An abandoned gold mine set in the spectacular Talkeetna Mountains stands as testament to Alaska’s rich Gold Rush history.
Independence Mine State Historical Park is a huge, abandoned gold mine that sits at the top of Hatcher Pass, a photogenic alpine passage that cuts through the Talkeetna Mountains in the Mat-Su Valley. The scenic journey above tree line and exploration of this this intriguing 761-acre park make for one of the finest day trips in Alaska
Things to Do
Visitors can explore the mine and surrounding area on foot, either independently or as part of a guided tour. Tour guides lead 45-minute tours during the summer to explore the mine ruins and learn about the history of the area, with three of the historical buildings open to visitors.
The Mine Manager's House now serves as a visitor center and features a simulated mining tunnel, displays on gold-mining methods (panning, placer mining, and hardrock), and other interpretative exhibits. From the center, visitors follow Hardrock Trail past other restored buildings in the complex: a timber shed, warehouse, collapsed mill, mess halls, and bunkhouses. The Assay Office is now a museum with displays on assaying, retorting, and other mining techniques. The highpoint for many - literally - is climbing the trail to the water tunnel portal, where there is a great view of the entire complex and a blast of cold air pouring out of the mountain.
The Hatcher Pass area surrounding Independence Mine State Historical Park is a favorite for summer hiking, backpacking, and berry picking. In winter, a network of cross country ski trails are groomed around the mine buildings. The area is also popular for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding. In the summer, visitors can continue on another 2 miles up Hatcher Pass Road to Summit Lake State Recreation Site, offering sweeping views and additional hiking opportunities. The road to Summit Lake is typically open from July through September.
The alpine landscape around the park may seem devoid of wildlife because most alpine inhabitants are camouflage experts. Moose, caribou, sheep, black and brown bears, wolf, coyote, beaver, fox, hare, squirrels, marmots, and lynx can all be found in the area. Look up and you may see a bird of prey soaring above you, scanning the area for its next meal. Ptarmigan, spruce grouse, songbirds, and small mammals all live here. Migratory birds such as Lapland longspurs, whimbrels, and long-tailed jaegers occasionally nest in this area.
Beautiful alpine scenery can be appreciated any time of the year at Hatcher Pass. The area has been heavily glaciated, creating steep-walled cirques, jagged aretes, and hanging valleys. Trees grow only in the lowest valley bottoms. Brush, often dense, grows on lower mountain slopes, yielding to open tundra as elevation increases. Glaciers occupy the headwaters of major drainages. Some nearby peaks are over 6,000 feet tall.
Independence Mine was actually two mines until 1938, when the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company combined the Alaska Free Gold Mine on Skyscraper Mountain and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain to become the second most productive hardrock gold mine in Alaska. At its peak in 1941, the company employed 204 workers, blasted almost 12 miles of tunnels, and recovered 34,416 ounces of gold, today worth almost $18 million. At the time, 22 families lived in nearby Boomtown, with eight children attending the territorial school.
Although World War II interrupted the mining operation - gold mining was declared a nonessential wartime activity - mining resumed briefly after the war until Independence Mine closed for good in 1951. Independence Mine State Historical Park was established in 1980 and since then the state has steadily worked to restore the buildings and tunnels to give visitors a fascinating look at Alaska lode mining amid spectacular mountain scenery.
Facilities and Camping
There are no campgrounds in Independence Mine State Historical Park, though limited camping is available at the nearby Gold Mint Trailhead and backpacking is popular along the trails in Hatcher Pass. The Hatcher Pass Lodge, located at the entrance to Independence Mine State Historical Park, serves food and rents out several cabins. Additional lodging and services are available in nearby Palmer and Wasilla.
Access to the Hatcher Pass area is via the 49-mile-long Hatcher Pass Road from either Palmer or Willow. From Palmer, take the Palmer-Fishhook Road turnoff at Mile 49.5 of the Glenn Highway. From Willow, take the Fishhook-Willow Road from Mile 71.2 of the Parks Highway. Hatcher Pass Public Use Area begins on the Palmer side at approximately Mile 7.8 on Hatcher Pass Road.
Independence Mine is 68 miles from Anchorage via the Glenn Highway and Hatcher Pass Road. The road is open year-round from the Glenn Highway to the park Visitor Center. The road from Willow over Summit Pass is closed late September through June.
For more information, visit the Independence Mine State Historical Park website.