This remote landscape is home to a deep caldera formed during a massive volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago.
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is a stark reminder of Alaska's location in the volcanic "Ring of Fire." Located on the roadless Alaska Peninsula in Southwest Alaska, 150 miles from King Salmon, this 586,000-acre monument is home to one of the world's largest calderas.
Things to do
Aniakchak is a true wilderness. There are no federally maintained trails, camping areas, or facilities within the park. All visitors are self-sufficient, or part of guided trips led by commercial outfitters. The most common activities in park are hiking the caldera floor, sport fishing, hunting, and floating the Aniakchak River. Guiding services based in King Salmon and Anchorage take adventurous visitors on multi-day hiking, backpacking, and rafting adventures in the preserve, often using the caldera as a basecamp for daily adventures. Wilderness lodges accessible by air from King Salmon take visitors on sport fishing and hunting excursions into the preserve.
Designated a National Wild River, the Aniakchak River begins gently at Surprise Lake in the caldera and then speeds up as it flows through The Gates, a narrow, 1,500-foot-high canyon in the caldera wall. The river drops more than 1,000 feet in elevation within the first 15 miles once it leaves the caldera, swirling past boulders the size of small cars, making it challenging even to veteran rafters. It flows through a treeless terrain of rolling grasslands, and after 32 miles empties into the Pacific Ocean at Aniakchak Bay. Rafters usually take three to four days to float to Aniakchak Bay.
Aniakckak’s notoriously bad weather makes it difficult for bush planes to land, making the preserve one of the least visited units of the National Park System, attracting less than 200 visitors a year.
The preserve is home to brown bears, moose, wolves, wolverines, foxes, and caribou. Aniakchak Bay provides habitat for seals, sea otters, and sea birds. The preserve's boundaries also contain other important wildlife areas. West of the caldera lies the waterfowl and migratory bird habitat of Bristol Bay's coastal plain. To the east, rugged bays and inlets of the Pacific coast and offshore islands provide habitat for sea mammals and sea birds.
Inside the caldera are cinder cones, lava plugs, hot springs, Surprise Lake, and Vent Mountain, a 2,200-foot cone. If the weather is clear, both the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea can be seen from its rim. The weather, however, is rarely clear. The coastal area of the park is often shrouded in fog and rain while in and around the caldera the weather is often cold, rainy, and windy.
Aniakchak Caldera is 6 miles wide, 2,500 feet deep, and the result of a 7,000-foot volcano that collapsed during a massive eruption that occurred 3,500 years ago. The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve was established to recognize the unique geological significance of the Aniakchak caldera. Scientists soon discovered, though, that the area has a rich cultural history.
The oldest known archaeological sites date to around 2,000 years ago, and the archaeological record shows that prehistoric communities hunted, fished, trapped, picked berries, and gathered shellfish in the area. With industrialization, Aniakchak residents took up commercial fishing and built cannery operations that continue today in the lower Alaska Peninsula area. The Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people that descended from the early inhabitants of Aniakchak maintain their subsistence and cultural traditions today.
Facilities and Camping
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve has no designated trails, campsites, or facilities. Backcountry camping and hiking are permitted. The King Salmon Visitor Center in the town of King Salmon serves as an information center for the national monument and can provide a list of fishing guides and outfitters who offer hiking and rafting trips in the wilderness.
The center also has a supply of bear-resistant containers that can be checked out free-of-charge. All campers and backpackers should plan to use bear-proof canisters as trees are sparse in Aniakchak and generally not suitable for hanging food. There are no maintained trails within Aniakchak National Monument but most backpackers find excellent hiking conditions atop the ash and cinder fields of the caldera floor.
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is accessible via a 90 minute flight from King Salmon or a 30 minute flight from Port Heiden. There are daily commercial flights from Anchorage to King Salmon.
Air taxi services can drop visitors off at Meshik Lake and Surprise Lake in the caldera, or Aniakchak, Amber, or Kujulik Bays on the Pacific Ocean. King Salmon, which serves as the headquarters for the monument, is the departure point for most Aniakchak adventures. Suprise Lake the most popular spot to land. Visitors must note that the area's notoriously bad weather makes access to Aniakchak unpredictable and drop-offs and/or pick-ups can be significantly delayed.
For more information, visit the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve website.