A Wilderness Filled with Glaciers, Active Volcanoes, and Thundering Waterfalls
Tucked away in a remote corner of southwestern Alaska, Lake Clark National Park offers a true wilderness experience. Glaciers, wild rivers, waterfalls and active volcanoes are all protected in this beautiful national park. Lake Clark is unique to Alaska due to the juncture of three mountain ranges, plus rain forests on the east and tundra on the west. These geological features are not found together in any other part of the state.
Activities in Lake Clark National Park
No visit to Lake Clark National Park would be complete without a few activities on the lake itself. Lake Clark, located in the center of the park, is perfect for kayaking and fishing. Kayaks can be rented at Port Alsworth, a private community at the southern shore of the lake. In addition to kayak rentals, the community also has an information center where visitors can pick up brochures and trail maps. The park also provides guided kayak adventure tours.
The park is also a great place for day hikes. One popular route is the Tanalian Trails, which start at Port Alsworth and offer many trail systems. While hiking the Tanalian Trails visitors can explore thunderous waterfalls, quiet birch forests, and rugged mountains. These are the only park-maintained trails, but visitors can boat or fly to remote locations for hiking opportunities in the open backcountry. Visitors should always plan for unexpected weather conditions, and plan appropriately for overnight stays.
Anglers come from around the world to enjoy the abundance and diversity of game fish in Lake Clark. If visitors plan on fishing, the park encourages abiding by its catch and release policy. There are certain regulations for food storage visitors must follow if they plan on keeping the fish that they catch. All fishermen need an Alaskan fishing license. Fishing season is May through October, and peak season is July and August.
Visiting Lake Clark National Park
There are no roads that lead to Lake Clark National Park, therefore access to the park is granted almost exclusively by small aircraft. The park is open all year, but most people visit between June and September when weather conditions are the mildest. There are no fees to enter the park, and no reservations are required for camping. The park does offer some lodging options. There are two lodges on Lake Clark: Island Lodge and Koksetna Wilderness Retreat.
Since Lake Clark National Park is vast, remote and undeveloped, visitors are advised to be extremely knowledgeable about the park’s harsh conditions and terrain before taking off. Most visitors to the park are experienced backcountry hikers. It is encouraged to leave your itinerary at one of the park offices, so the park will know where you are if a rescue is necessary.
Wildlife in Lake Clark National Park
Subarctic species run wild at Lake Clark, undisturbed and untouched by human development. Park researchers believe there to be thirty-seven species of terrestrial mammals and five marine animals in the park. Black bears and grizzly bears call the park home and are numerous around the coast, hunting salmon in the salt marshes. Moose and caribou also roam the park in great numbers, but estimated caribou numbers have declined from 200,000 to 100,000 since 1999. Wolves are also common, but the wolves of Lake Clark are a small mystery. Since none of the wolves have been radio collared, not much is known about them.
History of Lake Clark National Park
There is evidence that humans first set foot in the Lake Clark region about 10,000 years ago. However, the first written evidence only dates back to 1741, when Russian explorers came to the Aleutian Islands. Relations between the Alaskan natives and Russian explorers and fur trappers was tumultuous in the beginning. Alaskan natives destroyed trading posts in retaliation for Russian plundering. But within 20 years, the two sides managed to come to peace. Russian missionaries traveled the region preaching Russian Orthodox Christianity, and as a result, the religion is still commonly practiced there today.
In 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States, but it wasn’t until 1881 that a Euro-American wrote an account of Lake Clark for the Smithsonian Institution. Brown Carlson, a trapper, was the first white man to permanently make the move to Lake Clark, and soon more followed as a result of Alaska’s gold rush.
Originally, much of Lake Clark’s economy rested on the success of fur trading. When that industry declined, the economy shifted toward wilderness tourism. Dick Proenneke is probably Lake Clark’s most famous resident — he moved to Lake Clark alone and built a cabin and all its furnishings with his bare hands. In 1980, the federal government created Lake Clark National Park and Preserve with the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA).
Key dates in Lake Park National Park’s history:
- March 30, 1867 – The U.S. purchases Alaska from Russia.
- 1930 – Matt Nieminen is the first person to fly a plane to Lake Clark.
- 1968 – Dick Proenneke moves to Lake Clark and builds his famous log cabin.
- 1980 – The federal government passes the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act and creates Lakes Clark National Park.