An abandoned gold mine stands as testament to Alaska’s rich Gold Rush history
Independence Mine State Historical Park is a huge, abandoned gold mine that sits at the top of Hatcher Pass, a photogenic alpine passage that cuts through the Talkeetna Mountains. The journey above the tree line and this intriguing 761-acre park make for one of the finest side trips in Alaska.
Independence Mine was actually two mines until 1938, when the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company united the Alaska Free Gold Mine on Skyscraper Mountain and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain to become the second most productive hardrock gold mine in Alaska. At its peak in 1941, the company employed 204 workers, blasted almost 12 miles of tunnels and recovered 34,416 ounces of gold, today worth almost $18 million. At the time, 22 families lived in nearby Boomtown, with eight children attending the territorial school.
Although World War II interrupted the mining operation - gold mining was declared a nonessential wartime activity - mining resumed briefly after the war until Independence Mine closed for good in 1951. Independence Mine State Historical Park was established in 1980 and since then the state has steadily worked to restore the buildings and tunnels to give visitors a fascinating look at Alaska lode mining amid spectacular mountain scenery.
Beautiful alpine scenery can be appreciated any time of the year. The area has been heavily glaciated. Steep-walled cirques, jagged aretes and hanging valleys above U-shaped valleys characterize the terrain. Trees grow only in the lowest valley bottoms. Brush, often dense, grows on lower mountain slopes, yielding to open tundra as elevation increase. Glaciers occupy the headwaters of major drainages. Some nearby peaks are over 6,000 feet tall.
The alpine landscape around the park may seem devoid of wildlife because most alpine inhabitants are camouflage experts. Moose, caribou, sheep, black and brown bears, wolf, coyote, beaver, fox, hare, squirrels, marmots and lynx can all be found in the area. Look up and you may see a bird of prey soaring above you, scanning the area for its next meal. Ptarmigan, spruce grouse, songbirds and small mammals all live here and are on their menu. Some birds, such as Lapland longspurs, whimbrels, and long-tailed jaegers, occasionally shortcut their normal migration and nest in this area.
The area surrounding Independence Mine State Historical Park is a favorite for summer hiking and winter recreation such as cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. Visitors can explore the mine and surrounding area on foot and Natural History Interpreters will be available throughout the park to answer questions and lead shorter, informal tours into buildings and other areas.
The Mine Manager's House now serves as a visitor center and features a simulated mining tunnel, displays on gold-mining methods (panning, placer mining and hardrock) and other interpretative exhibits. From the center, visitors follow Hardrock Trail past other restored buildings in the complex: a timber shed, warehouse, collapsed mill, mess halls and bunkhouses. The Assay Office is now a museum with displays on assaying, retorting and other mining techniques. The highpoint for many - literally - is climbing the trail to the water tunnel portal, where there is a great view of the entire complex and a blast of cold air pouring out of the mountain.
There are no public or commercial campgrounds in Independence Mine State Historical Park. There are lodges that are open year-round and offer food service. Additional lodging and services are available in nearby Palmer, Wasilla and along the Palmer-Fishhook Road.
There is a daily parking fee at Independence Mine and an additional per-person fee for the guided tours.
Access to the Hatcher Pass area is via the 49-mile-long Hatcher Pass Road from either Palmer or Willow. From Palmer, take the Palmer-Fishhook Road turnoff at Mile 49.5 of the Glenn Highway. From Willow, take the Fishhook-Willow Road from Mile 71.2 of the Parks Highway. Hatcher Pass Public Use Area begins on the Palmer side at approximately Mile 7.8 on Hatcher Pass Road. The turnoff for Independence Mine State Historical Park is at Mile 17.
It is 68 miles from Anchorage to Independence Mine via the Glenn Highway and Hatcher Pass Road. The road is open year-round from the Glenn Highway to the park visitor center. It is closed over the pass to within about 14 miles of the Parks Highway from the first snow in late September until late June.
For more information contact the Alaska State Parks office (907-745-3975) in Wasilla.