Famous for its abundance of razor clams, this park is a favorite for clammers and campers alike
The western shore of the Kenai Peninsula from Kasilof to Anchor Point is renowned for its clam harvests. The most famous spot of all is Clam Gulch State Recreation Area, where hundreds of thousands of razor clams are collected annually from its beaches.
Before the 1940s, only local residents dug razor clams because there was no developed road system. In the late 1940s, a road was built connecting Anchor Point and Seward, which eventually became part of the Sterling Highway. In 1952, this road was connected to Anchorage by a gravel road and in 1958 the road was paved from Anchorage to Soldotna. Access to the clam beaches, which are bordered by high bluffs, was further improved in 1957 and 1958 with the construction of the Clam Gulch and Whiskey Gulch access roads.
The razor clam, a filter feeder that relies on plankton, is found on sandy tidal beaches from the Bering Sea to Southern California. There are eight known major concentrations of clams found on the Pacific Coast; four of those are in Alaska. The beaches from Clam Gulch to Ninilchik are the most frequented by clammers.
The life cycle of razor clams is simple and unique. Razor clams usually reproduce first at age four or five and live about 14 to 18 years. Reproduction is triggered when Cook Inlet waters reach a temperature of about 55 degrees. After floating in the larval stage for four to six weeks, the clams form a small shell and settle into the sandy tidal beach. The clams are ready for harvest in about four years.
Wildlife in the area includes moose, bald eagles, gulls and many small birds and mammals. A wide variety of wild flowers may also be found within the recreation area, including lupine, Jacob's ladder, wild geranium and the prickly rose.
The state recreation area is generally regarded as the best spot in the state by clam diggers due to its easy access, the nearby campground facilities, and gradual gradient that makes for wide beds.
Clam digging is a muddy affair that can be done during any low tide, but a tide of minus two feet or lower is recommended for best results. Diggers need a sportfishing license, available at most sporting goods stores, along with rental shovels and tide books. Razor clams may be legally dug throughout the year. However, most digging occurs from April through September. The “table quality” of the clam is generally considered best in early summer, just prior to the July-August spawning.
Clamming aside, Clam Gulch is a spectacular place to spend the night. The majority of the recreation area is situated on the bluffs overlooking scenic Cook Inlet, giving way to a panoramic view of the Aleutian Mountain Range and its three tallest peaks - Mount Iliamna, Mount Redoubt and Mount Spurr.