Lake Clark National Park and Preserve: Alaska’s Hidden Gem

We were surprised to learn that the 2nd least visited National Park in the United States is Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska; in 2018 attracting just over 14,000 visitors. Two times the size of Yellowstone National Park; with two active volcanos – both over 10,000 feet. This hidden gem has so much to offer – long expanses of beach, turquoise lakes, forest and tundra, snow capped peaks and glacial valleys.

Likely this low visitation is because Lake Clark National Park and Preserve can only be reached by plane or boat. There are no roads into the park.

Visiting Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

We visited the interior part of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve; flying into Port Alsworth on a small plane and then taking an even smaller float plane that landed on Lower Twin Lake. We got dropped off there for a week of kayaking and hiking, but while we were there we did run into some folks who actually hiked in!

Other options for visiting are to take a boat or a plane to the Cook Inlet Coast, where you can see the bears eating clams on the the beach. Others do flight-seeing trips. And some will charter flights or do flight-seeing tours.

Flying into Port Alsworth

We flew from Anchorage to Port Alsworth. That’s the main hub and home to the National Park field headquarters and visitor center (seasonal). There are 2 airstrips there and a few fishing camps, a lodge and private homes. In fact, a couple hundred folks live there year round.

We were totally surprised by our flight. We hadn’t really thought about it. We had been looking forward to a paddle trip but didn’t really think about what we might see on the way in. Wow! It was better than a flight-seeing trip! As we flew out of Anchorage and over the Cook Inlet, we saw Beluga Whales far below (big white marshmallows) and then flew through mountain passes. with snow capped peaks and glacier filled valleys.

Then you fly over beautiful turquoise mountain lakes and finally land at Port Alsworth on the edge of Lake Clark; a great jumping off point for your adventure into the inner parts of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Adventuring on Twin Lakes

From Port Alsworth we flew out to Twin Lakes – a pair of clear mountain lakes surrounded by tall mountains. For a week, we kayaked, hiked, fished and took thousands of photographs. Some days the lakes were so calm that the mountains and clouds reflected without a ripple.

We went on some great hikes. There were only a couple formal hiking trails, but in many places you could just head out over the tundra and hike up into the mountains. The spring wildflowers were lovely.

The fishing was amazing; casting the line out from totally unspoiled beaches into fresh water streams. It seemed that almost every cast caught the interest of a hungry fish. Grayling and Trout. There are also Salmon, but they are not feeding as they make their way to spawn. In fact, that’s one of the reasons behind Lake Clark National Park and Preserve – to protect the headwaters of the Bristol Bay small grounds – so important to Alaska’s economy and to our food supply!

Visiting a Cabin in the Woods

One of the only developed sites in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is “Proenneke’s Cabin”, also the site of a seasonal ranger station. The cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Richard L. Proenneke Historic Site.

The National Park Ranger stationed there will give you a tour of the cabin and tell you about his solitary life here. Dick lived there for 30+ years, many year-round, keeping careful track of the passing of the seasons and documenting things like the amount of snow, ice, rain and the movement of the animals. This information has been a treasure trove for the National Park Service.

Not only did he build the cabin, he built everything in it even the hinges and lock on the front door. We thought that it was cool to see how he recycled materials. He would find trash that hunters or fisherman left behind and then reuse it – for example, making a snow shovel out of old gas cans.

The cabin was tiny, but cozy. We were surprise to see that it didn’t have a floor – just pea-sized gravel. He had a big sifting pan (also built from an old gas can) that would sift just the right size for his floor. To clean it… every year he would shovel out all the gravel and take it down to the lake to wash it. That’s quite a process to wash your floor!

There was no running water. He did have an outhouse, but according to the ranger he didn’t use it himself. He reserved it for the guests who occasionally would fly out for a few days to keep him company!

Other than hiking, that is still the only way to get to the cabin, and many visitors to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve charter a flight to visit the cabin and ranger station. There are no services, but there is a small campground on Hope Creek.

Plan Your Visit to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Whether you visit the cabin; take a flight-seeing tour; make your way out to coast to fish and see the bears; or do a hiking or paddling trip; Lake Clark National Park and Preserve will not disappoint.

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Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.

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