Sterling is the gateway to the Swanson River and Swan Lake canoe routes, a chain of rivers, lakes, streams and portages in the northern lowlands of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
. The trips are perfect for novice canoeists, as rough water is rarely a problem and portages do not exceed half a mile in length on the Swan Lake system or a mile in the Swanson River area. The Swanson River system links more than 40 lakes and 46 miles of river, and a one-way trip is 80 miles, beginning at Swan Lake Rd and ending at Cook Inlet in Captain Cook State Recreation Area
. The easier and more popular Swan Lake route connects 30 lakes with forks in the Moose River; the one-way trip is 60 miles.