When I first decided to go and visit the Williams Reindeer Farm, out near the Butte in Palmer, Alaska, I expected to see reindeer. I also thought to myself that I would definitely get to see them but from my experience with other outdoor farm tours with animals, I certainly wouldn’t be interacting with them beyond a potential feeding behind a fence. I am happy to report that my assumptions were quite wrong.
Note: This review is for their winter tour experience. Some offerings will be different than a summer tour. For example, in the summer you won’t be able to enter the pen and actually be with the reindeer, but you can still interact with them over the fence.
While they certainly had loads of beautiful reindeer (that you can full on be in the pen with and pet/feed) they had so much more!
I had not been to the Williams Reindeer Farm since I was a kid, and if it’s been a while since you have been back (or if you’ve never been), I can attest that it has evolved into quite the experience.
In this article I will discuss how to get there, a bit of the farm’s history, what my adventure was like, what you can expect from this tour in general, and why I definitely think you should add it to your list of fun Alaskan activities!
How To Find The Williams Reindeer Farm
The Williams Reindeer Farm is located about 49 minutes North of Anchorage Alaska right next to the Butte in Palmer, Alaska. It is a beautiful drive no matter the time of year and there are lots of fun places to stop for photo opportunities along the way. It is a great day trip activity, or even a fun place to stop if you are touring across Alaska and you happen to be heading through the Palmer or Wasilla areas at some point.
They can be found at:
The Williams Reindeer Farm
- Address: 5561 S Bodenburg Loop Rd Palmer AK 99645
When you get close you will see the farm on your right (trust me it will be obvious), their old entrance is the first thing you will see (its gated off) so head on past that and make your next right into their main parking area.
There is a giant Yeti in the parking area that will both tell you that you are in the right spot, and is also ridiculously fun to get a photo with!
Before you head out though, you should note that most of their tours/activities book up fast. Although they do take walk-ins if their is room, it is highly recommended that you book your tour/activity before you come to visit.
They have several different tours that they operate both in winter and in summer which you can checkout and book online here.
In addition to their normal tours/activities they also have special events throughout the year (especially around Christmas time) and can even host your next birthday party with them!
Ok, now that you know how to book your activities and find the Reindeer farm, let see what it’s all about!
A Brief History Of The Williams Reindeer Farm
Tom and Gene Williams founded the Reindeer Farm and Tom actually grew up on this farm as a teenager in the 1950’s. At that time it was a dairy farm but as Tom got older and took more responsibility running the farm he had dreams of turning it into a Moose farm.
He had always had a great deal of respect and reverence for the Moose in Alaska, and he thought this would certainly be a unique and different farming experience.
Unfortunately, it was then, and is now, highly illegal to own or domesticate Moose in Alaska.
Undeterred in still finding something unique to have on the farm, Tom turned his sights towards Northern Canada’s domesticated Reindeer.
As Reindeer are simply domesticated Caribou, he knew they could stand up to our cold winters, if only he could teach them to eat local hay and grains.
In 1987, through a lot of hard work and training, the first herd of 20 Reindeer were brought to Alaska, that eventually grew to several hundred, and they have thrived here ever since.
Tom and Gene sadly passed away and the farm has been handed down to their daughters. Their oldest daughter Denise Williams Hardy, her 4 adult children, her husband, along with their incredible crew have been running the farm since 2011.
Keeping with the tradition that Tom started, they have been adding new and interesting animals to the farm almost every year to honor his memory and entertain visitors alike.
Checking In & Beginning The Tour
When you first arrive you will need to head into the giftshop (looks like a cabin from the outside) and check-in at the front desk.
I recommend arriving a few minutes early as there can be a line and you don’t want to hold up the tour because you arrived a little late. After you are checked in, your tour guide will come and get everyone’s attention and begin the tour.
Your guide will most likely be equipped with a small loud speaker and headset. I only mention this because I have been on so many tours of different kinds where if you are hard of hearing, or at the back of a group of people, you don’t really get to hear everything your tour guide says. So I thank them so much for caring about their customers enough to add this and many other little details!
If you are always fighting to hear what your guide is saying, it’s kind of distracting and can honestly ruin a tour for me.
Your first stop will be, you guessed it… the Reindeer enclosure! Here your guide will tell you a bit about the history of the farm, information about the Reindeer themselves, and some safety guidelines regarding interacting with the Reindeer (not touching their antlers is a big one). Once that information has been provided its time to get hands on!
To my great surprise, the Reindeer have been so loved and cared for since birth (by everyone here on the farm) that they behave more like friendly calm dogs than anything else.
Feeding the Reindeer was a delight and getting to gently pet them really meant a lot more to me than I thought it would.
I’ve spent a good deal of time photographing wild Caribou and they are definitely a massive animal that you cannot sadly ever get too close to. On the flip side I have photographed many animals on farms that have not been loved, nurtured, and trained in the way these Reindeer have been.
To be able to have them approach you so casually and enjoy a treat, a little head pet, and just all around have a genuine connection with you is such a cool and unique experience!
After we spent enough time enjoying and playing with the Reindeer from our side of the fence, it was time to move on. “What could be next on the Reindeer Farm tour?” I thought to myself. Little did I know how much more there was to see!
More Than Just Reindeer By a Mile
Right after the Reindeer you get to see one of the most iconic beasts of Scotland, right here in Alaska, the Highland Cows! These charismatic cuties with their shaggy coats and vibrant red hair are sure to delight any visitor almost immediately.
Even better, they have had the same loving care and upbringing as the Reindeer.
This means they are also perfectly content to walk right up to you, have a snack and have their hair tussled. They seemed to enjoy the ruffles and pets from everyone almost more than the Reindeer. I don’t think there was a single second where someone wasn’t laughing or saying “Aweeee!” the entire time we hung out with them.
This silly visitor decided he loved them so much, maybe he could sneak in an actual kiss (of which he absolutely did). The only warning needed for these gentle giants is that they have a pretty slobbery kiss, so be ready when touching their nose/mouth.
Even the little ones on the tour who were a little afraid of the prospects of touching a Reindeer, were pretty much won over by these big ole walking stuffed animals.
Sadly our time with the Highland Cows had to come to an end and we moved on to our next mystery animal, what could it be?
Sky, Appa, & Lucy
Our next stop was the Alpacas which were waiting for us right at the fence line, no coaxing needed! We were warned that they can spit and anyone wanting to feed/pet them would need to be okay if that should happen.
Let me tell you… that deterred… absolutely no one. With feed in hand, everyone took turns feeding the Alpacas, taking selfies, and baby talking at these adorable animals.
Fortunately, not one person got spit on and we all got to enjoy our time with Sky The Alpaca and his friends.
A fun side note – all of the animals on the farm (every single one) have awesome names that the staff are so ready to tell you about.
We moved on to see several juvenile Bison, Yaks, and Elk who were all very friendly, but had to be enjoyed at a distance. The animals all came up to the fence line to greet the staff, get a treat, and then we learned a lot about them.
My favorite of these was a Yak named Appa (after a lovable flying Yak/Bison creature from the cartoon Avatar The Last Airbender) but I sadly didn’t get any good photos of him on this trip.
Our next stop on this portion of the tour came as almost a bit of a shock to me, a Moose! It is not shocking as a life long Alaskan to see a Moose, it is however another thing to see a Moose trot up to a human being, waggling its little butt in excitement, and then having its ears down like a dog happily greeting its owner when they get home from work.
In fact, when I have been in the field photographing Moose (arguably the most dangerous animal in Alaska) ears down and coming up to you is definitely a sign you need to run! Not in this case though, Lucy The Moose was sweet, gentle, and the only trained Moose I had ever seen.
Although we could not pet Lucy we did get the opportunity to feed her and learn about her. Considering the Reindeer Farm was born out of the desire to have a Moose Farm, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a bit a wish come true for the now late Tom Williams (even if it’s just the one for now).
As I stated earlier in the article, in Alaska, you regrettably cannot legally own a Moose. However the Reindeer Farm is one of the few places in Alaska that has obtained special permissions to have one of these cool and majestic creatures onsite. Even cooler though, it’s currently the only place I have ever seen one that can interact with visitors like this!
Once we were done getting our photos and saying our thanks to Lucy for letting us visit her; we had a pit stop in their barn to have some hot chocolate, have a snack for ourselves, and then begin the end of our tour.
The Last Part Of The Tour
After we warmed up and had our fill of the cats, chickens, and dogs that came to visit us while in the barn, we walked under the beautiful antler archway towards our final surprise.
Before I reveal the final surprise, I wanted to note that I had someone in the barn say everything was so awesome, but that they wished we could have been actually in the enclosure with the Reindeer, not just on the other side of a fence…
SUPRISE! Our final stop would have us escorted by this humorous Kunekune Pig to a second Reindeer enclosure where we could actually go inside with them!
We fed/petted the silly bouncing ball of fuzz that was the always hungry Kunekune Pig, past some turkeys and very unique chickens, on our way into the new Reindeer enclosure.
I could see everyone’s faces light up for probably the 11th time on the tour that day, and after the young visitors had time to acclimate to being around all the other animals, we were all in full Reindeer love mode!
We all took photos, gently pet the Reindeer, listened to our guide who had more info as he walked among us to make sure we were happy and safe.
I mentioned earlier that it felt like these guys were more like happy pets that anything else, and I can tell you this definitely held true here.
I saw hands getting licks, loads of pets/pats, treats being doled out of course, and kids having the first barrier free interaction with an animal this size in their lives.
Before I came here, I really thought it was going to be more like when you go to the Alaska Zoo or Wildlife Conservation Center where seeing animals was the primary attraction. This however, was absolutely all about experiencing the animals first hand or darn close to it!
After we were all content with ourselves, it was time to head back into the gift shop to spend some time looking at their unique products on display.
I decided to spend some time in the gift shop before I left because I am always looking for unique Alaskan products you can’t get other places.
I was not disappointed here as they had all manner of branded products, lots of stuff with Reindeer of course, but also products with Highland Cows on them which I loved.
They had amazing local Alaskan fireweed honey, stuff for kids, stuff for adults, but one set of products really got my attention. They also sold Alpaca wool processed right here in Alaska from their own Alpacas!
Additionally, they had the cutest little Alpaca plushies made using real Alpaca wool along side hats and other items! They have a lot of very cool local products and you should check them out!
All-in-all I would definitely recommend a trip out to experience this surprising and unique Alaskan tour whether you have been here before, or if it is your first time!
There was a lot more to see there than I would have guessed, and because they focused so much more on the overall engagement with the animals, it’s really a one of a kind activity you can’t get anywhere else.
Looking for more fun things to do here in Alaska? Check out our tour of the Matanuska Glacier in winter.