Gold Mint Trail
Hatcher’s Pass is full of hiking opportunities. The variety of terrain and accessibility to the backcountry of the Talkeetna Mountains will have you yearning for more with each visit. Some days have an abundance of time and resources, and others you may just have an afternoon to spare. During a summer day in the Mat-Su Valley we chose to keep the logistics simple and embark as a group of three on the Gold Mint Trail found in the middle of the pass.
This trail is a in and out 13.4 mile hike. Gold Mint claimed its name as the once standing Gold Mint Mining operation and the Mint Glacier that carved the valley. Locals and visitors alike recommend this trail frequently, with traffic fluctuating as the seasons change. Regardless of season, always be ready to be self-reliant where ever you travel in Alaska. This means wearing synethic clothing material, bring layers and rain gear, having enough food and water, as well as a personal medical kit for day hikes.
This trailhead comes flush with luxuries; a large paved parking lot, toilets, and a map with interpretive signage. A drop box is available for deposits so as to make the necessary $5 payment for parking. Road signage helps to locate the trailhead off of the paved Fishhook-Willow Road. The entrance is on the right hand side by the hairpin turn and accessible to most vehicles. The path is well maintained and open to horses and dogs as well.
The path starts and maintains a gradual elevation gain to the end. Brush lines the trail and can become overgrown at points in the year. Continual traffic and trail maintenance seems to keep the overgrowth from becoming unmanageable. This coverage also rings the alarms for being bear aware; take note of your surroundings, know the your preventative measures, and carry bear spray. Bear spray requires the knowledge of how and when to use it, click here for bear spray protocol.
Depending on pace and taking the time to admire the facets of the Gold Mint Trail this hike can take anywhere from 2 hours to all day. Tall bushes and trees border the walkway as roots and spring water cuts through at parts. The Little Susitna River runs parallel to the trail, offering ideal resting areas with beautiful views. Additionally, if you have a water filtering system you can fill up along the trail. The scenery rolls through the vibrant greens of foot hills that climb into craggy peaks of the Talkeetnas.
Be Mindful of the Locals
Not too far into the trail sits an actively maintained beaver dam. On the day of our hike, no beavers were present but the evidence of their architectural prowess was enough for us. This is also also a great place to enjoy the song birds of Alaska and the chirping of marmots. This specific summer afternoon was a perfect time for us to let our gaze follow the expansive fields of fireweed and take in the variety of wildflowers blooming.
Be Weather Aware
Hatcher’s Pass is known for its afternoon alpine showers, due to interactions between coastal weather patterns, natural terrain, and temperature. Knowing in advance that the weather would turn, we brought rain gear and kept an eye on the sky. That afternoon in particular it was easy to tell by the gathering dark clouds that a downpour was imminent. Giant thunderclaps exploded around, the heavy storm clouds released a deluge of water onto us as we neared the end of the trail. Subsequently we ended the hike with a mad dash back to the car in the heavy rain.
The Lessons of a Day Hike
This hike reminded us just how quickly the weather can change in Alaska. Other parties have hiked this trail in the past assuming unchanging weather and putting faith in inadequate gear, resulting in fatalities. Never underestimate a day hike in Alaska and always be prepared! Even with the rain, this hike was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to most people. It never hurts to have a dry change of clothes in the car and a warm plate of food in Palmer to look forward to.