Hatcher Pass seems a little elusive. There wasn’t an overabundance of information floating around about it. You have to do your homework to find it. Allegedly, it showcased some beautiful scenery with the Talkeetna Mountains providing the backdrop. For me, it was a photo of Hatcher Pass in a travel guide book that caught my attention and sold me. It remained a bit mysterious until I was driving there and attempting to explore the area. During our stay at Denali Backcountry Lodge, I asked our hiking guide about Hatcher Pass and he encouraged driving through the area.
You can access the road that takes you through Hatcher Pass coming from two different routes. I was coming from Denali. But, you can also access it off the Glenn Highway. If you are coming from Denali, I recommend getting gas prior to starting out on your journey. You will not see your next gas station for quite some time. The road is marked with a sign indicating Hatcher Pass, but it is also known as Fishhook Road. The first part of the drive, I did not see many cars. The road started out concrete and quickly turned to a more primitive gravel. There were many beautiful places to stop even when the road was flat at low elevation. You will start to drive up several switchbacks and gain elevation for some great views. Eventually, you make your way back into a valley to gain again on the other side. If you are coming from Denali, the first part of the drive is beautiful, but it is the end portion of the drive that has more epic scenery. As you make your way back up, you will come to a parking area called the Summit Lake State Recreation Area. There is a gorgeous lake with views for days on the other side of it. While I was there, several groups were waiting to paraglide. There is also a hiking trail that originates from here called April Bowl.
The stop at Summit Lake is where I spent the most time out of the car. Once you leave this area, there is a more formal parking lot with more spaces. Beyond this, your drive will take you to Hatcher Pass Lodge. I recommend stopping here. The small red cabins against the green backdrop is a beautiful contrast for photos. The lodge appears a little run down if you look closer, but I enjoyed stopping here. There was a couple getting wedding photos at Summit Lake and Hatcher Pass Lodge, so I took note of their choices of scenery. If you have a drone, Hatcher pass would be a great place to fly.
There are two hotels juxtaposed in a reasonable proximity to driving through this area. The pass is roughly located between Willow and Palmer. If you want to stay at the pass, an option is the Hatcher Pass Cabins. My preference was to drive further to Sheep Mountain Lodge. This lodge aligns you to visit either the Matanuska Glacier or drive on to Valdez. The wooden cabins sit right in front of more monumental views. As I approached the lodge, I did not see any places for food. I was getting nervous because I knew the restaurant at the lodge closed at 8:30pm. I arrived right around that time and the restaurant was packed. You check in for the hotel where the restaurant is located. The hospitality was evident immediately, and I was assured that they had dinner options available. They were not able to provide the full menu, but there was plenty of food and drink options to choose from. If you think you are going to arrive late, let them know in advance, especially if you will need a meal.
The premier cabins at Sheep Mountain Lodge are very spacious. I was in cabin 2. The room available for baggage was the largest of any of my stays in Alaska. In the cabin, there were binoculars available for sighting Dall Sheep on the adjacent mountains. There was also a simplistic map with several hiking options including trails of different lengths and difficulty levels. Wi-Fi is available in some of the cabins, and you can definitely get an internet connection in the restaurant. One other feature available in the premier cabins was a full kitchen! Outside, there are chairs to sit and enjoy a quiet evening. The bathroom had a shower and bath products available. Most of the bathrooms in Alaska contained a rather small shower and this lodge was no exception.
If you go outside around 11pm on a clear night during the summer, the sky creates a beautiful range of light pink colors with the mountains creating a beautiful backdrop. The photos I took of the midnight sun at Sheep Mountain were some of my favorite photos from the trip. Finally, if you like adventure, they have a helicopter to whisk you off on a journey of your choice. It took off multiple times in the morning.
Another option closer to Palmer dependent upon what direction you are heading after leaving the pass is Knik River Lodge. Knik River Lodge is a slightly larger property with more individual cabins. My actual cabin was smaller in size compared to Sheep Mountain. I stayed in a room with a King bed. In the room was a fridge with a counter area for preparing coffee. The bathroom here was very similar to that of Sheep Mountain with a small shower and sink. They have a restaurant on property as well. I had dinner in Palmer at Turkey Red Bistro prior to heading to the lodge. Their menu was mediterranean inspired, and the food was quite good. It is not a far drive from Palmer to the lodge. On your drive to the lodge, make sure that you note the scenic outlook that provides a view of the Knik Glacier. Once you get to the lodge, it is no longer visible. The lodge also has helicopters for the adventurous and those wanting to get up close and personal with the glacier.
There is Wi-Fi available at the Knik RIver Lodge. I was able to get service in our cabin, but not all of the cabins are within reach of the signal. If you need service, you can walk to the yurt on property and have internet access. The lodge provided a breakfast that was included with the stay. There was just one selection available. During my time, it was ham paired with French Toast. One thing that was special here was seeing a moose and her baby in close proximity. Now, I am certain that mother would do anything to keep her baby safe, but I was able to view them from a safe distance. It was one of the closest sightings for me in Alaska.
I used the two lodges above, Sheep Mountain and Knik River, as stopping points on my journey driving to Valdez and Seward. They are both in reasonable proximity to Hatcher Pass. I loved many things about my trip to Alaska, but I am so glad that I included this drive. One thing to be aware of if you are following an itinerary similar to my own is starting from Denali and ending at Sheep Mountain Lodge makes for one exhausting day. Everyone stops for different things, but this was a day heavy in driving. As I mentioned before, don’t be overzealous with planning Alaska. You can easily get bogged down and distracted by all of the beauty.