Lake Clark

Untamed Alaska, and Lots of it

Twin Lakes, Lake Clark National Park     Photo: courtesy, National Park Service

IF YOU'RE LIKE ALMOST EVERYONE else on earth, you've managed to overlook Alaska's Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and its four million acres of stunning alpine and tundra wilderness. Ranger Dennis Knuckles sums up the amenities in this roadless domain nicely: "There's no 911, no cell-phone structure, and nobody saving your bacon." If remote and unforgiving terrain and capricious weather appeal to you, this huge tract on Cook Inlet 150 miles southwest of Anchorage won't disappoint. Visitors are few and natural spectacles plentiful: the jagged 6,000-foot Chigmit Mountains, three National Wild and Scenic Rivers, glacier-gouged lakes and valleys, boreal forests, and even two active volcanoes. A FLY-IN BACKPACKING trip is the best way to see a portion of the park's vast western interior. Have a floatplane deposit you above tree line at the shores of Turquoise Lake, whose milky aquamarine surface reflects the surrounding mountains (if you get dropped at the south shore, you can avoid a potentially hairy crossing of the Mulchatna River). Pitch your tent anywhere you like and stash your watch deep in your pack—you won't be needing it. You've got seven days (or whatever you and your bush pilot agree upon) to downshift. Explore the shrubless tundra. Hike to a living glacier. Wake to thousands of caribou outside your tent. Commune with moose and Dall sheep. See no humans. Gradually meander ten to 12 miles south to the north shore of Lower Twin Lake, the vegetation slowly shifting from tundra to scrub to black spruce and dwarf birch. If you wouldn't mind a little hand-holding, Alaska Alpine Adventures guides trips here in summer and fall (877-525-2577; www.alaskaalpineadventures.com). For air-taxi information, go to www.nps.gov/lacl/airtaxi.htm.
WHEN TO GO: Late June and early July promise a decent chance of sunshine and close encounters with the Mulchatna caribou herd, some 200,000 strong, plus 19 hours of daylight; for the warm-blooded, March is great for epic winter camping and cross-country skiing around the lakes.

ANNUAL VISITORS: All of 4,397 (High: June, 954. Lows: November through April, all tied at about 150.)
MORE CHOICE ADVENTURE: RAFT or KAYAK the Tlikakila, the only river that flows entirely within park boundaries. It runs swift and shallow, slicing by forests of spruce, aspen, and birch, snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, and sheer cliffs. Three- to four-day trips from Summit Lake usually run about 45 miles; if you choose to float without a guide, have your pilot take a pass over the river beforehand to scout for logjams. Go to www.nps.gov/lacl/guides.htm for a list of kayaking and rafting guides who serve the area.
HEADLAMP READING: Looking for Alaska, by Peter Jenkins; One Man's Wilderness, by Richard Proenneke and Sam Keith
LOCAL SPECIALTY: Cast into Lower Twin Lake for grayling or lake trout. Both take well to a dry fly and (shortly thereafter) a little butter and cornmeal.
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 907-781-2218, www.nps.gov/lacl

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