In the Palmer Museum and Visitor Information Center we have printed tri-fold maps for each of the trails that are supposedly the most popular trails in the Valley. However, I was bewildered by the fact that we had a tri-fold map for the obscure, short, distant, and difficult to access Bearberry Bluff trail. It is only a small trail (almost 3 miles, round trip) within the Matanuska Greenbelt Trail System which is 33 miles of looping trails. I was shocked to discover that we had a tri-fold for Bearberry but no maps for the whole Matanuska Greenbelt Trail System that has multiple trailheads and endless loops to explore! Many of these trails are much more popular than Bearberry Bluff.
Above are photos of the map we have available in the Palmer Museum. As you can see, the Bearberry Bluff Trail looks like the side profile of a bear. You can see the nearest trail head is about a mile or two south of Long Lake. The trails around Johnson, Matanuska, and Kepler are HIGHLY active during the summertime and even during the winter because they are so easily accessible and are popular places to cool down during the summer. Bearberry Bluff on the other hand sees very little traffic and it is difficult to even access the trailhead at Long Lake!
On July 19th, 2023, I invited my friend Savanna on a hike to Bearberry Bluff. It looked like rain but we were not discouraged. It wouldn’t have been the first time we’ve hiked in the rain. However, due to rain, signs of animals, and terrible road conditions, our quest for Bearberry Bluff was unfruitful. We hope to try again later and find Bearberry Bluff some day.
I knew that Bearberry Bluff was on the eastern end of the Matanuska Greenbelt Trail System and that the Kin Win Trailhead, on the Western side, though very far away, was the best place to access this Trail System. Before parking at the Kin-Win Trailhead, I stopped at the Matanuska Experiment Farm (just down the road about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead). Having worked at the Farm as a student employee while I was in college, I wanted to stop in and say “hello” to my past co-workers. And so I did. I chatted with my old friends, was gifted some of Bob’s famous blueberry barley muffins (which he used to give to us starving college students whenever he had made too many), and collected a few publications on their large wall of publications (which I used to stock as their student worker).
History Fun Fact: The University of Alaska Fairbanks Matanuska Experiment Farm was built in 1915 to conduct agricultural research in the Matanuska Valley to assist farmers. Still today, the Experiment Farm shares research information, connects farmers with other farmers, holds foraging and food preservation courses, teaches young agriculturalists through 4-H and FFA (which have both been housed at the Experiment Farm), and works diligently to encourage food security in our community. If you’d like to visit you can find them at 1509 Georgeson Rd. Palmer, AK 99645 and you can learn more online at https://www.uaf.edu/afes/places/palmer/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/matanuskaexperimentfarm/.
Savanna and I then drove up the Georgeson Loop Road about a quarter of a mile and parked at the Kin-Win Trailhead on the right. We layered up with rain gear and put Savanna’s dog, Koda, on the lead. We hit the trail, frolicked in the rain, and chatted for about a mile until I saw some VERY fresh moose tracks in the mud. The tracks were so fresh that the depressions were still filling up with rain water that was flowing into them from the surrounding puddles. We immediately turned around and headed back to the trailhead.
When we got back to the trailhead we decided to try to access Bearberry Bluff from the Long Lake trailhead with which I was unfamiliar but was excited to explore. We followed the directions on the tri-fold map but it became immediately apparent that the directions were unclear and inaccurate, so I will include more thorough directions later in this article.
We eventually found a pull-out with a state-maintained outhouse so we knew we were in the right location, we continued down a very bumpy dirt road. It was a muddy and knobby road. Savanna barely made it up the muddy hill in her car. We eventually came to a second pull out which was the parking lot to access Irene Lake. Savanna decided to wait there while I went on reconnaissance and continued further up to what I hoped was the Long Lake trailhead. I winced at the creaking of my truck as I crawled over the large boulders sticking up in the road. I had to climb a steep hill and put my truck in four-wheel drive in order to make it to the top. I finally made it to another parking lot with a state-maintained outhouse. There was a sign declaring this location the Long Lake trailhead! Finally! Success!
I took a few pictures of the map and the trailhead location, hopped back in my truck, looked at the torrential downpour on my windshield, and decided against trying to hike to Bearberry Bluff. I gave Savannah a ring to ask her what she wanted to do. I told her if she wanted to give it a try then I’d drive back down, pick her up, and we’d drive back up in my truck so she wouldn’t beat her car up. Considering the rain, she wasn’t very interested in trekking a few more miles in the mud to find this obscure trail. I crawled back down the trail in 4 wheel drive, cringing at the amount of stress my shocks and brakes were under.
Having cut our adventure short, we were both saddened that we had spent so little time together and we were both ravenously hungry, so we decided to go to the Valley Hotel for hot chocolate and hot soup!
On July 28th, 2023 the weather forecast had predicted rain. It was cloudy but when I stepped outside it felt like sunshine was coming. I wasn’t scheduled for work until 1:30 pm so I wanted to go on a morning hike to Bearberry Bluff. Savanna was unavailable so I invited my roommate, Mary, along for the hike.
At about 7:30 am we drove towards the Long Lake trailhead but parked at the end of Killarney, next to the first state-maintained outhouse. We walked the rest of the way up the dirt road, passed the Irene Lake access parking lot, and up to the Long Lake trailhead.
The map at the trailhead did not have Bearberry Bluff trail on it so I was glad I had snapped a picture of the Bearberry Bluff trail on the tri-fold map at the museum. We began our journey around Long Lake, past the caretaker’s residence, up the Long Lake Connector trail, down Old Cat Trail, and came out at Bearberry Bluff!
Every map seems to be different so take pictures along the way to compare if you lose your way.
We found many surprises, the first being the amount of mushrooms growing along the trail. I do not know what kind they are or whether they are edible or poisonous, but I do know that we have Mushroom pocket guides in the Palmer museum (which I will be purchasing shortly) and the UAF Experiment Farm often hosts Mushroom foraging classes! So, if you’re interested in foraging, maybe give them a call or drop in at the farm.
And the greatest surprise was when the dark, foliage-covered trail opened up to the bluff where we were blinded by bright sunrays crowning two mountain ranges, rows of green trees, and yellow and purple flowers with their friendly honey bees!
We were also greatly surprised by the innumerable and aggressive mosquitos. We only hiked for an hour and a half but we lathered ourselves in mosquito dope three times during our trek.
We also discovered some Christmas trees! Someone had brought some Christmas ornaments to hang on the trees at the convergence of several trails.
We spent 10-15 minutes drinking in the view, soaking up sunshine, and snapping countless photos. We then headed back down the trail. It was a short hike, only about 3 miles, round trip, but it was a great way to start the morning!
Location and Directions
To get to the Long Lake trailhead from Palmer, you’ll go south on the Glenn Highway. After you pass the Matanuska Valley Sportsmen’s Shooting Range you’ll drive approximately one more mile on the Glenn Highway and then turn right on S. Colleen St., turn left on Bradley Lake St., turn right on Green Jade St., then turn left on S. Killarney Dr. Follow Killarney for about a quarter mile and you’ll find yourself in a little gravel parking lot with an outhouse.
There will be brown signs on the road side indicating where to turn so keep an eye out for those. If you happen to miss your turn on Bradley Lake St. you can stay on S. Colleen St. and eventually you’ll come to a T in the road where Killarney loops around to meet up with the end of S. Colleen St. and there should be a handwritten “public access” sign on the stop sign. Take a left as indicated by the sign and this will take you towards the trailhead.
If you are in a car or you want to take good care of your truck, I recommend parking at the first trailhead and walking the rest of the dirt road to the Long Lake trailhead. If you don’t mind beating your vehicle up then you can drive the bumpy dirt road to the trailhead.
Be sure to bring a map of Bearberry Bluff because the trails don’t always indicate which way is Bearberry Bluff.
The state maintains the outhouses but doesn’t often grate the roads so be prepared for potholes. And as you’ve heard me say before, always bring your own toilet paper, just in case they’ve run out. Getting stuck in a public outhouse with no toilet paper is never a fun experience.
The trails are well maintained, I saw several fallen trees that had been cut up and removed.
We also passed by the caretaker’s residence. I unfortunately don’t know who the caretaker is or what he/she does to maintain these lakes and trails. But I assume, as indicated by his/her title, he/she probably takes care of the area.
These trails are frequented less often than the trails near Matanuska Lake, the Experiment Farm, the Mat-Su College, and Crevasse-Moraine, so come prepared to see wildlife. I recommend that you hike with friends, make lots of noise to deter wildlife, and carry an air horn, bear spray, and/or a firearm (if you are trained to use it).
I saw no signs of bears but I saw many signs of moose such as hoofprints, stripped bark, and moose nuggets. I was glad I had brought my dad’s Colt .45. Wild moose (both males and females) are usually very aggressive. When I lived in my family’s cabin in Sutton, I was charged by moose many times while walking from my truck to my house even though I wasn’t anywhere near them or their babies. Our moose would even try to trample and head butt our well-head and lawn furniture. I have a friend who survived a moose attack but was left with life-long injuries including paralysis. He was only able to survive because he used his firearm to defend himself while being trampled. So I usually carry a heavy caliber gun to protect against moose, not just bears. I have had more scary encounters with moose than bears.
I also saw evidence of horse hoofprints as seen in the photo above next to the moose print. I don’t know if this trail is open to horse traffic but be prepared to get out of the way and not spook the horses if you happen to meet one and its rider.
Beware of Devil’s Club, Cow’s Parsnip, Monk’s Hood, and poisonous berries (as I have described in depth in previous articles).
Bring a hiking buddy just in case there is an emergency and bring a map to prevent getting lost.
Foraging and Trail Snacks
The Matanuska Greenbelt Trail system is an excellent location to forage for mushrooms, berries, fiddleheads, wild rose hips, dandelions, and just about every edible and medicinal Alaskan plant imaginable! If you are a forager, you’ll want to check out the abundance of edible plants along these trails.
Additional Points of Interest
Bearberry Bluff: The mosquitos were the worst I’ve seen anywhere this summer, there were spider webs strung across the trail every twenty feet or so, it was difficult to reach the trailhead, but the view was incredible!
Christmas Ornaments: Someone hung Christmas Ornaments on some of the trees at one point in the trail. It was a lovely surprise. I want to add some of my Christmas ornaments as well. I won’t tell you exactly where these ornaments are because I want you to have the joy of finding it yourself if you decide to give this obscure little trail a try.
Lakes: Many visitors love to fish, swim, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and bird watch around Matanuska Lake, Kepler Lake, Long Lake, Canoe Lake, Bradley Lake, Irene Lake, etc.
UAF Experiment Farm: Many folks like to stop in at the farm to speak with a Cooperative Extension Agent and/or pick up a few publications from the large wall of publications (including content on gardens, livestock, food preservation, construction, etc.).
Mat-Su College: Some folks like to hike from the lovely trailheads at the Mat-Su college where they can see the university and the beautiful Glenn Massay Theatre.
Bicycling: Many of these trails, especially the northern part, known as Crevasse Moraine, are excellent for bicyclists who like wooded dirt paths.
Horseback Riding: I have never met anyone riding horses on any of the Matanuska Greenbelt trails but some of the trails are open to horses. You can find this information on the signs at each trailhead. Though I have never seen anyone riding, I did see some horse tracks along the trail so people do ride on these trails. I do not recommend doing so unless you know which trails are open to horseback riding use.
Cross-Country Skiing: During the winter, some of the Matanuska Greenbelt Trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Each trailhead has a map that shows which trails are open to cross-country skiers.
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. https://visitpalmer.com/ and https://palmermuseum.org/
If you have questions about specific trails I recommend using the All Trails app and/or the Gaia app, visiting online at https://visitpalmer.com/hiking-backpacking/, https://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/matsu/matsuindex.htm or visiting me at the Palmer Visitor Information Center and Museum.
Have fun and keep exploring!!
Kyndle is a native Alaskan, born and raised in Palmer. She spends her winters teaching and her summers hiking. When she’s not hiking, she’s either working at the Visitor Information Center/Museum, Friday Flings, or other local community events. She’s been to a lot of places but Palmer is her favorite small town. After each hike this summer, 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!