Lake Clark National Park (2.6 million acres) and Preserve (1.4 million acres) is not on the road system. Access is primarily by small aircraft. Our journey began when we left Glacier Bay Monday afternoon, July 21st. We flew on Alaskan airlines from Juneau to Anchorage. The weather was clear and the views were spectacular. We took a taxi to our hotel at America’s Best Value Inn, walked to dinner and went to sleep.
The next morning we ate the free breakfast and took a taxi to Merrill Field Airport. We flew with a quality company called Lake Clark Air. Our plane was a Bonanza single engine aircraft. This was the first time we took such a vehicle. The four of us were nervous and excited. It was just the pilot, us and our luggage. They weighed our bags and us before we boarded. This was a serious business. At about 1:00 pm we took off and headed toward Lake Clark pass.
The take off and approach towards the jagged Chigmit mountains was thrilling stuff. This was the first time we were fortunate enough to view a national park on a small private plane. As we traveled above the park, we could see many snow covered mountains and dramatic glaciers. The melting snow and ice drained into the Chokotonk River as it flowed into Little Lake Clark. Many more snow capped mountains melted into the Tlikakila River. The Tlikaila River and Little Lake Clark flowed into large pristine water of Lake Clark.
We landed safely on a dirt airstrip in Port Alsworth. Friendly people greeted us and took us to our clean cabin at The Farm Lodge. The hospitality was superb. We had some fantastic free custom trail mix awaiting for us as the staff handled our luggage. We had two separate rooms. The boys had their own private room with bunk beds. We ate most of the trail mix and got our gear to hike.
The visitor center was a mile walk from our cabin. It was a short walk across many rocks. The boys officially canceled the park in their passports and Alisa got her junior ranger book. It was about another mile to the Tanalian Falls trailhead and we were finally into the wilderness. We called out “hey bear” as we hiked deeper into the woods.
It was quiet until we made it to the bottom of the falls. The waterfall was beautiful, but the unpredictable weather of Alaska changed. It started to rain, yet we still climbed to the top. It was spectacular and fun. On our way back to the cabin we were completely soaked. The rain continued to fall on us and our gear did not work well. We hung up our wet clothes and relaxed for the rest of the evening. We ate dinner from what we packed from North Carolina (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Twizzlers for desert). Lake Clark air also gave us twenty dollars worth of vouchers. Luke and Winston spent all of it on Hot Pockets, candy and soda. What a treat!
The next morning the rain had stopped. It was Wednesday and we hiked the Beaver trail. Along the way we encountered a female moose (cow) with her two babies (calves). Although they looked harmless, Alisa was frightened that the cow was going to charge her. A moose with calves can be dangerous. The cow does has a tendency to charge, but we just stood still and did not startle them. They disappeared into the trees and we walked away.
After the exciting encounter with wildlife we ate a picnic breakfast at a peaceful pond. We quickly noticed that a beaver was swimming near us. It was great to watch while we ate a few granola bars and several pieces of beef jerky. Our destination today was Kontrashibuna Lake. So far we have been only exploring the National Preserve part of the park. However, after a few more miles of hiking we finally entered into the National Park portion.
The difference between the preserve and park is hunting rules. While both sport and subsistence hunting are permitted in the national preserve lands, only subsistence hunting by local residents is permitted within the national park. Lake Clark was proclaimed a national monument by President Jimmy Carter using the Antiquities act on December 1, 1978. Lake Clark’s status was changed to a national park and preserve in 1980 by Congress with about two-thirds as designated wilderness.
A National Park is an area of unusual scenic or historic interest owner by the federal government. It is administered by the National Park Service (U.S. Department of the Interior) to conserve the scenery, the flora and fauna, and any natural and historical objects within its boundaries for public enjoyment in perpetuity. A national park usually has more than one type of national significance.
When we arrived at Kontrashibuna Lake, the water, mountains and scenery were pristine as well as picturesque. We hiked passed where the designated trail ended and followed further on a game trail. The woods became thicker and soon we decided to stop. We found a large tree on the lake and sat under it for lunch (sardines on Wheat Thins and nuts). We had plenty of water and the weather was clear and cool for a glorious summer day.
Although our feet were soaked we were in wonderful spirits. We took off our boots, rung out our socks and ate our meal deep in the backwoods of the wilderness. No other human beings were anywhere to be seen as we had complete solitude as a family. This was exactly what we had been searching for since we landed in Lake Clark.
After about an hour relaxing and eating we began to hike back to our cabin. Then, abruptly, Alisa wanted to swim in the Lake. The water was too cold to go under, so she slowly walked into Kontrashibuna Lake. Although Alisa was in the water less than 30 seconds it was painful like needles poking into her feet. She only went in less than knee deep, but she still could not feel her feet.
That adventure and discomfort was brief. On our way back we explored Tanalian Falls again. All four of us each took a turn standing at the edge of the falls on a cliff. Alisa was scared, but she overcame her fears. It was an awesome thrill to experience a little bit of danger. We take every precaution to be safe and then enjoy the adrenaline rush. Following that, the boys skipped a few stones, Alisa became a junior ranger, and Winston submerged himself in Lake Clark (the lake… Lake Clark). Now, we are on our way to the next American National Park.