Explore glacial lakes and towering peaks
Getting to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, a roadless wilderness of 3 million acres accessible only by boat or plane, is a camera-worthy adventure. Located in the southern portion of the Alaska Range to the west of Cook Inlet, the park features tumbling glaciers and towering peaks. It’s a short hop, flying 100 miles southwest from Anchorage over forbidding terrain before dropping into the small town of Port Alsworth within the park. From there, you can take a bush plane to get you wherever you want to go, with pick up and drop off itineraries that are easy and reliable to schedule on your own or with a reputable guide or outfitter. Along the way, you’ll have a birds-eye view of the Chigmit Mountains, a range created by centuries of geological chaos where volcanoes like Iliamna and Redoubt vent regularly, as well as the 42-mile stretch of glacier-fed Lake Clark.
The park itself includes a mix of terrain rarely seen in one location: tundra, glaciers, active volcanoes, rainforests, and salmon-filled rivers leading into Bristol Bay. Beyond the brown bears feeding at Kijik River and Silver Salmon Creek, visitors can spot virtually all manner of flora and fauna. lakeclarkair.com
Turquoise Lake: Hop a float plane and set out for a remote gem that many say is the heart of the park. The clear glacial lake reflects the 6,000-foot high walls of rock and ice surrounding it and creates an amphitheater for light and sound. Grayling can be caught off backpacking rods, and numerous day hikes around the lake create opportunities to see wildlife. But give yourself permission to just sit and enjoy the view as the sun shifts across the water and peaks.
Cave Falls, Little Lake Clark: About a 45-minute boat ride from Port Alsworth, you’ll find an area called Little Lake Clark, resulting from the glacier water pouring out of the craggy 10,000-foot peaks of Lake Clark Pass. Waterfalls abound here, including the 100-foot drop of Cave Falls, which you can hike behind with a small amount of bushwacking along a clear stream for an awe-inspiring view from inside the cavern. Camp at the lake and catch your own dinner: lake trout and Dolly Varden.
Consider staying at the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for guided access without permits or viewing platforms to photograph brown bears and puffins. Bears in the area proliferate, digging for clams, fishing for salmon, and foraging for wild berries. Boat trips to islands off the coast allow birders to spot horned and tufted puffins, as well as bald eagles, parakeet auklets, murres, and eiders. silversalmoncreek.com
LOCALS SAY: Ask a guide or your float plane pilot for directions to the mineral lick across the open tundra and up Deserted Valley to watch congregations of 20 to 30 Dall sheep.
Before flying out to other destinations within the park, you might take time to explore the Tanalian Trail system, the only maintained trail network within the park, which begins on the southern shores of the 42-mile Lake Clark, and takes hikers through meandering birch groves to a waterfall and the shores of another serene alpine lake.