Start your visit to Palmer at the Palmer Visitors Information Center (723 S. Valley Way, 907/745-2880, www.palmerchamber.org, daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m. May–Sept., Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Oct.–Apr.). An adjacent garden features elephantine produce by late summer. Inside, load up with brochures, check out the gift shop, and wander downstairs to the little museum depicting the colonists’ lives.
Colony House (316 E. Elmwood Ave., 907/745-1935, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. summer only, $2 adults, $1 children) is just up the block from the visitors center. Built by the Beylund family, who moved here in 1935 from Wisconsin, it has been restored and filled with period furnishings to provide a window on the life of the Matanuska colonists.
Continue another block east on East Elmwood to visit the appropriately named Church of a Thousand Logs, built by the colonists in 1936–1937 and still in use.
Heading north through downtown, take a right on Arctic Avenue, which turns into the Old Glenn Highway. About a mile south of town on the Glenn Highway is the Alaska State Fairgrounds. At the fairgrounds is Colony Village (Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., free), which preserves some of Palmer’s early buildings, including houses (one built in 1917 in Anchorage), several barns, a church, and a post office.
Five miles south of Palmer on the Old Glenn Highway, Bodenberg Loop Road is a five-mile drive through some of the most gorgeous valley farmland, with 6,400-foot Pioneer Peak towering behind. To see some of the original colony farms, head three miles north out along the Glenn Highway to Farm Loop Road. The valley’s best-known crop isn’t mentioned in any of the tourism brochures: marijuana. The local version (Matanuska Thunder) has a reputation as big as Alaska and is some of the most potent in the nation. It was formerly grown outside, but today nearly all grow-operations are indoors under lights.
Knik River Road splits off the Old Glenn Highway at Mile 9. Turn here and drive four miles to the trailhead for the Pioneer Ridge–Knik River Trail, which climbs a staggering 5,100 feet in less than six miles. Beyond this alpine ridge, only experienced rock climbers should consider heading to the twin summits of Pioneer Peak.
Seven miles south of Palmer on the Old Glenn Highway is the Reindeer Farm (907/745-4000, www.reindeerfarm.com, $6 adults, $4 children), where tours are offered daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. in the summer. Children especially love the chance to pet a baby reindeer.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition