The backbone of Lake Clark National Park is the Chigmit Mountains, a range as rugged as mountains can get; they appear to rise directly from great sheets of ice. These peaks are the spectacular meeting place of the Alaska range that dips down from the north and the Aleutian range that rises up from the south.
To the west are Turquoise Lake and Telequana Lake, which are in a wilderness preserve for herds of wandering caribou. The tundra here is similar to Alaska's North Slope. Black bears wander the mountains, along with Dall sheep, at their southernmost limits here. Alaska's state tree, the Sitka spruce, is at its northernmost limit in the park. Throughout the valleys, there are dense conifer forests.
The park has three rivers -- the Mulchatna, Tlikakila, and Chilikadrotna -- that have been officially designated "wild and scenic" by the National Park Service. In this strictly fly-in park with no roads, canoeing or kayaking is the only way to get close to this magnificent wilderness. The park's rivers and lakes also offer some of the finest fishing in the world, with Dolly Varden trout, northern pike, and five kinds of salmon (chum, king, coho, humpback or pink, and sockeye).
Connecting the southwestern end of Lake Clark to Iliamna Lake, the Newhalen River is an excellent place to watch the annual migration of salmon heading upriver to spawn. This river is as clear as fine crystal, making it possible to see the salmon from an airplane. During the spawning season, which begins in late June, the fish arrive at the Alaska coast after traveling thousands of miles through the Pacific. In peak years the migrating salmon color the river red. As many as nine million fish fight their way upstream to Lake Clark and its shallow tributaries where they themselves were spawned.
Lake Clark National Park Photo Opportunities
Everywhere you turn in Lake Clark National Park, you find scenic wilderness just begging to be photographed. Here are some spots to consider:
- Lake Clark: The lake itself, which is the centerpiece of the park, has miles of coastline for photographers to explore.
- Turquoise Lake and Telequana Lake: These lakes are in a wilderness preserve for caribou -- so if the lakes aren't picturesque enough for you, perhaps the wildlife will pose for a photo.
- Chigmit Mountains: These fierce mountains, jutting up out of the ice, are the meeting point of the Alaska and Aleutian ranges.
- Newhalen River: This crystal-clear river is known for its excellent fishing and for the diverse wildlife on its banks. It also is known for its beauty, which makes it a perfect scene for photos.
Exploring Lake Clark Wilderness reigns supreme around Lake Clark. This is a land of glaciers, volcanoes, alpine peaks, and costal inlets with countless seabirds, herds of caribou, and great roving bears.
Lake Clark is a dazzling place to explore. Access to most areas of the park is by water -- either air taxi, boat, or kayak. Taking a kayak out on Lake Clark itself is an open invitation to wander where you will, exploring countless inlets and miles of coastline. The smaller lakes in the park also offer excellent kayaking, while some of the rivers give experienced kayakers or rafters fine white-water experiences.
Surprisingly, the opportunities for organized hiking in this great wilderness park are somewhat limited. The only maintained hiking trail is just 2.5 miles long. Beginning in Port Alsworth on the shore of Lake Clark, the trail leads through a forest of birch and black spruce, around bogs and ponds, and along the shore of the rough-and-tumbling Tanalian River. You will see moose in the ponds, Arctic grayling fish in the river, Dall sheep on the slopes of Tanalian Mountain, and bears practically everywhere. Elsewhere in the park, there are good but less well marked hikes around the shores of lakes, between lakes, and into the rugged mountains.
Lake Clark National Park has long been a refuge for those seeking solitude, including Dick Proenneke, Alaska's Thoreau. Keep reading to learn more about the history of this secluded park.