National Park Getaway: Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

By Megan Richotte, Chief of Interpretation, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Bow of a kayak on a lake approaching mountains
Upper Twin Lake is just one in a string of spectacular turquoise gems on the western boundary of the Chigmit and Neacola mountains.

NPS Photo

It's a well-kept secret here in the north land; the place Alaskans dream of going. People who have explored this park often won't talk about it louder than a whisper. Shhhh…

Some have called this park “little Alaska.” It's a land of stunning beauty where volcanoes steam, salmon run, bears forage, craggy mountains reflect in shimmering turquoise lakes, and local people and culture still depend on the land and water of their home.

Solitude is found around every bend in the river and shoulder of a mountain. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve extends from the saltwater shores of Cook Inlet, through the craggy Chigmit and Neacola Mountains, includes the steaming Redoubt and Iliamna volcanoes, and crosses through alpine tundra studded with shimmering turquoise lakes and braided glacial rivers. Shhh… this is 4 million acres of wonder!
Bear with several cubs
Bears are often spotted at Silver Salmon Creek, digging for clams on the Cook Inlet coast, grazing in the meadows, or fishing in the creek.

NPS Photo

Along the park's 130-mile Cook Inlet coast visitors enjoy world class bear-viewing in unrivaled brown bear habitat at Silver Salmon Creek and Chinitna Bay. One 2013 bear survey counted 267 bears along the coast with congregations in major saltmarsh habitat. If you've never stood on a remote windswept Alaskan beach watching brown bears clam, chase salmon in rivers, and graze on protein-rich sedges, well, your heart may skip a beat in awe.

Water rich, the park protects the headwaters, spawning grounds, and water quality for North America's most abundant salmon runs in the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers of the Bristol Bay watershed. Like to fish? The park has fish, and they're not all salmon.

Spectacular backpacking, rafting, and kayaking opportunities invite visitors to explore the lakes, tundra, braided rivers, and boreal forests in the shadows of the towering Chigmit and Neacola Mountains. There's nothing quite so rejuvenating as soaking in the midnight sun on a quiet night with friends or family on a remote river bar or high-tundra campsite.

Tucked on the southern shore of Upper Twin Lake north of Lake Clark is a hand-hewn cabinbuilt and lived in by one of Alaska's foremost wilderness advocates, Richard Proenneke. Today this national historic site is an exploratory exhibit where visitors can sit at Proenneke's writing desk, walk his beach, and explore his wilderness.
Small airplane in the sky
Lake Clark is not on the road system; park access is primarily by small aircraft.

NPS Photo / J. Mills

The people of the Lake Clark region have depended on the resources found here for millennia, continuing into today many traditions from the past. Qizhjeh Vena, meaning a place where people gathered in the Dena'ina Athabascan language, is the original name of Lake Clark. The land and water supports, shapes, and sustains the culture grounded in place.

Where the road ends, life begins. Lake Clark is not a windshield park. It's not a place to be afraid of either. Trip planning assistance including information on how to get to the park, guide services, and even private lodging options are available. When it's time to point your boots in a new direction and step off the beaten path, Lake Clark is waiting.

Last updated: September 26, 2018