Nancy Lake State Recreation Area Alaska

Nancy Lake State Recreation Area

Nancy Lake State Recreation Area

With its rolling topography and network of lakes, this is an ideal area for year-round outdoor adventures.

Nestled between the Susitna River and the Talkeetna Mountains, just 67 miles north of Anchorage, Nancy Lake State Recreation Area provides a peaceful setting for canoeing, fishing, camping, skiing, and snowmobiling.


One of the main summer attractions is the Lynx Lake Loop Canoe Trail which takes paddlers 8 miles through a series of tranquil lakes and portages through the forest. The Lynx Lake Canoe Loop Trail starts at the Tanaina Lake Trailhead and takes most paddlers a full day. Additional lakes and portages can be connected to the Lynx Lake Canoe Loop for a longer paddle. There are several lakeside public use cabins in the area accessible by canoe. Canoes can be rented at the South Rolly Lake Campground.

Fishing is one of the park's other popular summer activities. Lake trout, rainbow trout, whitefish, and Dolly Varden are found in Red Shirt, Butterfly, Lynx, and Nancy Lakes. Northern pike are found in Red Shirt, Lynx, and Tanaina Lakes.

Hiking at Nancy Lake in the summer is limited due to the wet, rolling terrain. The main hiking trail in the recreation area is the Red Shirt Lake Trail located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway, across from the entrance to the South Rolly Lake Campground. The one-way, three-mile trail follows the tops of glacial moraines to provide views of the area's lakes and the Chugach Mountains on the horizon. The Red Shirt Lake Trail ends at eight lakeside campsites.

The summer canoe and hiking trails are transformed in winter into 40 miles of trails that are a paradise for cross country skiing, dog mushing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. When conditions are right, the lakes are also a great spot for ice skating. While most trails are multi-use, there’s a 10 mile network of trails that are groomed and reserved for cross country skiing only, departing from the Winter Trailhead. Ice fishing is also a popular winter activity, with Nancy, Lynx, and Red Shirt Lakes offering the best locations for catching winter rainbow trout.

There are 14 public use cabins in the recreation area that are available to rent year-round. In summer, visitors can access two of the Nancy Lake Cabins by a short walk from the Nancy Lake parking area, and the rest are accessible by boat only. In the winter, all cabins are accessible by ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile. There are also two road-accessible campgrounds and one backcountry campground, accessible by hiking.


The recreation area's lakes, wetlands, and forests create an ideal habitat for a wide variety of mammals and birds. Beavers are active in lakes and ponds throughout the park and moose and black bears visit frequently. Grebes, ducks, geese, and shorebirds use the lakes and ponds during their migrations and many stay to nest in the area. Green-headed loons, with their eerie laughing call, are one of the trademarks of the area. Arctic terns are also summer residents and sandhill cranes may be seen exhibiting their courtship dance along the Nancy Lake Parkway during their spring migration.


Lakes, streams, and swamps that drain into the Susitna River and Cook Inlet dominate the 22,685-acre recreation area. The park's lakes are surrounded by spruce, birch, and poplar forests.


Once covered by huge glaciers, the area has been free of ice for at least 9,000 years. Nancy Lake's Indian Bay was the site of an Alaska Native village that was established near the turn of the century. In 1917, the Alaska Railroad was built on the east side of the lower Susitna Valley, bringing homesteaders and fueling the growth of the towns of Wasilla, Houston, and Willow. Settlers avoided the Nancy Lake area because it was too wet. As a result, the area has remained wild.


There are two maintained campgrounds with road access, water, boat launches, picnic shelters, and outhouses at Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. South Rolly Lake Campground, with 98 sites, is located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway, 6.5 miles off of the Parks Highway. Nancy Lake State Recreation Site, on the northeast shore of Nancy Lake, has 30 sites and can be reached from Mile 66.5 of the Parks Highway. There is also a backcountry camping area at Red Shirt Lake, accessible by hiking three miles on the Red Shirt Lake Trail.

There are also 14 public use cabins available for rent. The cabins are located on Red Shirt, Lynx, Nancy, James, Rhein, and Bald Lakes and are equipped with wooden bunk beds, wood-burning stoves, outhouses, and fire rings.


Nancy Lake State Recreation Area is 67 miles north of Anchorage via the Parks Highway. To enter the recreation area, turn west onto Nancy Lake Parkway at Mile 67.3 of the Parks Highway. From there, the Nancy Lake Parkway travels 6.5 miles southwest to South Rolly Lake Campground. In winter, the parkway is not plowed beyond the winter trailhead at Mile 2.2. The community of Willow lies two miles north and has a full range of traveler services.

For more information, visit the Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area website.

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