Hatcher Pass Snowmobile Trails
Snowmobiling in Hatcher Pass
WELCOME TO HATCHER PASS, one of the premier snowmobiling areas in Southcentral Alaska. Located within the 300,000-acre Hatcher Pass Management Area, you can enjoy a variety of snowmobiling opportunities ranging from riding on groomed trails to exploring the backcountry. Due to the mountainous terrain, most off-trail snowmobiling in Hatcher Pass requires at least a moderate level of skill and experience, but novices can ride on the 22 miles of groomed and marked trails.
The east (Palmer) side of the pass has relatively narrow valleys that restrict most snowmobiling to the marked trails. All kinds of winter recreation occur on this side of the pass, which also includes a private lodge, Independence Mine State Historical Park, a new Nordic ski area, and the Summit Lake State Recreation Site. Although this side of the pass is only about a third of the entire management area, it receives the most winter recreation use and therefore has the most restrictions on snowmobiling.
The west side (Willow side) of the pass has several broader U-shaped valleys such as the Willow, Little Willow, and Craigie Creek drainages. The long, narrow Purches and Peters Creek valleys offer opportunities for exploration. The west side also includes the glacier-smoothed alpine areas of Willow Mountain, Bald Mountain Ridge, and Black’s Ridge, which provide spectacular vistas and exhilarating riding when the snow is deep enough.
Recreational Use Boundaries Have Changed
Effective January 20, 2013, the new Hatcher Pass Management Area Regulations went into effect. The changes affect areas open to the use of snowmobiles and are primarily in the Government Peak, Mile 16, Gold Mint, Reed Lakes/Little Susitna, Archangel, and Marmot Mountain areas. Where practical, signage will be placed along the revised boundaries. Recreationists are encouraged to study the maps to assure the area they intend to use is open or closed to their choice of activity. Revised map and more information.
Click on map for printable PDF
Snowmobile Openings Information – East Side
State Park staff makes determinations on when snow conditions are sufficient to protect the underlying vegetation. Openings are determined by a number of factors including snow depth, snow density, wind loading, temperature and the weather forecast. These variables are not consistent throughout the area and can result in only certain areas or elevations being opened. Some years openings have occurred as early as Thanksgiving, and other years as late as February – it all depends on the snowpack. Conversely, closures can occur at any time conditions degrade.
For current openings information, go to the Alaska State Parks Snow Reports. These are usually updated weekly for various locations around the state, typically from November through May.
Areas Designated for Snowmobiling
The entire Hatcher Pass Management Area west of the pass is open to snowmobiling, although the Summit Lake State Recreation Site may be closed due to insufficient snow cover to protect the underlying vegetation. The Hatcher Pass Trail, on the east side of the pass, is a snowmobile corridor from the Gold Mint Trailhead all the way to Hatcher Pass. The Archangel Road Trail is now non-motorized, snowmobiles must use the new separated Archangel Snowmobile Trail that parallels the road on the right (east) side. For the first 2 miles, all terrain on the left (west) of the snowmobile trail is closed, and the terrain to the right (east) is open to snowmobiles. Reed Creek Valley is open to snowmobiles up to and including Good Hope Creek. Upper Archangel Valley beyond the Reed Creek Valley, is open.
Above the Fishhook Trailhead (TH), Marmot Mountain is now closed to snowmobiles. The Hatcher Pass Trail “corridor” is the only place open to ride from the trailhead in either direction. Approximately one mile up from Fishhook TH, the Hatcher Pass Trail connects to a short spur that is open to the Hatcher Pass Lodge.
After crossing the Hatcher Pass Road at Mile Post (MP) 17.3, the area between Hatcher Creek on the left (south) and Skyscraper Mountain on the right (north) is open to snowmobiles. Hatcher Creek is the obvious drainage to the left of the Hatcher Pass Trail as it climbs toward the summit. The area south of the creek is closed to snowmobiles.
Areas Closed to Snowmobiling
There are several areas on the east side of the pass that are closed to snowmobiles – the Government Peak Unit, Reed Creek, upper Little Susitna River valleys, Mile 16, Marmot Mountain and the Independence Bowl (including the parking lot near Hatcher Pass Lodge). See the map link above for open and closed areas.
Know Alaska’s snowmobile laws and regulations.
Read your owner’s manual.
Check your snowmobile and equipment.
Make sure you have adequate gas and oil for the ride.
Wear proper clothing and a helmet.
Find out about weather, snow, and ice conditions.
Tell someone specifically where you are going and when you expect to return.
Don’t forget your avalanche beacon if riding in mountain terrain.
Obey posted speed limits. If no posted limit, let weather, lighting, and trail conditions determine a safe speed.
Ride sober – alcohol or drugs impair judgment and slow reaction time.
Be considerate of other trail users, private landowners, and fellow riders.
Reduce your speed when riding after dark or in limited visibility.
Fishhook Parking Lot and Trailhead – parking can be limited during peak weekends
East Hatcher Pass Trails
The east (Palmer) side of the Hatcher Pass Management Area consists of several narrow valleys. Winter sports enthusiasts of all kinds use this side of the pass. In order to accommodate all users and provide for quality recreation experiences, there are several areas closed to snowmobiles: Government Peak, Reed Creek, upper Little Susitna River valleys, and the Independence Bowl. The map above shows these areas, and signs mark the boundaries. Please respect these closures so that all winter visitors to Hatcher Pass can enjoy their outdoor experience.
There are two large snowmobile trailheads on the east side of the pass: Gold Mint Trailhead (MP14 Hatcher Pass Rd.) and Fishhook Trailhead (MP 16.3). There are several other parking areas along the road, but they are either too small to accommodate vehicles with trailers or they do not access snowmobile areas.
This eighteen-mile trail starts at the Gold Mint Trailhead (MP14) and parallels the plowed Hatcher Pass Road for three miles before it crosses the road. Once across the road, the trail follows the unplowed road up and over the pass, then down toward Willow to the beginning of winter road maintenance (MP 32.4). The trail is groomed and well signed. It is an easy ride with beautiful scenery and lots of off-trail snowmobiling once through the pass. From Archangel Road to where the trail crosses the Hatcher Pass Road near Mile 16.8, the trail is a confined corridor where snowmobiles must remain on the trail. Please stay on the trail and respect other users.
Hatcher Pass Summit looking toward Willow
The Hatcher Pass Trail can also be accessed from the Fishhook TH(MP16.3). This trailhead is only minutes away from the pass and the unrestricted riding on the west side. Snowmobiles must remain on the trail either direction from the trailhead.
This groomed, separated-use trail leaves the Hatcher Pass Trail about a mile from the Gold Mint Trailhead. The trail follows the unplowed Archangel Road up the valley to the old Fern Mine, a distance of four miles. The first two miles of the trail has separated uses. Snowmobilers must stay on the right trail, non-motorized on the left. Heading up the valley, snowmobiles may ride on the right (east) part of the valley. Once beyond the Reed Creek Valley both sides of the trail are open to snowmobiles. Reed Creek Valley is open to snowmobiles up to and including Good Hope Creek.
Registration is required – AS 28.39.010(a) and enforced.
Operation is prohibited on maintained roads, except to cross at a right angle – 13 AAC 02.455.
Working headlight – 13 AAC 04.400(a).
Working taillight, brake light and red reflector – 13 AAC 04.400(b).
Brakes – 13 AAC 04.405.
A throttle that returns the engine speed to idle when released – 13 AAC 04.410
Muffler in good working condition – 13 AAC 04.415.
Riders under 14 must be accompanied by a parent or person over 21 – 11 AAC.12.110.
In Case of Emergency
On the east (Palmer) side of the pass, the Hatcher Pass Lodge is located at MP 17.5 Hatcher Pass Road. (907) 745-1200.
Cell phones may work in the Hatcher Pass area, particularly at higher elevations, but the mountains may block the signal in many places.
USGS 1:63,360 (1 inch = 1 mile) topographic quad maps covering the Hatcher Pass Management Area are Anchorage C-6, C-7, C-8, D-6, D-7, and D-8. Maps are available at USGS offices and at commercial sporting goods stores.
West Hatcher Pass Trails
The west (Willow) side of the Hatcher Pass Management Area offers many opportunities for recreational riding and exploration. Some of the most popular routes are listed below.
Open mountain riding country on the west side of Hatcher Pass
This trail begins on the west (Willow) side of the pass at the end of road maintenance (MP 32.4). The trail generally follows the unplowed road east, up and over Hatcher Pass, then down to the Fishhook Trailhead (MP 16.5) and the Gold Mint Trailhead (MP 14.0) on the east (Palmer) side. This 18-mile trail receives the heaviest traffic, both motorized and non-motorized, of all the trails in the Hatcher Pass area. Some trail sections on the east side are signed for reduced speed because of the multiple users on the trail. The west side of the pass is generally unrestricted for snowmobile use, but riders must still operate at safe speeds on the trail because of the heavy traffic.
This trail, which begins at the parking lot just across the Willow Creek Bridge (MP 34), is an easy, winding, and often bumpy ride north through spruce forest and open muskegs to the crossing on Purches Creek.
The trail to Willow Mountain crosses Purches Creek and climbs up a forested slope to the Motor Mushers cabin, where it opens to 50 square miles of rolling alpine plateau. Beyond the cabin there is no defined trail, but the most commonly used routes are shown on the brochure map. The Little Willow Creek drainage can be accessed from the north end of Willow Mountain.
Most of Willow Mountain is easy riding, although more challenging riding can be found. In good weather the views of the Susitna Valley and the Alaska Range are spectacular. However, in poor visibility locating the right trail off the mountain can be difficult, so always keep a “weather eye” for changes while you’re riding.
Follow the Willow Mountain Trail from the parking lot at the bridge to the crossing at Purches Creek. Turn right (east) and follow the southern bank of the creek for about a mile, to where Peters Creek flows into Purches Creek from the north. If you stay to the right, you will follow a winding, forested trail for over five miles before breaking out above timberline. The trail continues up the narrow valley for about six miles and climbs toward a bowl at the head of the valley. It is an easy ride to this point. If you take the left fork at the Purches/Peters creek confluence, you will travel up the Peters Creek Valley. The terrain in the Peters Creek valley is similar to Purches Creek.
From the bowl at the head of Purches Creek, experienced mountain riders can choose either of two passes. To the north is “The Wall,” the pass to the upper Peters Creek Valley. It is very steep and should be attempted only in good weather by advanced mountain riders. Once through the pass, it is an easy ride of about 13 miles back to the Purches Creek Trail.
Traversing “The Wall”, Hatcher Pass - West
To the south is Dogsled Pass, which takes you into the Craigie Creek Valley. This pass is steep but not as difficult as “The Wall.” From Dogsled Pass it is a six-mile ride down the valley to the intersection with the Hatcher Pass Trail (MP 23.8).
This is an easy six-mile route up Craigie Creek Valley from the Hatcher Pass Trail (MP 23.8). The valley is fairly broad and open, although there are many boulders that may lie just below the surface of the snow. The valley ends at Dogsled Pass, which can be an easy climb if the snow pack is deep and firm, otherwise only experienced mountain riders should attempt it. Through the pass to the north is the Purches Creek Valley (see previous trail description).
Dave Churchill Memorial Trail
This popular trail traverses the west end of Bald Mountain in from the Willow Creek valley to a trailhead near Wasilla. The north end of the trail begins at MP 31.2 Hatcher Pass Road, a little over a mile from the end of winter road maintenance. A sign marks the trailhead. This easy trail crosses Willow Creek, ice cover permitting, and enters a thick spruce forest. The trail is an obvious cut through the forest as it heads uphill to timberline. Shortly after crossing the creek, the trail diverges with the Dave Churchill Trail to the left and the Herning Trail to the right.
Once above timberline the trail route, marked with black plastic wands, travels southeast up and over the west end of the mountain. The marked route descends the steeper south side of Bald Mountain, dropping back down to a trailhead on Sitze Road, off of Schrock Road northwest of Wasilla.
Other Bald Mountain Routes
Above timberline, the open plateau-like west end of Bald Mountain is easy riding. The spectacular views of the Matanuska and Susitna valleys and the Alaska Range invite exploration. Heading east from the Churchill Trail, riders can climb a series of step-like benches to the top of the Wet Gulch drainage. There is a route down Wet Gulch, when snow conditions allow, that connects with the Hatcher Pass Trail at MP 27.5. It is an easy route to follow except right after a heavy snowfall.
Eastward beyond Wet Gulch, the top of Bald Mountain begins to narrow and eventually becomes a knife-edged ridge only several feet wide, with drops on both sides of a thousand feet or more. It is best not to travel by snowmobile east of the radio repeater site above Grubstake Gulch.
Another hazard to avoid are the south-facing gullies on Bald Mountain, east of the Dave Churchill Trail. These huge, steep-walled gullies may look inviting, but it can be impossible to get out of them. In recent years several snowmobiles have had to be retrieved by helicopter from these gullies.
The historic Herning Sled Trail traverses the extreme west end of Bald Mountain below timberline. The north end of the Herning Trail diverges to the right from the Dave Churchill Trail about a mile from the trailhead (MP 31.2 Hatcher Pass Road). The trail stays in the spruce forest and open muskegs around the west end of the mountain and ends behind the Houston Fire Station (MP 57 Parks Hwy.). The trail is about 12 miles long and is easy riding, but can be bumpy.
Most of the Hatcher Pass Management Area has some level of avalanche hazard. The risk will vary with slope angle, slope aspect, the quality of the snow pack, winds, and other variables. Snowmobilers should be familiar with assessing the snow pack stability and evaluating the avalanche hazard on the slopes they will use before they venture into avalanche terrain.
Each member of the party should carry an avalanche beacon, a probe, and a shovel, and know how to use them. Never travel alone. Remember, you can travel farther on a snowmobile in a half-hour than you can walk in a day. It’s a good idea to bring along snowshoes.
For more information on avalanche safety and condition reports at Hatcher Pass, go to http://hatcherpassavalanchecenter.org/ .
Throughout the Hatcher Pass area there may be boulders hidden just under the surface of the snow that present a hazard to snowmobiles traveling at high speed.
The open terrain on Willow Mountain, Bald Mountain, and Black’s Ridge invites riding at high speed, but use caution and common sense. Many steep-walled ravines carve the edges of these plateau-like mountains and can appear suddenly. Snowmobilers have been injured when they flew across a ravine and crashed into the opposite side because they were riding too fast to stop.
Most of the groomed trails in Hatcher Pass are multi-use trails. Many trail users are not familiar with trail etiquette of multi-use trails, so here’s an opportunity for snowmobilers to show they can safely share trails.
It is always a good idea to bring along emergency survival gear, a signaling device, spare parts and tools, extra food, and a map of the area you will be riding. Watch out for the trail groomer and other SnowCats.
Current snowmobile registration is required by law with registration funds being used to support the statewide SnowTRAC Snowmobile Trail Grant Program. Funds go to snowmobile trail improvements and the statewide Grooming Pool. For more information on SnowTRAC.