In southwest Alaska where the Alaska Mountains meet the Aluetians lies one of the world’s most diverse regions. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve gathers active volcanoes, rushing salmon-filled rivers, glaciated valleys, and nutrient-rich tundra together to support massive numbers of brown bears, caribou, bald eagles, moose and Dall sheep.
It is here that nature envelopes the visitor in overwhelming landscapes and unbelievable wildlife viewing.
History of Lake Clark National Park
Ancestors of today’s northern Athabaskan Dena’ina peoples have lived in the area for more than 9,000 years, mainly around Bristol Bay and to a lesser extent, Chinitna Bay. It wasn’t until 1778 that British explorer James Cook navigated the bay that would take his name. Russian traders, then American ones entered the region in the 1800s, but settlements were still sparsely populated.
By 1930, the first float plane landed on Lake Clark, and eventually those looking for quiet solitude ventured into the area, including Richard Proenneke. He was a writer who built his own cabin and lived on the shore of Twin Lakes for almost 30 years, filming his building projects and subsistence living off the land.
By 1978, President Carter named the region the Lake Clark National Monument under the Antiquities Act, as he did with several other national monuments that year. By 1980 the monument was designated a national park and preserve when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Just 9 short years after being named a national park, Redoubt Volcano called attention to the region with year-long eruptions within the park’s boundaries. In 2009 she did it again, proving that Lake Clark National Park and Preserve lies not so quietly within the infamous Ring of Fire, a landscape of volcanoes, glaciers, lakes and mountains worth watching.
Why Visit in Your RV?
Your RV is going to have to sit this one out, as Lake Clark has no road accessibility. Park it in a town where bush flights into the park are available, like Anchorage, Kenai or Homer. Plan to spend several days exploring the immense landscapes of the park, and watching brown bears devour their dinner sedges, clams and salmon. There are several lodges that can be booked for summer visits.
Places to Go
Here’s a look at some of the best places inside the park that you can visit. There are many of them, but these are some of the best to spots to go.
Brown bear viewing is the number one activity for visitors to Lake Clark and Chinitna Bay is one of the best locations in the world to see up to 20 bears at a time feeding on the sedges there. Arrival to the bay is by bush plane and visitors can walk along the beach to two viewing areas, where the brown bears abound in summer.
The most visited destination within the park, Crescent Lake attracts brown bears with its abundance of sockeye and silver salmon. The bears hunt the shoreline and Crescent River looking for these tasty morsels, and anglers flock here to catch trout, dolly varden and king salmon, so expect to see other Homo sapiens along with Ursus arctos!
Check out the park visitor center here in the summer months to solicit help from a ranger or get more information on Lake Clark National Park. Fish at Tanalian Falls or spend the night in a rustic cabin here.
Richard Proenneke Cabin
Explore the handbuilt cabin of an Iowa native who spent 30 years living at Twin Lakes. The cabin is only open in summer, and has numerous campsites surrounding it for those who wish to explore the area further.
Things to Do
Ther are also plenty of fun and interesting activities to do at Lake Clark that are unique to the area. Here are some of them.
By far, the most popular activity in Lake Clark is watching so many brown bears in their natural habitat. Crescent Lake is a popular viewing spot, as is Chinitna Bay, where the bears feed on sedges and dig up clams.
Because Chinitna Bay’s salt water marshes green up with early summer, the bears can be found there more readily in June and July. The months of August and September bring the salmon run, so brown and black bears gravitate to Silver Salmon Creek and Crescent River and Lake, where the fish are prevalent.
There are numerous opportunities to cut your own trail in the back country at Lake Clark National Park. However, there is only one designated trail system here. The Tanalian Trails are maintained and easy to follow, with several hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. You can find the trail system at Port Alsworth and here is a map.
There is such a wide variety of habitats in the park that visitors can observe more than 180 species of birds here. Raptors, songbirds and waterfowl all make this region home. In fact, it is a common occurrence to see bald eagles, peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, owls and puffins in the same day!
Camping and Backpacking
The entire park is open for trail-less backpacking! Camping is primitive and the only designated trails are part of the Tanalian Trails, so a map and compass are your best friends here. Be prepared to ford streams, deal with bad weather and encounter a random bear here and there. Follow these guidelines for bear safety.
When to Visit Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark is open year-round and your visit will be dependent upon what season you’d like to explore and what kind of wildlife you wish to see. Brown bears hibernate from December to April, but are most active during the salmon run in August and September.
Caribou and moose can be seen any time of year, and birds will follow the migrating season. If fishing is high on your list of To Dos, summer will be your best bet, but hiking and camping can be enjoyed during any season if you are prepared. Just remember that Lake Clark National Park is remote and very isolated, so be thoroughly equipped for all of your activities.
Where RVers Can Stay
RVs must be left in the mainland communities of Homer, Kenai or even Anchorage, as the only way into the park is by bush plane. Once on land there are several private lodges for overnight stays or weekly visits and those are all accessed by plane, as well. If parking your trailer or motorhome, here are a few RV parks available:
- Beluga Lookout RV Park – Kenai, Alaska
- Driftwood Inn and RV Park – Homer, Alaska
- Eagle River Campgrounds – Eagle River, Alaska
If you want to camp inside the park, you’d better be ready to tent camp and happy with primitive camp sites. Check out the park’s website and their informaiton about backpacking and camping in the park before you go.
Getting To and Around This National Park
Lake Clark National Park is immense in size and grandeur, but it has no roads in or out. So bush planes equipped with floats, skis or wheels depending on the season and the landing spot, are the only way into and around the park.
Private guide services and chartered planes are available from Homer, Kenai, Soldotna and Anchorage. Keep in mind that weather plays a big factor in accessibility, so plan some extra time into your excursions for flight delays.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is one of the last truly wild places on the planet. Travel here is reserved for the adventurous, those looking for experiences bigger that life itself.
Sensory perception is overloaded in this corner of the world, where glacier-capped mountains erupt, fish too numerous to count color the water bright red, and the landscapes are so vast that you will think you are the only person left on earth to exult in them. With 4 million acres of space, you might be!
Have you ever been to the Lake Clark National Park? What were your experiences there?
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