Ancestral Telaquana Trail

Historic image of a man on a hillside with two horses overlooking a lake.
Wrangler Whitey Pierson of the 1929 SR Capps USGS expedition standing on a ridge above Telaquana Lake.

USGS photo, SR Capps Collection

A Link in a Longer Chain

The Telaquana Trail is a historic Dena'ina Athabascan route from Telaquana Lake to Qizhjeh (Kijik Village) on Qizhjeh Vena (Lake Clark) that served as both a transportation corridor and was an important subsistence area. Crossing the headwaters of three of Alaska’s richest river drainages; the Kuskokwim, the Nushugak, and the Kvichak Rivers, the ancestral Telaquana Trail is likely one portion of a longer route that connected the people of Cook Inlet with the people of the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers of Interior Alaska.

The Lake Clark Dena’ina were important for the trade network which moved marine products and trade goods into the heart of the Alaska range. The people who lived at Qizhjeh, a Dena’ina settlement that was once one of Alaska's largest village sites, and Telaquana used Lake Clark Pass or Telaquana Pass to journey to Cook Inlet for hunting and visiting.

The story of the Lake Clark Dena’ina and their use of the Telaquana Trail from the early 19th and 20th century comes from a rich oral history told by people who walked the trail with their families as children and remember stories told to them about their ancestors who used it. The Dena’ina were remarkable hikers. Oral histories tell of one man, Trefon Balluta, who lived at Telaquana and could hike the trail in one day. When his cache of tea and sugar was getting low he walked from Telaquana to Qizhjeh in one day and returned to Telaquana the next. Women and children also walked the trail, camping along the way to pick berries and trap ground squirrels in the late summer. With the squirrel fur they made warm winter undergarments and linings for parkas.
sketched map showing an inlet and the area that is now called lake clark national park and preserve
A map by biologist Wilfred Osgood of his 1902 travels. The
Telaquana Trail is labeled "Portage to Trail Creek-Kuskokwim

A Biological Reconnaissance of the Base of the Alaska Peninsula by Wilfred Osgood, Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1904

The Beginning of a New Era

Miners, trappers and explorers occasionally used the trail throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Life changed for the Dena’ina in the late 18th century with Russian contact. Fur trading became an important means for the Dena’ina to acquire kettles, steel axes, tea and trade beads. After the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867 the Dena’ina traded with the Euroamerican traders.

The Telaquana Trail was frequently used during the height of the fur trade from the end of the 19th century. Trappers used the trail to carry their furs to Lake Clark where they then traveled on to trading posts at Old Nondalton and Iliamna. There they could buy guns and ammunition, sheet metal stoves, traps, sugar, flour, tea, yard goods, and boots.

Dena'ina use of the Telaquana Trail declined in the early part of the 20th century with introduction of disease from outsiders. Early in the 20th century Euroamericans came to explore Lake Clark country and in many cases Dena’ina were hired as guides. By 1909, the village of Qizhjeh had been abandoned and survivors relocated to other villages, including Old Nondalton. With a decline in old hunting culture and the abandonment of Qizhjeh, the importance of the Telaquana Trail to the Dena'ina was greatly reduced. The Lake Clark Dena’ina now concentrate their subsistence activities in the Nondalton area.

The Telaquana Trail was last used regularly by the Dena'ina in the late 1930s. By the 1940s use of the trail by trappers declined with the fur trade. Sections of the trail were occasionally used by hunters and fishermen, but the entire route was rarely traveled. As interest in wilderness increased in the 1960s and 1970s, hikers and hunters began to use the trail again. Today the Telaquana Trail is mostly traveled by intrepid backpackers.

Image of snow on hillside near alpine pond.
The open high country of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve offers wide views, expansive tundra, and endless possibilities.

NPS Photo/T.Vaughn

Sharing Stories

In recent years there has been a renewal of interest in the rich cultural history of the Telaquana Trail. Dena'ina elders have shared traditional names for features along the route with the Place Names Project, a cooperative effort between Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Subsistence. The University of Alaska Fairbanks' Project Jukebox has recorded elders describing the trail.


Last updated: February 4, 2019

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