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Hatcher Pass Gold Panning Area, Alaska

Steve Herschbach

In 1986, the Alaska State Legislature created the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area, located approximately fifteen miles north of Palmer on the Little Susitna River. The area is open to a variety of recreational activities, including recreational mining. This fact sheet concentrates on recreational mining within the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area.

The Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is the primary manager of the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area. The Divisions of Land and Mining also have land and resource management responsibilities, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for the management of the fish and game resources within the Hatcher Pass Area.

Where is the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area located?
Approximately two miles north of Palmer, on the Glenn Highway; follow the signs showing a left turn to the Independence Mine Historical Park and Hatcher Pass. After turning off the Glenn Highway onto the Palmer Fishhook Road the public use area begins at approximately mile 7.8 of the Palmer Fishhook Road.

Hatcher Pass Public Use Area - click on image for larger version

More information including detailed land status maps can be found at the Alaska DNR Case Abstract.

Where can I mine recreationally within the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area?
You can mine recreationally anywhere within the boundaries of the Public Use Area except for several valid (active) mining claims. There are many vehicle pull-offs along the road next to the Little Susitna River for easy river access to recreationally mine. We recommend using the Gold Mint Trail, which runs north, along the Little Susitna River from the gravel parking lot at the Gold Mint Trailhead. The trail continues north along the Little Susitna River for approximately eight miles. You may also pan for gold in the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Before panning please obtain an Independence Mine brochure and speak with the park staff at the mine visitors center.

What methods of recreational mining are allowed in the Public Use Area?
Recreational gold panning using light portable field equipment, such as a hand operated pick, shovel, and pan. You may also use a suction dredge with a nozzle intake of six inches or less, powered by an engine of 18 horsepower.

Do I need a permit?
You may. The Little Susitna River has been specified as important for the spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fish. You must have a dredging permit from the DNR Office of Habitat Management & Permitting (OHMP) if you wish to use a suction dredge in the Little Susitna River. If you wish to use equipment other than that specified above, you will need a permit from the Division of Mining and/or the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

What facilities are available in or near the Public Use Area?
Except for the Independence Mine Visitor Center, the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area is relatively undeveloped. Privately owned facilities offering food and lodging are within walking distance of the Gold Mint Trailhead. Outhouses are available at the Gold Mint trailhead parking lot and at the Independence Mine Visitor Center.

What other activities are allowed within the Public Use Area?
Recreational activities such as hiking, picnicking, photography, berry picking, camping, skiing, snow machining, and snow boarding are allowed within the Hatcher Pass Public Use Area. Other activities such as fishing, grazing, hunting, and trapping are also allowed.

What about camping in the area?
From http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/factsht/gen_allow_use.pdf 

Generally allowed: Setting up and using a camp for personal, noncommercial recreational purposes, or for any non-recreational purpose (such as a support camp during mineral exploration), for no more than 14 days at one site, using a tent platform or other temporary structure that can readily be dismantled and removed, or a floathouse that can readily be moved. Moving the entire camp at least two miles starts a new 14-day period. Cabins or other permanent improvements are not allowed, even if they are on skids or another non-permanent foundation. The camp must be removed immediately if the department determines that it interferes with public access or other public uses or interests.

For additional information on dredging permits for anadromous steams, contact the DF&G Division of Habitat at the following address:
Department of Fish & Game
Division of Habitat
1800 Glenn Highway, Suite 6
Palmer, AK 9964506736
Phone: 907-861-3200
Fax: 907-861-3232

For additional information on Hatcher Pass Public Use Area contact:
Department of Natural Resources
Public Information Center
555 West 7th, Suite 1260
Anchorage, AK 99501-3557
Phone: 907-269-8400 TDD: 907-269-8411

Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
Mat-Su/Copper Basin Area Office
Finger Lake State Recreation Area
HC 32 Box 6706
Wasilla, AK 99687
Phone: 907-745-2827

Source: Modified with additions from the Alaska Division of Mining, Land, & Water Fact Sheet February 2012. The Alaska Division of Parks has a site about the Independence Mine State Historical Park.

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