Kyndle taking in the view of Matanuska Peak and the Matanuska River from her favorite lookout along the Matanuska River Park Trails.

Photo taken by Mary Wright.

Matanuska River Park Trails

As we patiently (or impatiently) wait for the more intense mountainous trails to clear of snow, there are still many hikes within the Palmer area that can be enjoyed! Our most popular, easy hikes are the Matanuska River Park, Crevasse-Moraine, and the Matanuska Experiment Farm Greenbelt system (also known as Bearberry Bluff). If you’re looking for a hike slightly more challenging than the relatively flat forest trails mentioned above, the Bodenburg Butte is an excellent option. Once the snow has cleared a bit more, we can begin regularly hiking Lazy Mountain, Matanuska Peak, Government Peak, Eska Falls, Pioneer Peak, the many trails in Hatcher Pass, and much more! 

I will be addressing each of these trail systems throughout the summer but I want to begin with the Matanuska River Park which is nearest to the heart of Palmer and is the most accessible to Palmeranians. 

On Friday, June 2nd, after spending the morning shift greeting visitors at the Palmer VIC and Museum, as well as perusing the Friday Fling marketplace, my roommate (Mary) and I spent the afternoon exploring the Matanuska River Park.

Location and Directions

The Matanuska River Park is located at 925 E Arctic Ave. Palmer, AK 99645. As you go east on Arctic Ave (also known as the Old Glenn Highway), the park is located on your left, immediately after Academy Charter School and the Palmer Pioneer Cemetery. Once you see the large wooden sign for the park on the left, pull in the drive through the blue gate to access the RV park and tent campground, complete with multiple pavilions, bath house, playground, BMX park, Gaga Ball pit, sand volleyball, informational signs about the Ahtna and Dena’ina people, and walking/biking trails next to the river.

To find your way to the trails you can wander to the east, through the campground or BMX dirt track, but your surest and easiest way to access the trails are to find the trailhead by the old Matanuska River bridge, Palmer’s most iconic senior photo location. 

To get there, you’ll head out of Palmer going west on Arctic Ave./Old Glenn Highway, and instead of turning left into the River Park, pass by the park, continue on the Glenn Highway until you see the bridge. Do not cross the bridge, instead turn left into the dirt parking lot at the beginning of the Old Matanuska River Bridge, also known as The George W. Palmer Memorial Bridge.

History Fun Fact: You know the name Palmer, but do you know where the name comes from? This bridge is named after George W. Palmer who was a pre-Klondike pioneer and built a trading post near the location of this bridge in 1893. The city of Palmer was named after him because he was a central figure in the development of the community as a businessman and unofficial postman for many years. If you’d like to know more about George Palmer, his relations with Alaska Natives, his family, as well as his virtues and vices, you can visit the Palmer VIC and museum for more information.

Now, back to the trail. Once you arrive in the dirt parking lot you’ll see a tall wooden sign standing over the trail at the beginning of the parking lot, the end closest to the highway and furthest from the bridge. This trail is for hiking and biking only. It will lead you along a powerline trail (this trail is often not included in some maps) until it meets up with the official Matanuska River Trail system which consists of many loops that meander up and down the gentle hills of the well-maintained forest trails. You can allow yourself to safely get lost down these trails without actually getting lost. The trail loops are all nestled safely in between the campground (west side of the trail system), river (north and east sides of the trails), and highway (southside of the trails), so there is no way you will find yourself stranded in the wilderness with this trail. While it would be difficult to find yourself off-trail, if you are concerned with getting lost, please bring a hiking buddy.

Maintenance and Updates

The trails are well-maintained by the Matanuska Susitna Borough and have a few updates this year! I was pleasantly surprised by more than a dozen rest stops on the sides of the trails specifically for wheelchairs to make the trail more accessible! There is also a new platform (dedicated to Warren J. Templin who is a retired manager of the Mat-Su Borough Parks and Rec) built at my favorite lookout spot over the river. It’s an excellent place to have a picnic with friends (speaking from experience).

Safety Information

Animals: On this trail I have never had any encounters with wild animals other than mosquitos, squirrels, swallows and chickadees. I’ve been taking solo walks on the trail and having picnics in the park with friends for at least 10 years and have never run into a bear or moose, so I do not hike with bear spray or a gun on this trail. However, once every year or two there are reports of a bear or moose sighting within downtown Palmer/Palmer proper. Though it is rare, it is still possible that you may encounter wildlife that could put you in danger. If you are concerned about these encounters and want to carry bear spray or a weapon for self defense, it is always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. However, it is important that you have tested these tools and have experience and training in using them before carrying them so that you are not a threat to yourself or others. Additionally, making noise by talking loudly or singing is an easy deterrent for wildlife that will ensure neither you, or they, are startled.

Water: Be careful around the water’s edge. Keep an eye on children. The river is very swift, cold, and dark (silt from the glacial runoff) so it’s very easy for someone to be swept away if they’re not careful. 

Plants: I have noticed some Baneberry bushes in past years. These red berries can sometimes be mistaken for Cranberries. Baneberries are poisonous so be careful what you, your children, and your pets put in their mouths. There is also a great deal of Devil’s Club and some occasional Cow’s Parsnip. Both these plants have tall stalks with large leaves. Devil’s Club produces thorns on its stalks as well as green berries that turn red and Cow’s Parsnip produces white flowers. Both of these plants are toxic. When processed properly Devil’s Club can be used for medicinal purposes as has been done by Alaska Natives for hundreds of years. However, if not processed properly the stalks, leaves, and berries can cause severe injuries and illness. Even just burning the leaves can cause severe lung damage especially in small children and animals. Cow Parsnip is also toxic. If the sap within the stalk gets on your skin, it will cause your skin to swell up with puss-filled blisters once the area is exposed to sunlight and the chemical reaction takes place. If you’re interested in acquiring an Alaska plant pocket guide, we also carry them at the Palmer VIC and museum.

Trail Snacks and Foraging

You might notice in the park and on the roadside there are many Bluebells and Dandelions. Bluebell petals are a delightful trail snack. Dandelion petals can be collected for tea, salve, syrup, cookies, and many other food items. A few of my friends and I recently harvested some dandelions at a local school which we cooked with and also froze and dehydrated for future use throughout the year.

When harvesting anything on trails and in the wild it’s important that you only take what you need and as per tradition, give thanks for the harvest. Please be respectful of the surrounding plants and wildlife by not pulling up entire plants and rocks along trails or stripping plants or trees of their leaves or bark because not only is it damaging to the scenery but it can also cause erosion which can lead to trail closures. Please help prevent trail closures by harvesting respectfully.

Additional Points of Interest

The Palmer airport is nearby so expect to see lots of bush planes flying close overhead!

If you’d like to find more information on trails, plants, animals, and history visit the Palmer Visitor Information Center and Museum at 723 S. Valley Way. and 

If you want more information on foraging visit the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center. 


If you’re interested in reserving a pavilion or a campsite visit the Mat-Su Borough page for the Matanuska River Park.

If you have questions about specific trails I recommend using the All Trails app and/or the Gaia app, visiting online at, or visiting me at the Palmer Visitor Information Center and Museum.

Have fun and keep exploring!

About the author: Kyndle is a native Alaskan (but not an Alaska Native), born and raised in Palmer. She is now a local high school teacher and summer staff member at the Palmer Visitor Information Center and Museum. After each hike she will publish a report about her adventures including important details regarding current trail conditions, available restrooms, ADA accessibility, foraging, trail snacks, history, and much more! 

If you’d like to follow her hiking and backpacking adventures in the backcountry you can check in each week for new updates online at the Visit Palmer page under the blog tab or on the Visit Palmer Facebook page.