Visitors to Palmer, Alaska often drive right past one of the area’s quirkiest and eclectic treasures. Part technical marvel, part fishing hole, and part dump, the Eklutna tailrace combines a trove of features that showcases the unique resourcefulness of Alaska’s residents.
The pure turquoise waters of the Eklutna tailrace host a robust fishery of King and Silver Salmon, so it’s most frequented by anglers trying to catch a big one. The annual salmon derby frequently draws crowds. But those who cross the bridge to explore the jetty will quickly discover a bizarre wonder. The forest is literally growing out of the ruins of dozens of junked classic cars. In the mid-20th century, this area was a dumping ground for old wrecks, possibly left over from the demolition derbies hosted at the nearby Alaska Raceway Park. Not only are the classic cars lovely in their lonely abandon, but they’re often scrawled with humorous graffiti from their glory days.
Continuing up the leafy path towards the mountains towering above the area reveals the hidden origin of the waterway, and explains the shocking blue water that contrasts with the murky green of the Knik River it flows into. The tailrace ends at a concrete barrier bubbling and boiling from the force of water flowing out of twin submerged tunnels. In the distance, a concrete building houses two turbines generating 40 megawatts of hydroelectric energy for homes in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. In the 1950s, engineers blasted a 4.5-mile long tunnel through Goat Mountain from Eklutna Lake to the power plant on the other side. The nine-foot-wide tunnel has been channeling water from the lake for over 60 years.
Know Before You Go
Parking for the tailrace is off Old Glenn Highway, 34 miles north of Anchorage. The area is busy with fishermen in the Summer months when the salmon run. Best times to go are in the Fall when the bright fall colors contrast with the turquoise waters and the snow-capped mountains.