Lake Clark National Park in Alaska is still a bit of a mystery to me although I’ve visited a couple of times. Like many places in Alaska, the only way to get there is by a small plane or a boat, although the sea is often rough. I was at Crescent Lake within the park a few years ago for bear viewing, which is still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in Alaska. And that’s saying a lot.
Lake Clark National Park is big. It’s also one of the most remote national parks in the country, comprising 4 million acres. What does a 4-million-acre national park look like? Vast. That’s all I can say.
Recently I visited a small part of Lake Clark National Park called Silver Salmon Creek. It’s an area along the Cook Inlet coast, well known for outstanding bear viewing and fishing. August is a great month for bear viewing. This year I have gotten more into salmon fishing and this would’ve been an outstanding opportunity to catch wild salmon in a wild place! Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was I was going to see bears, catch some fish, and spend time in the wilderness. I packed all my camera gear, rubber boots, fishing license and hopped on a small plane to fly across Cook Inlet.
I love flying over the area southwest of Anchorage. A small plane is necessary transportation but the views we saw on the way are stunning. The coastline of Cook Inlet, patterns and colors of wetlands, wildlife tracks, beluga whales, valleys and peaks, the 90-minute flight to Silver Salmon Creek was a treat. In a small bush plane, everyone gets a window seat. Our plane was a 4-seater with a small space in the back for luggage.
Oh, the bears. As we were approaching the beach for the landing, we already spotted a handful of bears on the beach. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that this is bear habitat and we’re just visitors. Bears live here because there are many food sources, including a long salmon run season, grass, and clams from the mudflats. Yes, clams! That’s something new I learned in Alaska; bears eat lots of different foods, including berries, salmon, and clams.
Our group was here for a few days for fishing and education. Bear viewing was certainly on the agenda but it wasn’t the focus of the trip. We just knew it would happen during whatever activity we would do. We were told to stick together with our group and don’t wander off alone. If bears appear nearby, don’t move suddenly and just step away from the path. In the peak summer season, bears are generally not interested in humans unless we bother them. There are plenty of food sources around, so the only thing they are interested in are fish that we catch.
We geared up for salmon fishing and headed to the nearby stream. The silver salmon run here is long and plentiful and it’s a popular place for fishing. There were several other small groups we saw passing by. I’ve never actually caught salmon using a rod and reel before; dip netting was the only way I’ve done it. But I was in the right place at the right time, so I had high hopes.
Some 10 minutes had passed and our guide Tim said there was a momma bear and three cubs coming this way. I quickly grabbed my camera gear and went to the lookout. There they were, a sow and three little cubs walking on the beach. The momma bear hustled the youngsters to swim across the stream, away from the group of people watching. And that was just the start of our bear viewing journey.
For the next two days, we drove by a sleeping bear on a 4-wheeler, stepped away from a bear that was charging our fish on the fishing pole, watched bears trying to catch salmon in the stream, a sow and cub digging for clams, and bears walking around in the golden evening sun. I’ve never been this close to wild bears before. Several times I saw bears, all three times in Lake Clark National Park, but we were much further away because we were there for bear viewing. This time, because we were engaged in other activities, the ‘bear viewing’ felt more natural. It was like a reminder that we were visitors to their place.
For the first time, I caught salmon using a rod and reel! It felt so good. I certainly wasn’t the first one to catch fish in this experienced group, but with their guidance, it finally happened for me. The first one was a pretty good size and I caught another one from the next cast. Now I understand why people go fishing!
There are many lodges that arrange all the necessary gear and transportation including the flight. Camping isn’t recommended if you’re not experienced camping in bear habitat. There are also bear viewing tours departing from Anchorage if you’re not interested in fishing or staying multiple nights.
If you’re staying at a fishing lodge, all fishing gear are included. The packing list is different depending on the weather and season but here are some essentials.
Lake Clark National Park is a beautiful place. So much is still unknown to me but I’m learning little by little every visit. It’s not an easy or cheap place to go because it’s far and remote, but certainly, a worthwhile place to explore. I’m already looking forward to the next opportunity when I can dive more into the wilderness of Lake Clark National Park.