With beautiful scenery, close proximity to Anchorage, and less than 5,000 visitors a year, this park is an undiscovered jewel
Only 100 miles southwest from Anchorage, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve holds some of Alaska's finest scenery; an awesome array of mountains, glaciers, granite spires, thundering waterfalls, waved-washed coastline and the largest lake in the state.
Qizhjeh Vena, meaning ‘a place where people gathered’ in Dena’ina Athabascan, is the original name of Lake Clark. The Athabascan people known as Dena’ina have lived in the Lake Clark region for thousands of years. The land and water supports, shapes and sustains their culture. The park contains numerous sites with ancient and historic remains, and many places that are on the National Register of Historic Places - including the famous cabin built by Richard Proenneke in the late 1960s.
The 5625-sq-mile park stretches from the shores of Cook Inlet, across the Chigmit Mountains, to the tundra-covered hills of the western interior. The centerpiece of the park is spectacular Lake Clark, a 42-mile-long turquoise body of water ringed in by mountains. But the Chigmits, where the Alaska Range merges into Aleutian Range, is home to Mount Iliamna, 10,016 feet, and Mount Redoubt, 10,197 feet, two active volcanoes that in 1990 were seen tossing ash into the air from Anchorage.
On either side of the mountains the valley, lake and foothill areas present a glacially altered terrain, with boreal forest covering the lower sections of the southwest part of the park, with white and black spruce making up most of the coniferous trees. Farther north and west are the tundra regions, primarily the result of elevation.
Lake Clark is home to a full complement of subarctic wildlife species. Land mammals include brown and black bears, moose, the Mulchatna caribou herd that numbers more than 100,000, Dall sheep and wolves. Harbor seals, beluga whales, Steller sea lions and sea otters are seen along the coast while the rivers and lakes feature outstanding fishing for salmon, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, Dolly Varden, northern pike, lake trout and rainbow trout.
Visitors who take the time to arrange a trip into the national park are often a mix of anglers, river runners and experienced backpackers. Within the park are three designated National Wild Rivers - Chilikadrotna, Tlikakila and Mulchatna Rivers - that have long been havens for rafters and paddlers in inflatable canoes and kayaks. Sport anglers are attracted to the park because Lake Clark's watershed is one of the world's most important producers of Bristol Bay red salmon, contributing a third of the annual harvest.
Many activities, such as backcountry hiking, camping, flightseeing, kayaking and rafting, require careful planning and a commitment of time in this vast wilderness. But because of the park's location to Alaska's largest city, many visitors interested in fishing, flight seeing or wildlife viewing arrive just for a day on a float plane, returning to Anchorage before dark.
Port Alsworth on Lake Clark's southeastern shore serves as the main entry point into the park. Within the small village is lodging, meals, raft rentals and the Port Alsworth Ranger Station (907-781-2218) with displays and videos on the park and a limited selection of maps and books for sale. Lake Clark also has a scattering of remote, isolated lodges, most accessible from Port Alsworth, for those looking for a comfortable escape into a pristine wilderness.
There are no roads and few trails in Lake Clark but there is the 50-mile historic Telaquana Trail, the park's best cross-country route. First used by Dena'ina Athabascans and later by fur trappers and miners, the route begins on Lake Clark's north shore, near the Athabascan village of Kijik, and ends near Telaquana Lake. In between, you pass through boreal forests, ford glacial rivers and cross the fragile alpine tundra along the western flank of the Alaska Range.
There are no entrance fees in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve nor does camping require any permits.
Access to Lake Clark is by small charter aircraft on a one to two-hour flight from Anchorage, Kenai or Homer to Port Alsworth which rests on the south shore of Lake Clark and is not accessible by. Within the park access is primarily by air taxi.
For a list of outfitters, wilderness lodges and charter air operators contact the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Headquarters (907-644-3626; www.nps.gov/lacl) in Anchorage.