National Parks

An Adventure Lover’s Guide to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Posted by
Chelsey Cook
June 30, 2024
Updated June 27, 2024

Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Park isn’t easy to get to but it’s a dream come true for outdoor enthusiasts looking to visit one of the nation’s least-visited national parks.

I stare at the tiny, hand hewn log cabin, the only building for miles and miles. Bright green sod covers the roof, and behind us a turquoise lake stretches off into the distance. A float plane just dropped me off on that very lake, tucked away in the mountains of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, the ancestral homelands of the Dena’ina people of Alaska. Routinely ranked in the top three least visited national parks, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is as remote as it gets, accessible only by small plane or boat. And yet, here was a little cabin on the shore of Twin Lakes that was — at one time — well-loved and well-lived in. 

The cabin belonged to Dick Proenneke, who moved to Alaska in the 1960s and built the cabin in the heart of Lake Clark using hand tools and local materials. He lived in the cabin for nearly thirty years without electricity, running water, or a telephone. He hunted, fished, and gathered most of his food, documenting his quiet, contemplative life in the Alaska bush through journals and 8mm films. Right before I moved to Alaska in my twenties, I was gifted One Man’s Wilderness, the book written from Proennekke’s journals after he died. It inspired my own, now decade-long, love affair with Alaska, and still fuels my dream to build my own little cabin in the mountains here. 

Two hours later, the sudden rumble of an engine signals the return of my float plane. I climb aboard and we fly west over rounded mountains and glacial rivers. A moose splashes in a pond below, his antlers tossing water in the air as our shadow darkens him. A half hour later and the float plane soars over the 40-mile long Lake Clark, touching down on the bay by Port Alsworth, the only real town in the park and my home for the weekend.

I spend the rest of the day on the lakeside deck of Port Alsworth’s tiny coffee shop, watching bush planes come in to refuel and rereading my worn copy of One Man’s Wilderness. Later that night, I walk through the cottonwoods to my tent in Port Alsworth’s campground. The sky is still blue, the midnight sun shining despite the later hour. Tomorrow I’ll hike the nearby trails in search of blueberries to fill my bags with before heading back home to the hub-bub of Anchorage. 

For a weekend at least, I’ll live a little like Proennekke. For a weekend, at least, you could too.

Proennekke Cabin
Visit the remote Proennekke Cabin – accessed only by float plane in Lake Clark National Park. (Photo/Chelsey Cook)

How To Get To Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Lake Clark National Park is only accessible by air or a long boat ride. While wildly remote by Lower 48 standards, it’s one of the easiest parks to reach by Alaskan standards. Charter companies run near-daily one-hour flights from Anchorage to Port Alsworth in the summer. 

On the flight, you may spot belugas in the Cook Inlet, catch a glimpse of Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, and fly over the glaciers of the Chigmit and Neocola Mountains. Contact Lake Clark Air or Lake and Peninsula Air to discuss schedules and rates. Lake Clark Air also has float planes in Port Alsworth and can arrange scenic flights, bear viewing, and backcountry drop-offs. 

If you’d rather take a day trip into the park, there are air taxis that offer one-day bear-viewing trips throughout the summer. Flights leave from Homer, Kenai, or Anchorage.

What To Do In Lake Clark and Port Alsworth

Fly Out to Dick Proennekke’s Cabin

Spend a day in the heart of the park and see Dick Proennekke’s cabin for yourself. Hop on a Lake Clark Air float plane in Port Alsworth and enjoy a flight over the remote stretches of the park. You’ll  land on Twin Lakes, right in front of the Proennekke Cabin, where a park ranger will greet you. Explore the property and marvel at the cabin’s incredible craftsmanship.  

tanalian falls
Of the two trail systems within the National Park, Tanalian Falls is a must for any new visitor. (Photo/Chelsey Cook)

Bucket List Hike to Tanalian Falls

Tanalian Trails is one of only two trail systems in the park. From the heart of Port Alsworth, head out on a moderate four-mile round-trip hike through birch groves to the incredible Tanalian Falls, where glacial waters plummet over a 30-foot cliff of ancient lava. If you’re looking for a hike with more elevation, take on the steep, 8.6-mile round-trip trail to the summit of Tanalian Mountain. 

Visit Cranberry Cache and Watch the Float Planes

Perched right on the shore of Lake Clark, the Cranberry Cache is the place to visit in Port Alsworth for coffee, ice cream, and homemade treats. Grab a drink and a slice of carrot cake, and sit on the deck to watch the planes come and go. The Cache is a fuel station for float planes, and bush pilots from all over the area come to refuel their planes and their appetite.

float plane downtown port alsworth
An afternoon spent watching the float planes if the perfect way to end a day in Lake Clark National Park. (Photo/Chelsey Cook)

Kayak or Canoe on Lake Clark

One of the best ways to experience Lake Clark National Park is to explore the lake that gave the park its name. Rent canoes from the Farm Lodge or kayaks from Tulchina Adventures and spend a day paddling on Lake Clark. There are plenty of islands to explore and sheltered coves to tuck into.

Go Fishing in the Park

Alaska is renowned for its fishing, and Lake Clark is no exception. Three species of salmon are found in the lake during the spawning season, and other lakes in the park are home to grayling, lake trout, and dolly varden. Plan a do-it-yourself fishing trip from Port Alsworth, or book a remote one with an outfitter, like the Farm Lodge. Make sure you get an Alaska fishing license.

Check Off Another Park with Katmai National Park

If you’re trying to visit every national park in the United States, Port Alsworth is the perfect jumping-off place to tick off Katmai National Park, too. Lake Clark Air and the Farm Lodge offer day trips to Katmai to see the world-famous brown bears. 

Lunch on lower twin lakes
A lunch with a view on Twin Lakes – what could be better? (Photo/Chelsey Cook)

Where To Stay in Port Alsworth and Lake Clark

The Farm Lodge

The Farm Lodge is the premier place to stay in Port Alsworth. Run by the Alsworth family, whose ancestors homesteaded the town in the 1940s, the Lodge offers cabins with deluxe suites, heated rooms, and private bathrooms along the waterfront of Lake Clark. The Lodge serves family-style meals and made-to-order lunches for your afternoon adventures. They also offer wildlife viewing, sightseeing flights, photography classes, fishing tours, and trips to Proennekes’ cabin.

Wilder B & B 

Wilder B & B offers a quieter experience on the far side of Port Alsworth. Their two cabins sleep six people each and have full kitchens, showers, and laundry. There’s a porch to relax on, and grills to have a BBQ. The cabins are a short walk to the Lake Clark National Park Visitor Center and the Tanalian River. They also have a rental cabin available on Lake Clark. 

Tulchina Adventures Campground

Tulchina Adventures offers affordable accommodation at their Port Alsworth Campground. They have three glamping huts in the old-growth forest on the southwest end of Port Alsworth. Each hut is a 10’ by 12’ tent platform enclosed with mosquito netting and covered by a clear roof. Each hut has camping chairs, a table, potable water, bear-proof storage, and a fire pit. There are hot showers available. 

Tulchina Adventures offers kayak rentals and water taxis on Lake Clark. 

flying over a river in Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Park is as remote as it gets – so make the most of it! (Photo/Chelsey Cook)

Things To Consider

  • Most services in Lake Clark and Port Alsworth are only available from May through September.
  • Port Alsworth is very walkable, though much of the walking is beside two active gravel runways. Enjoy watching the planes but be aware when crossing the runways.
  • There is no cell service in most of Lake Clark, though many accommodations offer Wi-Fi.
  • There is no alcohol for sale in Port Alsworth. If you want to have a cold beer after your adventure, pack your own from Anchorage.
  • Port Alsworth and Lake Clark are remote, and medical facilities may be far away or difficult to access. Always be prepared when hiking, fishing, or paddling.
  • If you’re interested in doing a longer basecamp hiking or backpacking trip in the park, contact Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Seen in: Alaska, Fishing, Guides, Hiking, National Parks, Travel, Where to Stay

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