Visitors to Independence Mine can explore more than ever before thanks to new private and customizable tours being offered by Salmon Berry Tours, the park's concessionaire this summer.

Salmon Berry Tours currently has three buildings open to the public - there is no cost (other than parking) to explore the mine on your own. But for a more in-depth - and affordable - option, visitors should consider a field lecture or a private tour. Field lectures are $15 per person, while private tours are $100 for up to four people and can be customized for any group's interest.

Last weekend, we opted for a private tour of the mine. A Salmon Berry Tours staff member took us well beyond the three open buildings, including the mess hall and some of the living quarters. It was like stepping back in time and money well spent. In the mess hall, we spent time in the kitchen learned about what it took to feed an entire community around the clock. We got to see private living quarters for workers, ranging from tiny, rooms for two people for the average worker to the larger private quarters of supervisors and chefs. Throughout, the knowledgeable guides talked about what it was like to live and work in a remote gold mining camp, and you felt like you were experiencing it for yourself.

Salmon Berry Tours is modeling the tours in the time frame of 1938-1950, which is when Independence Mine was at peak production, making it the largest operating gold mine in the United States until World War II. Getting gold extracted from the Talkeetna Mountains, then transported back to Wasilla or Knik and ultimately to the Lower 48 was a logistical challenge, and learning about how they accomplished it was interesting.

In addition to the private tours and field lectures, Salmon Berry Tours is also operating a snack shack and small gift shop, as well as gear rentals including gold pans. The upper lot is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Make it a day experience by taking a tour and then hitting some of the hiking trails. Or, take a drive over Hatcher Pass to the Willow side of things for a road trip you'll never forget.