie Creek, Archangel Road and Gold Mint Trail), backpacking, berry picking (in August) and hang gliding.
HOW TO GET TO INDEPENDENCE MINE AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Summer access to Independence Mine State Historical Park is via the 49-mile Hatcher Pass Road from either Glenn Highway, just north of Palmer, or the Parks Highway in Willow. The road is only paved up to Independence Mine at Mile 17.2 (coming from Palmer). The portion of the road over the Hatcher Pass Summit (elev. 3,886 feet) is generally only open between July and mid-September, depending on snow conditions each year.
Between Mile 17.2 and 37.6, Hatcher Pass Road is a rough, steep, winding gravel road (not recommended for RVs and trailers).
- If traveling from Anchorage, it is about an hour and a half drive. Directions from Anchorage to Independence Mine State Historical Park. From either Wasilla or Palmer, it is about 45 minutes. Be sure to allow extra time for stops along the Susitna River and other scenic spots heading up Hatcher Pass Road!
- If traveling from Willow, it is about an hour and 20 minutes. Directions from Willow to Independence Mine State Historical Park.
Road conditions: Hatcher Pass Road is open year-round from Glenn Highway (Palmer side) except for the last mile to Independence Mine in winter months (winter road closures for westbound traffic typically lasts from late September to June). Four-wheel drive is recommended between October and June. From the Willow side, there is no winter maintenance beyond Mile 16.7 (W). Road conditions are subject to weather. Check road conditions before attempting the drive up to the mine.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK
INDEPENDENCE MINE LODGING
There is technically no lodging inside the park, but the Hatcher Pass Lodge is located near the entrance. This collection of 11 tiny red cabins is situated high in the Talkeetna Mountains and is as close as you can get to staying inside the park. The lodge also serves lunch and dinner. Additional lodging options are available in nearby Palmer and Wasilla. Check out the adorable Hatcher Pass Cabins just minutes from Palmer!
INDEPENDENCE MINE CAMPING
WEATHER AT INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK
During the summer (July and August), plan for temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Although it is only about 45 minutes from Palmer, the temperatures are much colder and weather conditions can change rapidly in the higher elevations. Be sure to bring layers and rain gear for a summer visit.
Winter-like weather conditions can occur between the months of September and June. So, be prepared for cold weather even when visiting late summer.
Winter temperatures can drop below freezing or be as high as the 20s. Although the park is not staffed and there are no open buildings in the winter, the Hatcher Pass area is a popular destination for winter recreation. See the Hatcher Pass Winter Brochure for a winter recreation map and more information on a winter visit to the area.
Check the local weather conditions on the website for the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center.
WHAT TO BRING TO INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK AND OTHER INFORMATION
- Sunscreen is important if you are planning to hike in the area. There is little to no shelter on local hiking trails. We love Sun Bum Reef Safe sunblock.
- Bring a hat and sunglasses.
- Bring water, snacks, and a lunch if you are planning to stay for the day. Services are limited at Hatcher Pass. You can purchase some snacks and drinks at Bunkhouse No.2.
- Fuel up in Palmer or Willow before heading up to Hatcher Pass.
- Alaska law prohibits the removal of historic artifacts from the park. Please leave objects as you find them.
ARE PETS ALLOWED IN INDEPENDENCE MINE HISTORICAL STATE PARK?
Pets are allowed in the park but must be a on leash.
RELATED INFORMATION ON ALASKA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- If you are planning to visit the Kenai Peninsula while in Alaska, check out our blog on Kenai Fjords National Park: What to See and Do.
- Just to the south is an amazing place to hang out for a day or two, and you can read about it in our blog on What to See and Do at Eagle River Nature Center.
- If you are looking to preserve a memory from your trip, we can create a custom, vintage travel poster using your own photo. We look forward to working with you!