Palmer is the proud home of the Alaska State Fair, held every summer at the end of August through Labor Day. This weekend is the last hurrah for the giant vegetables and deep-fried fair foods, so take the opportunity to play in the Mat-Su Valley on this last 3-day weekend of summer.
Did you know you can camp at the State Fair? Yep, one whole parking lot is reserved for those who think one day at the fair just isn’t enough. Travel vans are perfect for state fair camping, and there are still a few available for this weekend!
Alaska State Fair
Don’t miss it. If you’re in the state while the fair is on, you owe it to yourself to take a gander at the giant vegetables this particular fair is known for. The current Guinness world record for largest cabbage, at 138 pounds, was set at the Alaska State Fair, along with the records for several other vegetables. This year, the cabbage weigh-off is on August 31, and you can place your bets up until the 7pm event. Other highlights include musical acts, lumberjack shows, a wandering magician, a dinosaur exhibit, and of course, all the fair food you can eat. Kettle corn, deep-fried peaches, turkey legs, burgers with donuts for buns, hand-dipped chocolate ice cream bars… You can also pick up some giant produce for yourself if you’re feeling healthy (or guilty).
But the fair isn’t the only interesting thing in Palmer! True, it’s the most popular attraction in late summer, but since everyone else is at the fair, it’s the perfect time to do some of Palmer’s other activities.
In the mountains above Palmer, Hatcher Pass is one of the states more popular recreation areas, and a fun place for visitors and locals alike to explore is Independence Mine. Once one of the most profitable gold mines in Alaska, the mine is now a state historical park and is accessible via Hatcher Pass Road. Spend some time exploring the ruins of the hard rock mine and its outbuildings, and take in the history of gold mining in Alaska, both the placer and lode mining that brought many prospectors to the state around the turn of the 19th century. Learn more.
Musk Ox & Reindeer Farms
The Musk Ox Farm is a nonprofit dedicated to domesticating musk oxen. Visit the farm to learn about these ice age creatures and touch some super soft qiviut, the wool material made from musk ox fur. It’s softer than cashmere wool and much warmer (and also a lot more expensive).
The Reindeer Farm is the regular home of the animals that feature in the annual Running of the Reindeer during Fur Rondy, but you don’t have to wait for subzero temperatures to visit them! You can tour this working farm until September 3, and Alaska residents get a discount.
The museum serves as both Palmer’s visitor center and its repository of history, focusing on its early days as the Matanuska Colony, a New Deal-era program that brought Midwest farmers and their families to the area to cultivate the land in the Mat-Su Valley. The museum also features an adjacent garden that showcases what can be grown during Alaska’s long summer days, including an artist’s replica of the Guinness-record-holding giant cabbage. You can also rent an audio guide and take the self-guided walking tour through downtown, literally wandering through Palmer’s history.
Hike the Butte
A monolith left behind when the glaciers retreated out of the Mat-Su valley during the last ice age, the Butte is a landmark in the Palmer area. The hike is not very long, but it takes a steep route up the side of the 900-foot butte, so it’s quick but intense. The views from the top are pretty spectacular with the town of Palmer and the farmlands of the Mat-Su below and the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains in view on all sides.
In addition to the state fairgrounds—one of the parking lots is a designated campground—there are several places to camp in your travel van in and around Palmer. If you’re catching one of the shows at the fair, stay at the fair itself, and then you can indulge without worrying about driving. Mat-Su Parks & Rec maintains Riverview Park, a nice public campground near the river in Palmer. There are several private RV parks in the area as well, and Alaska State Parks maintains two campgrounds in the Hatcher Pass area.
Ready for an adventure in Palmer? A travel van can get you there! Book yours today!