10 Unforgettable Things to Do in Palmer, Alaska

Published: April 2, 2024

In the heart of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, lie grand glaciers, massive mountains, fertile farmland, and friendly folks, as well as the charming town of Palmer.

Where is Palmer, Alaska? This Alaskan city is located an hour north of Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city, and is a short drive from Wasilla, Alaska, Palmer’s busy-and-bustling Mat-Su Valley neighbor. But peaceful Palmer feels situated a world away from Wasilla’s urban activities and is a “must-visit” destination for Alaska travelers.

Whether it’s an awe-inspiring journey across the Matanuska Glacier or cozy, enlightening visits to local farms and markets, Palmer, Alaska, is known for its diverse range of experiences. Palmer has something special for every type of traveler, from epic outdoor adventures and cultural treasures to a rich culinary scene, art galleries, and serene nature spots that host  the best Alaska adventure tours in the summerFrom Palmer’s well-known attractions to its hidden gems and including the most memorable and unique activities and things to do in Palmer, we’ve assembled this Palmer Alaska Travel Guide to help you find day trips and Alaska vacation tours in this vibrant town which with both inspire you and excite you.

Why Palmer is a “Must-Visit” for Alaska Travelers

What is Palmer, Alaska, known for? A unique combination of breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and vibrant local Alaskan culture that make it a “must-visit” Alaska community and an ideal destination for travelers seeking a combination of both adventure and tranquility. Palmer’s appeal lies in its diverse attractions, its vibrant local community, and its blend of natural beauty and Alaska adventure that await visitors of all ages, interests and persuasions. 

10 Unforgettable Things to Do in Palmer, Alaska

There’s lots to do in Palmer making it a great Alaska destination to visit. You can explore the mighty Matanuska Glacier or wander through and the curious Musk Ox Farm, hike around Hatcher Pass, or join in the fun at the Alaska State Fair. Palmer features feasting at local markets and restaurants, visits to the Palmer Museum of History & Art and outdoor adventures from fishing to  kayaking.

Let’s look at our “editor’s picks” from the travel experts at Alaska Tours for the top ten most unforgettable things to do in Palmer:

#1: Explore Matanuska Glacier on a Glacier Tour

Alaska experiences don’t get much more chilling or thrilling than walking on a glacier, and Matanuska Glacier is as massive and magnetizing as it is accessible for exploration. 

Turn off the scenic Glenn Highway after an hour’s drive from Palmer, and there it is, one of Alaska’s most accessible and popular glaciers. Matanuska Glacier may also be the most fascinating given its vast size (more than 20 miles long) and visibility (you can see it from the Glenn Highway for miles before arriving). Its stunning blue ice is breathtaking and the unique opportunity to explore its surface on a guided glacier tour is something visitors shouldn’t pass up. 

Matanuska Glacier tours maximize ice time and take place year-round. Guides emphasize safety while helping visitors of all ages fully experience the glacier’s beauty and magnitude over a few hours.

Alaska glacier hikers rest in front of the blue ice of Matanuska Glacier

#2: Visit a Musk Ox Farm

Musk Ox are Alaska’s wooly, adorable, gentle giants and living monuments of the Ice Age. Many prosper in the safe and happy environment of the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. This friendly Alaskan non-profit protects and preserves these ancient creatures and educates the public by providing up-close access to these majestic animals.

A great way to support the musk ox and the farm is by purchasing a genuine Alaska keepsake in the farm’s shop. Qiviut is an incredibly soft wool produced by musk ox and used in scarves and other garments.

Musk Ox at Musk Ox Farm in Palmer

#3: Hiking Tours in Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass packs in the Mat-Su Valley’s scenic beauty and historical significance. The 12-mile drive from Palmer is breathtaking, as the curved road that gets more scenic by the second. The end of the road parking lot leads to hiking trails, more breathtaking views, and a short walk to the remains of Independence Mine. Outdoor adventures in Palmer don’t get more awesome than the variety of options for Hatcher Pass hiking which range from easy to challenging. Each offers “only-in-Alaska” scenic views and alpine exercise for every level of adventurer. Even a drive over the unpaved pass during the summer is a day trip from Palmer that you’ll never forget.

#4: Palmer Museum of History & Art

The Palmer Museum of History and Art enjoys a special role in this tight-knit community. The museum captures the town’s deep history and heritage. Visiting this collection of local treasures is among the best cultural things to do in Palmer, a great way to get a deep understanding the region’s history, its indigenous roots and modern lifestyles. You can browse through its exhibits, including photographs, artefacts and art, which tell the stories of Palmer and its people, past and present, from Alaskan Tribes of the area and their Native Alaskan Traditions, to the colony folk who built it into a community of blending a farming economy with hearty, outdoor lifestyles. 

#5: Attend the Alaska State Fair

Number five on the list of fun things to do in Palmer, Alaska, is a visit to the Alaska State Fair. There’s no better way to experience the flavors of Alaska’s food, fun, farming and friendly folks than visiting this state-wide event, which takes place in late summer. Alaskans travel to Palmer each year for this exciting, weeks-long experience including the usual state fair trappings (wild rides, local food stalls, live music/concerts) along with some uniquely Alaska twists (giant vegetables in agricultural competitions, giant mountains surrounding the fairgrounds). Don’t miss the vegetable weigh-in – you simply won’t believe the prodigious Palmer produce! This fair celebrates Alaska’s agricultural heritage, is fun for all ages, and a true Alaska Cultural Tour

The Ferris wheel rules the midway at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

The Alaska State Fair in Palmer (Ashley Heimbigner/Visit Anchorage)

#6: Explore Local Alaskan Farms and Markets

In Palmer, Alaskan agriculture is equal parts past and present, and its importance and influence is evident everywhere around the community. Visiting local farms and markets in Palmer is among one of the best ways to meet the local farmers who make Palmer so special. You can learn about their lifestyles and their commitment to farm-to-table practices, and taste the region’s amazingly fresh, and sometimes incredibly large, Alaskan produce. For a genuine taste of Palmer’s agricultural scene, visit the Matanuska Community Farmers Market, Garcia’s Alaska Farm, Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, Bushes Bunches Produce Stand, Moonstone Farm, Arctic Organics, the Rempel Family Farm, and Earthworks Farm.

#7: Experience Outdoor Adventures in Palmer

Finding outdoor adventure in Palmer is easy, as there’s a wide array of Alaska outdoor activities here. The hard part is fitting in everything you want to do however! That’s especially true when it’s Summer in Alaska, when everyone lives outside almost 24-7 under the Midnight Sun’s ever present rays of daylight. 

Palmer is a hub of Alaska Adventures, with outdoor adventures ranging from fantastic fishing in pristine rivers, paragliding high above the beautiful Mat Su Valley, flightseeing tours over Palmer’s glaciers to kayaking nearby calm waters. And for Alaska anglers, Alaskan Fishing around Palmer alone is worth the trip.

But Palmer’s outdoor fun doesn’t end when summer does. Seasonal variations on many activities ensure there’s always something exciting to do in Palmer. Winter is the perfect time for snowmachine rides to glacier tours, dog sledding trail rides, and northern lights tours to see the dancing lightshows of aurora borealis.

Glacier Dogsledding at Alaska Glacier Lodge in Palmer, Alaska

#8: Fresh Alaskan Cuisine in Palmer

Rich with agricultural history and natural Alaska culinary inspiration, dining in Palmer is something to enjoy. Palmer’s culinary scene honors its hardworking farming roots with hearty dishes and diners. Fresh, high-quality ingredients are standards for chefs and their dishes, from local-grown vegetables to Alaska seafood to strong and subtle herbs. The region’s abundant produce and berries star as sides and salads, and are the components of main dishes and delicious desserts.

Turkey Red is a longtime local favorite and must-stop for Alaskans driving through the Valley – all love exploring the adventurous menu of stews, soups, salads and sandwiches, and to-die-for desserts. Newcomer Feather & Flour is quickly becoming a standard with its flair for freshness, from “fish and fungi.” Sophia’s Café is a coffeehouse hiding an exciting menu of Greek favorites. Of course, a hardworking community loves its classics like pizza, burgers and breakfasts, which is why Palmer City Alehouse, Noisy Goose Café, the Palmer Bar, and Klondike Mike’s will always have dedicated followings. Most are located in downtown Palmer, so it’s easy to explore all of these eateries. 

#9: Visit Art and Craft Galleries

Many Alaska visitors will feel inspired exploring Palmer’s artistic side through visiting the community’s local galleries and craft shops. Downtown Palmer shops and the Alaska artists they spotlight provide a window into artistic Alaska through the creative eyes of the more famous to the lesser known across genres. Support these amazing artists by taking a truly Alaskan keepsake home with a purchase of one of their many unique, handcrafted souvenirs. The Gallery in Palmer, Bigfoot Art Gallery, the Art Café and Palmer Museum of History & Art are all notable for their selections of art and the artists they host.

#10: Relax in Local Parks and Gardens

Another way to relax after a day of Palmer adventures is through exploring the community’s fantastic parks and gardens. Each are unique, but all offer different experiences celebrating quiet moments in nature. Some are perfect for picnicking, others for leisurely walks or enjoying wilderness solitude surrounded by Mat-Su peaks with views of downtown Palmer. The Palmer Quad hosts walking trails and history. Babb Arboretum is another wooded open space in Palmer with over 100 shrubs and nearly 50 trees. And Hagen Park, Bugge Park and Meier Park are fun picnic places where kids can play. 

Whatever your interests, all Alaska visitors will enjoy a deep dive into the adventures, landscapes, outdoor adventures and history just waiting to be discovered in Palmer, Alaska. For travelers who want to book their Palmer, Alaska tour with confidence, our friendly travel experts at Alaska Tours are standing by to help you. Our team will share our best tips for planning your Palmer trip in Alaska so that your itinerary maximizes every second in this dreamy destination. Let’s get planning!