Now that summer is over, I can finally get organized and share some of our favorite fun adventures we did that I didn’t get a chance to write about. I’ve also had a lot of readers express a desire to come visit the Last Frontier, but they are unsure if there are enough activities that their kids would enjoy too. Or more importantly, that a family can afford.
Alaska can be expensive, but there are plenty of ways to spread the expense out by blending in fun that costs money with fun that doesn’t.
So I thought it would be fun to share some of our top inexpensive summer activities. Over the next 4 weeks or so, look for 3 “cheap” (basically money spent on gas) ideas, for spending quality time in Alaska on a family vacation.
Alaska’s Golden History
Anyone who knows anything about Alaska has heard tales of the gold rush. Thousands of fortune seekers made their way to the Klondike, Nome, and even here in our backyard near the Mat-Su Valley.
Located in a bowl at the top of Hatcher Pass is the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Besides it’s stunning location, the park is a chance to journey back through Alaska’s golden history.
The gates are open from about mid-June through Labor Day. It’s around 60 miles from Anchorage and will only cost you $5 for parking. The rest is a walking tour back in time.
While Haley was here for a visit, we hauled the crew up the pass and walked the whole trail system. The paths meander through buildings that have been restored and those that have fallen victim to the harsh whims of tough Alaskan weather since the mine was officially closed in 1951.
The tour started at the visitor’s center where the relics of history were on display to handle and admire. As the kids dug into the “touch” closet, we talked about what it would have been like to live with the tools and equipment of the early 1900’s.
We also thought about what it would have been like to pay 1940’s prices for skiing on the T-bar that was here. To ski Hatcher now you need a snow-machine or some good old fashion leg power!
Exploring Independence Mine
As we worked our way through the buildings, the antique smells and sites transported me back in time. I was overcome by the aura of the period. I felt if I turned around, a family would be walking over to the school to drop their kids off, miners would be heading up the hill for their shifts underground, and women would busy themselves tidying up the modest rooms they lived in.
A real Alaskan community had existed here and I loved catching a glimpse of what life might have looked like.
Further up the hill, though overcast, beautiful summer mountain vistas engulfed us as we approached the mining tunnels.
At the mine entrance, Haley, Summer and Saige hopped in the cart, ready to roll. Of course they couldn’t go anywhere because the cart was chained down.
In the mouth of the tunnel, temperatures dropped by around 45-50 degrees. It must have been really chilly for the miners deep in the mountain. You aren’t allowed in the labyrinth of mine shafts, but I imagined how fascinating that would be.
A few people were trying their hand at gold panning in the stream along side the tunnel.
Our 4 kids with us, ages 9-21, all enjoyed our jaunt through history. They marveled at just how different their lives would have been had we lived in that time period. No cell phones, computers, and even cars in the early days. Some days I think that sounds pretty nice.
Heading back out and down from the mine, little sister followed big sister in one of my favorite photos of the summer. I wondered how many times before that scenario had been played out on those tracks in the past.
Independence Mine made our top list not because of the flash or flare that is a part of so many iconic Alaskan experiences. Instead, because of the quiet spirit that speaks of a legendary time in Alaska’s past.
Gold mining of course continues around the state. This place is beautifully haunted and just adequately restored to show what life could have been like. And, maybe what becomes of history as it passes on in time.
It’s a valuable lesson for our kids and one worth sharing with your family should you find yourself looking for something enriching and inexpensive to do in Alaska.