Photograph by Barrett Hedges, Nat Geo Image Collection
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Though popular with brown bears, Lake Clark is one of the least visited national parks—to get there requires a plane or a boat.

Photograph by Barrett Hedges, Nat Geo Image Collection

Explore the Alaskan Wilderness in This Huge National Park

Glaciers, volcanoes, forested coasts—each distinctive Alaskan landscape is packed into the rarely-visited Lake Clark National Park.

Location: Alaska
December 2, 1980
4,045,000 acres

"Think of all the splendors that bespeak Alaska," conservationist John Kauffmann has written. "Glaciers, volcanoes, alpine spires, wild rivers, lakes with grayling on the rise. Picture coasts feathered with countless seabirds. Imagine dense forests and far-sweeping tundra, herds of caribou, great roving bears. Now concentrate all these and more into less than one percent of the state—and behold the Lake Clark region, Alaska's epitome."

Diversity is Lake Clark's hallmark. The Turquoise-Telaquana Plateau has tundra similar to Alaska's North Slope, while the coast has forests similar to the southeast panhandle. Black bears and Dall's sheep reach their southern limits here, and Sitka spruce, Alaska's state tree, reaches its northern limit. Three rivers—the Mulchatna, Chilikadrotna, and Tlikakila—have been officially designated part of the Wild and Scenic system.

The Chigmit Mountains, spine of the park, are as rugged as mountains get. They lie on the edge of the North American plate where the oceanic plate slides under it, and their jumbled contours reflect centuries of geological violence. Two volcanoes here, Iliamna and Redoubt, are still active and vent gases regularly. Redoubt erupted in 1966, spewing clouds of ash 40,000 feet into the air—and it erupted dramatically again in late 1989 and March 2009. The area averages one to two earthquakes per year that register at least a 5 on the Richter scale.

Archaeological finds show that humans, most recently Dena'ina Indians, have lived in the area for centuries. The abundant salmon and game made their settled existence possible.

How to Get There

Take a plane into the heart of the park, or travel by boat or plane to the coast. Bush pilots in Anchorage say, "Lake Clark is just out the back door"—a one-hour flight. From Anchorage you can charter a plane to Port Alsworth, a small community on the southeast shore of Lake Clark. The flight through Lake Clark Pass takes you over immense blue glaciers, winding rivers, and snowcapped mountains. Planes also land on the coast for salmon fishing.

Another alternative is to take a scheduled flight from Anchorage to Iliamna, 30 miles outside the park, and an air taxi from there into the park. Air taxis fly in from Homer and Kenai, too. To reach the park by boat, you must travel down Cook Inlet from Anchorage or across the inlet from the Kenai Peninsula.

When to Go

Summer. Wildflowers are best in late June. Autumn colors peak in early September at upper elevations, in mid-September lower down. June through August, daytime temperatures usually hover in the 50s and low 60s in the eastern part of the park and are somewhat higher in the western part and the interior.

How to Visit

Most visitors fly into the interior lake region of the park. Air taxis can make drop-offs and pickups at prearranged places—depending on weather conditions. The smaller lakes offer excellent kayaking, and several rivers give kayakers and rafters great white-water experiences.

Hiking is good around the lakes and from lake to lake. Fishing is usually first class. Contact park headquarters in Anchorage for information on approved guide services and lodges. Remember to make your reservations early. If you don't plan to be completely self-sufficient, be sure to make thorough arrangements before going and plan for the possibility of delays due to weather changes.

Fun Fact

Lake Clark, centrally located in Lake Clark National Park, is a 50-mile-long clear, turquoise body of water that is fed by glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, and streams.