At 4,000 feet elevation, this glacially carved lake is a prime destination for hikers, paragliders and backcountry skiers
Just two miles past the turnoff to Independence Mine State Historic Park along Hatcher Pass Road is one of Alaska's most beautiful state recreation sites. Summit Lake State Recreation Site is a 360-acre park that includes its namesake lake and 3,886-feet-high Hatcher Pass Summit.
Summit Lake is a small cirque lake, or tarn, the result of a long-gone alpine glacier that was also responsible for carving the surrounding terrain. A trail circles through alpine wilderness around the crystal clear lake, and leads to a bluff above, offering panoramic vistas of the Willow Creek Drainage, the Susitna Valley and the western arc of the Alaska Range.
The lake’s draws in more visitors in summer months when road access is open, typically from July through late September, and is renowned for spectacular hiking and paragliding. From the bluff, hikers can see "Nixon's Nose," the launch site for paragliders in the summer who ride the updrafts for several hours on a good day. Paragliders can be observed on summer weekends soaring around the nearby peaks. Berry-picking is a popular activity in August, when wild blueberries are ready to harvest. Photographers also frequent the park for its easy access to high-altitude, breathtaking scenery.
To the east of Summit Lake is April Bowl, a very small valley with a tarn and several small ponds. The valley is one of the region’s first places to get good snow, and, consequently, is a top destination for backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. The valley also serves as a gateway to the west side of the Hatcher Pass Management Area, connecting snow-revelers to additional trails. The park is also open to snowmobiles when snow depth allows. Snow can fall any month of the year at this elevation.
There are no campgrounds at the state recreation site but there is a trail around Summit Lake and along the bluff above the lake.
There are no fees at Summit Lake.
Access to the Hatcher Pass area is via the 49-mile-long Hatcher Pass Road from either Palmer or Willow. From Palmer, take the Palmer-Fishhook Road turnoff at Mile 49.5 of the Glenn Highway. From Willow, take the Fishhook-Willow Road from Mile 71.2 of the Parks Highway. Summit Lake is located at Mile 19 of Hatcher Pass Road, 30 miles from Willow. Road access to the park is limited to the summer months, usually from July through late September. For more information, contact the Alaska State Parks office (907-745-3975) in Wasilla.