What’s not to love about a visit to Independence Mine? You get to drive up to (or at least, near) a high-mountain alpine pass, enjoying beautiful views of the mountains. Plus, you get to hike around a preserved ghost town filled with buildings that supported the mining operation. And all of this is conveniently located about an hour north of Anchorage, Alaska.
Independence Mine State Historical Area is located near Hatcher Pass, along Fishhook-Willow Road. As the name suggests, it connects the community of Fishhook with Willow, via Hatcher Pass (an unpaved road which is closed in winter). From Glenn Highway, look for Palmer-Fishhook Road (which will turn into Fishhook-Willow Road). Follow it through a residential area. then up the hill towards the pass. Even if Hatcher Pass is closed to vehicles, you should still be able to reach the parking area for Independence Mine Park. And if the park is still snowed-in, you can park outside the gates and hike into the park.
I was visiting in early June, and since it had been an unusually mild winter, I figured enough snow would have melted for the park to be open. But, at this elevation, there was still some snow on the ground, and Independence Mine State Historical Site was still a few days away from its opening date. That’s no problem, though, if you don’t mind a hike of about a mile or so. There’s a big parking lot, just outside the park’s gates (parking is $5).
From there, you can hike up to the ghost town. It is an uphill hike, so it requires some effort, but most people should be able to handle it. You can either follow the paved road, or hop onto a dirt hiking trail.
One of the first buildings you’ll approach is the “new” cookhouse and mess hall. It’s “new” because it was built in 1941, to replace the “old” one, which wasn’t big enough to accommodate the growing operation.
More structures are up ahead, including…
… an apartment house, built in 1937…
… and a warehouse, which also housed…
… the engineering offices. These doors are all padlocked when the park is closed for the winter, but once the park opens, you’ll be able to go inside many of them (which I assume would double the amount of time you’d likely spend in the park).
Numerous other buildings are in various stages of decay. Even those that have collapsed…
… still display a lot of history. You’ll find recognizable items (like this light shade) in the piles of lumber and sheet metal.
Along the way, you’ll see some interesting old equipment on display…
… including a massive old diesel engine, which apparently made the long trip to Alaska from Denver.
If you’re ready to gain some more elevation, hike the Hard Rock Trail up towards the mine shops and water tunnel portal.
The hike is worth it, to get a sweeping view of the park, and everything that lies beyond it. Looking south, you’re facing the Mat-Su valley, and Anchorage.
Up here, an old mine train is on display. It was put into service in 1940. The train allowed quicker access for miners headed into the mine, and easier removal of ore.
Two battery-powered locomotives are on display here, along with several ore cars and a “mucking” machine.
Follow the rails…
… to the entrance of the Water Tunnel. It was developed around 1940-41.
Beyond the water tunnel, the tracks start to look like the ones from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Not surprisingly, you’re not supposed to walk out there.
The tracks continue out to the milling complex, where gold-bearing ore was sorted and separated from other rocks.
If you want to climb even higher, the service road trail continues uphill, towards this building, then loops back down to an area called “boomtown”, where married employees built a community of small homes.
Head back down the hill, for a closer look at this unusually skinny building. It’s one of the bunkhouses, built for unmarried workers.
Continue to loop around to visit the Manager’s House, built in 1939. This building serves as the park’s visitor center, during the summer months. If you visit when the park is officially open, this will probably be your first stop, rather than your last, because it’s near the parking area.
The Bottom Line
If weather and road conditions allow it, take the time to drive up to Independence Mine, and hike around the historic ghost town, filled with old buildings and mining equipment. It’s well worth your time, even if you do nothing more than enjoy the view.
Here’s a look at the scenic drive from Glenn Highway near Palmer, up to Independence Mine State Historical Site, then back down into the Mat-Su valley: