From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Palmer is an Alaskan city located 42 miles northeast of Anchorage. Like many destinations in the state, Palmer is framed by natural beauty in every direction you look, whether it’s the Pioneer and Twin Peaks in the Chugach Range, or the impressive Talkeetna Mountains. Its family friendly downtown area is home to many attractions, including cozy cafes and restaurants, as well as boutiques selling books, arts and crafts.
Even those who have lived in the city for a decade would agree they haven’t experienced all that Palmer has to offer, while for those new to the region – well, they’ve got a lot to look forward to as well.
Ready to discover the best of Palmer, Alaska? Let’s get started!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Palmer isn’t all hustle and bustle! There are also plenty of state parks and national parks both within and surrounding the area, all of which provide a tranquil escape for those looking to surround themselves by nature.
Less than a 35-minute drive from Palmer will take you to the stunning King Mountain State Recreation Area. It’s nestled beneath King Mountain on the banks of the Matanuska River and offers 22 campsites, picnic areas, toilets, and water. Additional facilities include a boat launch, nearby ATV trails, and miles of hiking trails.
Chugach State Park is one of the most popular state parks within Alaska and it’s just a 35-minute drive from the city of Palmer. It’s also one of the four largest state parks in the United States, offering extensive ocean shoreline, numerous lakes, gigantic glaciers and ice fields. Here, you can enjoy recreational activities such as hiking, dogsledding, fishing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and skijoring.
Further north-west from the city, around a 55-minute drive, is the Willow Creek State Recreational Area. It’s known for its intriguing landscape, including drumlins, which are elongated glacial deposits dotted with hundreds of lakes and ponds. Along with serving as an ideal habitat for many mammals and birds, the recreational area also offers fun activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
Covering 325,240 acres, almost one-half the size of Rhode Island, is the world-famous Denali State Park. It’s a bit further out from Palmer, at around a one-hour-and-45-minutes’ drive, but trust us – this is one state park you don’t want to miss! The landscape varies from meandering lowland streams to alpine tundra, providing visitors with the chance to enjoy activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
Still need to get your nature fix? If you’re craving seeing even more of the beautiful scenery that surrounds Palmer, then there are also plenty of hiking and walking trails for you and your family to enjoy.
Ready for some spectacular views? No official trail in Southcentral Alaska climbs as high as the Matanuska Peak Trail, making it a well-known and popular trail for those up for the challenge. The trail is 6 miles long and takes hikers to the 6,119-foot summit of Matanuska Peak. Thankfully, the trail doesn’t require extensive rock-scrambling or rock-climbing skills - just some boulder hopping and a bit of balance!
Not far from Palmer, in Butte, is the W Butte Trail. This 3.7 kilometer heavily trafficked out and back trail is a favorite among locals, particularly due to its ease, well-maintained trail, and spectacular view from the top. Just prepare yourself for the 500+ stairs, but don’t worry, as children, the elderly, and even your four-legged friends will love this hike!
Palmer is home to a bustling and trendy dining scene, so there’s sure to be a restaurant, café, or diner to satisfy your cravings. If you’ve worked up an appetite after a long hike, or simply feel like treating yourself to a delicacy, then you’re in luck. Here are our top restaurant recommendations!
You’ll find the Palmer Alehouse located in one of the city’s most historic buildings. This family-friendly pub has plenty to offer residents and visitors, including great hospitality, a mouth-watering menu, and 44 taps featuring local craft beers. They also cater to those who prefer to eat gluten-free! Don’t miss their Tex-Mex offering, as well as their generous burgers and pizzas.
Craving some handmade, gourmet pizza? At Humdinger’s Gourmet Pizza, they’ve been voted the best pizza in the Matsu Valley – for the last 5 years in a row! They serve pizzas, salads, appetizers, and desserts, all while making their own dressings, desserts, and small batches of dough. The best part? They’re also really generous with their gluten-free options and even offer a Keto version for small-sized pizzas.
The Noisy Goose is the quintessential Palmer café, built from the ground up with nothing but hard work, determination, and of course, fantastic cooking. Here, you’ll find the classic food that locals and visitors can’t help but love, including burritos, skillets, omelettes, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and so much more.
Looking for some live music and good food? At Klondike Mike’s Saloon, you’ll find both! It’s well-known for being one of the most authentically Alaskan joints around, with a traditional and comfortable interior, not to mention some of the best BBQ ribs you’ll ever taste! So, gather your friends or family, play a game of pool, sit on the comfortable couches, and eat until your stomach is content.
They’ve been serving original family recipes every day since 1990, so when it comes to traditional and authentic Mexican cuisine, you knowLa Fiesta Restaurant is the real deal. Every menu item is prepared fresh daily using only the finest ingredients, while their margaritas are home made and a must on any cocktail lover’s list. Don’t miss menu favorites such as the mini chimichangas, street tacos, or cheesecake burrito.
Vagabond Blues serves up the breakfast burritos I’ve ever had! This quaint local cafe is my favorite place to grab a quick coffee and a bite. With fresh ingredients and a ton of vegan and gluten-free options, their selection of baked goods is dangerously good and accessible. They also are always displaying local artists' work, which I love to check out. This is the perfect pit stop for passing through town. You won’t be disappointed.
Matanuska Brewery has a great tasting room, and it’s always a good time if you opt to try all their beers in a small, laid-back atmosphere that used to be a dairy facility right in downtown Palmer. They always have different beers of the month, great prices, and great service! If you want to sample some local Alaskan beers, this is your spot. Pick your favorite and fill up a growler to go!
After feasting and enjoying all that the hiking trails and state parks have to offer, you may be wondering: “what next?” Well, when it comes to Palmer’s attractions and activities, you’re only just getting started. Here are some of the most fun things on offer in and around the city!
Looking to entertain some little ones? Or perhaps you’ve got some teenagers in-tow who are starting to get a little bored? Either way, these attractions will entertain both children, teens, and adults alike!
Palmer just wouldn’t be an Alaskan city if the region wasn’t home to a reindeer farm, would it? This famous Reindeer Farm is open year-round by appointment and has been in operation since 1987, originally consisting of just 20 reindeer. These days, you’ll find around 100 reindeer calling the farm home, not to mention two Rocky Mountain elk, Dolly the Bison, Appa the Yak, and Rocky the Moose.
Kids and adults alike will love their time spent at Sunderland Ranch. Here, you’ll find a variety of activities and adventure, including everything from horseback rides and day camps, to dude ranch adventure packages, lodging, and more! The ranch is nestled at the foothills of Lazy Mountain near Palmer, so you haven’t got far to travel.
What should you do in Palmer once the sun goes down? We’re glad you asked! Here are our suggested night-time attractions.
Is there anything better than sitting back with your friends, enjoying a full bar, and listening to local live music acts? At Spurs, they offer a ton of fun night-time entertainment during the week, including Karaoke on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from 9 P.M., as well as a jam session on Tuesday night, country dance class on Thursday night from 7 P.M., and live band shows from 10 P.M. every Saturday and Sunday. There’s something for everyone!
Arkose Brewery is Palmer’s first craft brewery and is both independent and veteran-owned. They aim to combine craft brewing expertise with “Alaska attitude, art, and science”, so you know you’re in for a unique experience! It was established in 2011 and provides fresh, locally-brewed beer in the tasting room “The Growler Cache.” Beer never tasted so good!
What can you do in or around Palmer that won’t cost anything more than a few dollars? The answer: plenty! Here are just two of our favorite attractions within the area that can be enjoyed on the cheap.
Located at 316 E. Elmwood Ave, near the Palmer Museum of History within Palmer’s Historic District, is the Colony House Museum. The main building and its outbuildings display rural life in the Matanuska Valley during the heyday of the Colony, including everything from what people wore, to their toys, appliances, food, and more.
Gold was discovered just southeast of Anchorage in 1886, which then drew thousands of adventurers to the region and its surrounds. These days, the gold mining area can be viewed at Independence Mine State Historical Park, which was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, due to its significance in American gold mining history. Learn what it was like to live and work in one of Alaska's largest gold mining camps through taking a tour or viewing the numerous exhibits on offer.
Looking to get the most out of your time spent within the city of Palmer? Whether you want a fun way to waste away a Sunday afternoon or a date idea that won’t break the budget – here are our most recommended things to do in Palmer that won’t cost you a cent.
Within Palmer, you’ll also find Musk Ox Farm, which began 60 years ago and continues to this day as a unique domestication project. It’s nestled in the pastoral Matanuska Valley and is home to a lively herd of over eighty musk oxen, including adorable babies. You can take a free 45-minute guided walking tour of the farm to learn more about these fascinating animals.
Whether you’re a long time resident of Palmer, or someone simply stopping by, we whole-heartedly recommend a visit to the Palmer Museum of History and Art. View exhibits featuring the story of the Palmer area, all the way from Ahtna times to the gold rush and finally through to the Matanuska Colony. Plus, celebrate the town’s thriving arts culture through exhibits from Palmer artists, before visiting the tranquil showcase garden.
If you’re passing through Palmer, you have to stop and check out Poppy Lane for a one-stop shop for tons of handmade Alaskan goods and decor. They house over 27 local businesses and artists under one roof, so there’s no doubt something for everyone. I personally can spend a couple hours looking through the pop-up-style shopping booths, from art to clothing, accessories, home decor, and so much more, all with an Alaskan touch. It’s a must! Don’t miss out on the kombucha taproom next door, either.
Alright, by now you’ve probably been on your feet all day exploring the sights and delights that Palmer has to offer. If you’re craving some rest and relaxation, or even a bit of pampering, these are two of the best spas in the region.
Looking for a day spa located right in the heart of Palmer? Revive Alaska has plenty of spa services to help you unwind after a long day, including facials and massage therapy. Looking for something to boost your appearance instead? They also offer brow tinting, lash extensions, hair removal, and Celluma light therapy.
Blu Birch Spa and Salon is an elegant day spa and beauty salon located in the Crossroads Center Mall. Here, you can enjoy the usual pampering, whether it be a haircut, manicure, eyelash extensions, or more. Go on, treat yourself – you deserve it!
If rejuvenation for you is less about deep relaxation and more about sweating it out, then you’re in luck. Palmer is home to some of the highest-rated gyms and yoga studios within the region. It’s time to get physical!
Looking for more than your average gym while in Palmer? Aktive Body Gym & Fitness is a good place to start, as they like to go that one step further in helping their clientele achieve their health and fitness goals. They offer a wide range of classes, as well as personal training, pool passes, and all the gym amenities you need to get your workout done.
The Midnight Sun Yoga Centre is based in downtown Palmer and offers a wide variety of yoga classes for people of all skill levels and interests. Best of all, it’s a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, so you’ll always feel excited to drop-by and partake in a class. Enjoy early bird classes, Yin yoga, community classes, Hatha Flow, hot yoga, and more.
Looking to fulfill your wanderlust by heading outside of the region for a day? You could spend decades within Palmer without barely scratching the surface of all there is to do in this large city, but consider these day trips next time you fancy a new adventure.
Looking for a cute and quaint little Alaskan town that’s just a short drive from Palmer? Talkeetna is around one-and-a-half hour’s drive from the city but is home to many fascinating attractions, including the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station, Aurora Dora, Talkeetna Riverfront Park, Dancing Leaf Gallery, and more. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or an entire day!
A 3-hour drive south from Palmer will take you to one of the most popular national parks within Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park. Aside from its breathtaking glacial beauty, the national park also offers plenty of recreational activities for you and your family to enjoy, such as boat tours, ranger-led programs, hiking, kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, flight seeing, and more.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Palmer that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Palmer? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.