The community of Willow, with a population of 2,000 residents, is about 60 miles north of Anchorage in the beautiful “Mat-Su” Valley, known as Alaska’s playground. The George Parks Highway runs through Willow, from Mile 60 to about Mile 84. January temperatures range from -40 to 33; July can vary from 42 to 88. Rainfall ranges from 16 to 27 inches, with an average of 100 inches of annual snowfall.
As a popular vacation destination, Willow is centrally located for day trips to numerous area attractions. We are proud to be able to boast that we have some of the best fishing hot spots in the Mat-Su Valley! Willow is less than 15 minutes from Deshka Landing.
Nancy Lake is a popular state recreation site, and nearby streams and lakes offer some of Alaska’s finest Salmon and Trout and Pike fishing. Hatcher Pass, also nearby, offers scenic vistas and excellent hiking and berry-picking opportunities in summer, and skiing and snowmachining in winter. The historic and popular Iditarod Trail links up nearby. Many years, the Iditarod restarts takes place in Willow. Several of the world’s top dog mushers live in this community. Some mushers offer the opportunity for tourists to visit their kennels.
Located in the heart of lake country and surrounded by mountains, Willow’s beautiful scenery is very seductive. As you crest the hill on the edge of town, you are treated to a fantastic view of Mt. McKinley (Denali), 174 miles away. Water sports are very popular in the summer on the many lakes and streams. Winter sports – snowmachining, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ski flying, among others – are a major attraction since Willow sits at the convergence of many of the trails that make up Alaska’s extensive trail system.
Beautiful Hatcher Pass is a perfect day trip from your vacation home
The Denalina Indians occupied this area historically, living in semi-permanent villages. The community got its start when gold was discovered on Willow Creek in 1897. Supplies and equipment were brought in by boat to Knik. From there, a 26-mile summer trail went northwest, up Cottonwood Creek, and across Bald Mountain to Willow Creek. The winter sled trail went north, crossing the present line of the Alaska Railroad at Houston, and up the west end of Bald Mountain for 30 miles. This trail, dubbed the “Double Ender Sled Trail,” is still being used by skiers, hunters, backpackers and snowmobile enthusiasts. The sleds then followed a trail along Willow Creek in an easterly direction, now Hatcher Pass Road.
The Talkeetna Trail also passed through Willow and was used by dog teams and pack horses. Cabins to accommodate freighters and mail carriers were located at Nancy Lake, Willow and other points north. This route was the forerunner of the Parks Highway. During construction of the Alaska Railroad, surveyors, construction crews, homesteaders and other settlers came to Willow. A Railroad station house was constructed in 1920. During World War II, a radar warning station and airfield were built. The Trail’s End Lodge was built in 1947; it subsequently became a post office in 1948.
By 1954, Willow Creek was Alaska’s largest gold mining district, with a total production approaching 18 million dollars. Land disposals, homestead subdivisions, and completion of the George Parks Highway (in 1972) fueled growth in the area. In 1976, Alaskans selected Willow for their new State capital site. However, funding to enable the capital move was defeated in the November 1982 election. There are a number of seasonal-use homes and undeveloped lots in the area, owned by Anchorage residents, as a result of the capital move initiative in the 1970s.
From the Parks Highway, there is easy access to the statewide highway system and the transportation facilities of Wasilla, Palmer and Anchorage. There is an Alaska Railroad stop in Willow, and there are two public airstrips available, one a State-owned 4,400′ gravel airstrip and one at Deshka Landing, owned by the Dept. of Natural Resources. There are five additional private strips, and floatplane bases at Willow and Kashwitna Lakes.
Today, Willow has a health clinic, a medical doctors office, an elementary school, and a number of thriving small businesses. There is a local credit union with an ATM, several convenience stores and gas stations, 2 restaurants, a lunch counter at the convenience store, a drive-up cafe and an espresso stand, along with a number of B & B accommodations, a new post office, a community center and a handful of churches.
Visitors consider Willow to be a truly Alaskan community — off-the-beaten-track and in the midst of Alaska’s beauty, yet within striking distance of modern facilities like cinemas, hospitals, grocers and large department stores. And as the area continues to grow, quailty options in fine dining and gift shopping experiences are moving closer all the time.
Willow is rapidly becoming the home of the Iditarod restart, having hosted it for 8 of the last 11 years. The town also hosts the State Winter Carnival, the last weekend of January and the first week-end of February.