Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge
Palmer Hay Flats, just north of Anchorage at the head of Knik Arm, is a waterfowl viewing and hunting gem. Within the marshes and sloughs of this spacious 28,000-acre wetland, tens of thousands of cacophonous dabbling and diving ducks stop to feed during their spring migration late April through May. Pintails, mallards, green-winged teal and wigeon can be seen along Cottonwood Creek near the west side of the refuge. Diving ducks like canvasback, lesser scaup, and the common goldeneye also are seen in spring on the hay flats.
Listen for the familiar honking of the Canada goose during spring and fall migrations. Three species of geese can be seen in these wetlands - the lesser Canada, greater white-fronted, and snow goose. Also watch for the bright white of trumpeter and tundra swans' wings standing out against the natural brown and green backdrop of the refuge.
The refuge's marshy areas interspersed with spruce trees attract moose, especially in the spring during calving. Winter also brings these 800-1200 pound animals into the open as they look for food. Driving the Glenn Highway through the refuge, it is not uncommon to see a "herd" of moose foraging within the expansive flats.
A loud splash of water from one of the waterways might be a large salmon, but it’s more likely one of the abundant muskrats that feed on the roots and stems of marsh cattails, sedges, and grass. Muskrats, one of Alaska's most visible and numerous furbearers, can be mistaken for beavers. Look for their long, skinny rat-like tail, distinct from the beaver's wide flat tail.
Viewing and Safety Tips
A 35-foot viewing tower on the northwest side of Reflections Lake provides a new perspective on the area. Visitors should look for ducks, geese, swans, and sandhill cranes. They may be able to spot moose as well, especially in winter.
Check with local Fish & Game offices for hunting seasons and regulations. Be extra careful of strong tidal waters near mudflats and waterways. The Palmer Fish & Game office telephone number is 907-746-6300.
The lower level of the Reflections Lake viewing tower is accessible to those in wheelchairs.
The Knik River Access and Reflections Lake has 1.0 miles of gravel trail with overlooks, interpretive panels, and accessible bathrooms.
The Cottonwood Creek access has accessible bathrooms. Scout Ridge Overlook is located an easy 400 yards along a gravel trail that leads to a covered platform overlook with dramatic views.
Take the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage. From here, there are 3 major access points: the Knik River Access/Reflections Lake exit off the Glenn Highway at mile 30.5; the Rabbit Slough access at mile 35.5 Parks Highway at Trunk Road exit; and Cottonwood Creek access on Hayfield Road off Fairview Loop. The refuge encompasses the mouths of the Knik and Matanuska Rivers.