The Matanuska-Susitna Valley isn’t the most famous destination in Alaska. You might not have heard of it before, and it’s certainly not as well known as iconic areas like the Kenai Peninsula or the Copper River. Its name is a bit of a mouthful, but we can guarantee you that after you get your first glimpse, you won’t stop talking about the Matanuska-Susitna Valley!
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Here are 8 reasons we love recommending a trip to Matanuska-Susitna Valley for all first-time Alaska visitors.
1. You’ll become a fast expert
Because the Matanuska-Susitna Valley is less well known, visiting here is a great opportunity to stray from the beaten tourist path. Many Alaskans vacation in Matanuska-Susitna, especially folks from Anchorage, and you’ll be calling it by its nickname “Mat-Su” just like a local in no time. When you go back home, people who will love to hear about the special place you “discovered.”
2. Convenient location
Are you flying into Anchorage? Visiting Denali National Park & Preserve? The Matanuska-Susitna Valley is just a hop, skip, and jump away! Well, more like a car, a train, or a shuttle away, but there are plenty of options for accessing Mat-Su. The valley includes more than 23,000 square miles and offers both untamed wilderness and charming villages alike, and there are many delightful day trip destinations accessible from Anchorage. Matanuska-Susitna is also a great way to end a trip to Denali, which sits to the north of the region.
3. The Matanuska Glacier
What would a spectacular natural area in Alaska be without a glacier? You can get close enough to the Matanuska Glacier to take a picture by driving along the scenic Glenn Highway. If you want to touch or climb the glacier, there is a $30 fee to access the land. If you want to get even closer, consider joining a glacial hike or taking an ice climbing class.
The Matanuska Glacier is enormous, with so much to see—glacial lakes, ice caves, and blue, frozen crags. You can also have fun simply watching the daring climbers scale sheer, almost vertical faces of ice with ice axes and crampons.
4. Four legged farm friends
If you love Alaska’s fauna, you’ll love the Matanuska-Susitna Valley! There is a public musk ox farm that is home to about 80 musk oxen, and a 200-acre public reindeer farm in the area. Visit during Springtime to see the newborns!
5. Wild animals, too
Of course, this is Alaska—there are a lot more animals to see off the farm than in it! The Matanuska-Susitna Valley region is home to all of Alaska’s “Greatest Hits” of wildlife. You can see mountain goats, bald eagles, bears, moose, walrus, caribous and salmon from the trails and streams of Mat-Su.
For a full list of the best places to spot each animal, visit Alaska.org.
6. Wet and wild
If you like fishing, boating, or dipping your toes, you’ll love Mat-Su. The Matanuska-Susitna Valley is crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and streams. There are also over a dozen lakes, including the spectacular Lake Louise. Louise is the largest lake you can access by vehicle in Alaska. It’s ideal for any watersport, but you can also camp, berry pick, birdwatch, and more. Bring a birdwatching guide and see if you can spot a cormorant, swan, or loon.
7. Museums abound
There are 7 museums in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. If you love a deep dive into the natural or anthropomorphic history of a place, Mat-Su is a great destination for you! From gold mining to sled dogs to fur trapping, there is much to learn in Mat-Su about Alaska’s courageous history. And if you’ve got a soft spot for old machinery, you’ll love the one-of-a-kind Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. Spoiler: you get to sit in old train cars.
8. Trails and tribulations
The Mat-Su Valley has over 2,000 miles of trails. It’s a hiker’s paradise here, and the gorgeous, temperate weather in the summer makes these lower-elevation valleys a popular hiking destination. On non-mushing days, you can even hike the Aurora Dogsled Mushers Trail System, which they maintain for practicing dog sledding!
There are many gorgeous day-hikes from Anchorage or longer trails that accommodate a multi-day backpacking adventure. You can also drive right up to many wonderful cross country ski tracks that are as much fun in the summer as they are in the winter.
Are you visiting Anchorage anytime soon? Working in Anchorage or Denali over the summer? Visit the Mat-Su for the perfect slice of everything Alaska has to offer!