One of the best parts of visiting Alaska is exploring the vast wilderness. It is no secret that Alaska is large, and its national parks are, too. Today we are looking at Lake Clark National Park and discovering some fantastic things to do while there. Let’s take a look and see why it’s worth the effort to get there.
Can You Drive to Lake Clark National Park in Alaska?
Lake Clark National Park is in Alaska on the east side of Cook Inlet, about 120 miles southwest of Anchorage. Lake Clark National Park can’t be accessed via car as there is no road into the park.
You will need to take a plane (preferably a bush- or floatplane) or boat to access the park. When the weather allows, there is the opportunity to arrive at the park’s east side. This option is much rarer due to water conditions.
What Is Lake Clark National Park Known For?
Lake Clark was initially made a national monument in 1978 before officially being designated as a national park and preserve in 1980. The park is over 4 million acres. Around 2.6 million acres are in the park portion, with 1.4 acres within the preserve.
Known for its remote nature, the park is an untouched landscape with fascinating wildlife and snow-covered volcanoes. Because you can’t easily access the park, there are far fewer crowds. It is sometimes called the “Essence of Alaska,” for it encompasses many of the features of Alaska’s other national parks all in one (relatively) smaller space.
Lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, and tundra provide sanctuary for all of Alaska’s “big 5” mammals. You can experience the area’s raw beauty, with very few developed areas. Bear sightings are plentiful, and some of the other wildlife you can find are wolves, moose, foxes, and caribou.
7 Things to Do at the Amazing Lake Clark National Park
As we mentioned, this national park isn’t easy to get to. It takes quite a bit of work and isn’t exactly budget-friendly. Thankfully, the park is full of incredible adventures that make the trip worthwhile. Here are a few things we highly recommend doing while visiting.
1. Fish for Pacific Salmon
What You Need to Know: Lake Clark National Park is an angler’s paradise. There are five types of Pacific Salmon found within the water at the park. Crescent Lake and Silver Salmon Creek are great places to cast a line.
Crescent Lake is the most popular place to fish in the entire park. Those fishing at Silver Salmon Creek will need to be extra cautious as it is also a popular spot amongst the brown bears.
When to Go: The best time to fish for Pacific Salmon is May through October, with the peak season being July and August. The Salmon run occurs during the July and August runs. This is when the fishing is at its best.
Pro Tip: If you love fishing, this is How to Go Salmon Fishing in Alaska.
2. Hiking and Backpack Through Nature
What You Need to Know: Stretching your legs and spending some time hiking and backpacking is a great way to see Lake Clark National Park. While there is only a small amount of established trails, hiking is permitted anywhere in the park that isn’t restricted from the public.
Tanalian Falls is located at the southern end of Lake Clark (the lake after which the park is named). A relatively easy hike leads you to the base of this 30 ft waterfall of glacial waters flowing to the lake.
Those wanting to do some back-country hiking should be prepared for various terrain. While backpacking the tundra, expect to cross water, deal with the weather and wildlife, and take it slow. Most hikers should plan on covering one mile of ground each hour.
When to Go: Alaska has some seriously harsh winters, making it less ideal for hiking and backpacking. Late spring through early fall will provide the ideal weather conditions for spending large periods outdoors without proper shelter. Aim to plan your backpacking trip between June and August.
3. Raft Some Wild Alaskan Rivers
What You Need to Know: Sometimes, you need a bit of an extra thrill in your life. While continuous whitewater will fill none of the rivers in the park, you will enjoy plenty of swiftly flowing water.
The rafting here isn’t going to appease an adrenaline junkie, but it does give a fun ride. This is a great way to see areas of the park you wouldn’t otherwise see. You can raft on the Chilikadrotna National Wild and Scenic River, Mulchatna National Wild and Scenic River, and the Tlikakila National Wild and Scenic River.
When to Go: The rivers are always cold, even when the temperature rises during the summer. Even though summer still provides cold water, it is the best time to raft. June through September will give you the best temperatures as well as plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.
4. See the Park By Boat
What You Need to Know: Lake Clark and Crescent Lake are ideal places to boat in Lake Clark National Park. Those who choose to boat here will enjoy a body of water that is an impressive 42 miles long, with plenty of room to spend significant time on the water.
You’ll enjoy beautiful snow-capped peaks and hanging valleys formed as a result of glaciers. You can find Crescent Lake in the Chigmit Mountains at the base of the Redoubt Volcano. This lake is perfect for anglers.
When to Go: Early May through September is the best time to experience boating in the national park. This ensures you won’t be dealing with icy water and can enjoy comfortable weather. Keep in mind the water will still be cold year-round.
5. Go Bear Watching
What You Need to Know: One of the goals of many Alaskan visitors is seeing a bear. Seeing one while visiting Lake Clark National Park is a great way to start your trip. The area offers world-class bear watching along the southern end of the park.
Head to the Cook Inlet coast to enjoy Chinitna Bay which offers some of the best bear viewings in the park. Chinitna Bay can provide visitors with as many as 20 coastal brown bears from a single location. Ninety-five percent of the United State’s brown bear population lives in Alaska, many of them found here.
Crescent Lake is also a popular bear viewing location, where bears come to the lake’s shoreline. Most of the bear viewing here is best by boat.
When to Go: Those coming to the national park with the purpose of bear viewing will most likely be successful from July through early September.
Pro Tip: Alaska has many stunning national parks. Don’t know which one to explore first? We put together The Complete List of Alaska National Parks.
6. Tour a Historic Cabin
What You Need to Know: Not only can you view the historic Joe Thompson cabin, but you can stay the night. This rustic cabin gives you a stay you won’t soon forget. The cabin is located on Lake Clark, making fishing easy, and there are plenty of great hiking opportunities.
You will only be able to access the cabin by boat or seaplane. There is no electricity or running water, though freshwater can be treated from the lake for use. Reservations are required.
When to Go: Reservations are available from February 1 to October 15. Visitors can’t stay at the cabin outside of these dates. There is a wood stove to provide the cabin with heating, but it might be more difficult to visit in the colder months.
7. Go Birding
What You Need to Know: Mammals aren’t the only animals worth seeing at Lake Clark National Park. Birding at this park is a popular activity.
There are 187 species of birds, including raptors, shorebirds, waterfowl, seabirds, and songbirds. There are even six other bird species that have had unconfirmed sightings. Virtually everywhere in the park is a great place to birdwatch.
Some of the more popular places include the lakes and coastal areas. You’ll share the area with bears, so be aware of your surroundings. Don’t forget to bring a good pair of binoculars and enjoy some of the best birding there is!
When to Go: Unlike some of the other activities in the park, birding is great year-round. In the winter, you’ll spot some of the most robust and hardiest birds as they navigate the Alaskan winter.
By spring, you’ll see an abundance of birds bringing the park to life. Spring is the most popular birding season. Summer can be a bit more challenging as it is nesting season, but those who are patient are rewarded with some great sightings. Fall is another great opportunity to do some birding as the migrations begin.
Take a Trip to Lake Clark National Park
Alaska has so many awesome opportunities for exploration. It can be difficult to decide where to start as you enter this massive state.
We think Lake Clark National Park is a great option for those who are interested in experiencing some of Alaska’s untamed wildlife in addition to seeing the amazing landscape.
Have you added Lake Clark National Park to your travel bucket list? Drop a comment below!
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