Lake Clark National Park & Preserve
Visitors in 2017: 22,755
Lake Clark is the precise image that comes to mind one when one hears “Alaska wilderness.” The towering Chigmit Mountains run against the park’s border, standing tall over nearly 6,300 square miles of lakes, forests, and remote nature. It has a stunning diversity of landscapes, such as coastal forests near the water and harsh, frozen tundra of the Turquoise-Telaquana Plateau. You’ll find yourself camping along the rocky shoreline of a mountain lake with nobody but bears and eagles to share it with, kayaking out onto that lake feeling as if you have the entire state to yourself.
The park isn’t painfully tough to reach; it’s only about a hundred miles from Anchorage. Yet as you’d expect, few make the trip up to Port Alsworth, the little town that serves as the unofficial gateway to Lake Clark. From there you can do an easy day hike to Tanalian Falls, the kind of impressive, towering waterfall that would draw crowds by the thousands in the lower 48. Or you can take a longer trek up to Tanalian Mountain, which rewards you with 360-degree views over the bay, mountains, and Lake Clark.
If you’ve got a few days to spend, hop a seaplane to Turquoise Lake, where you can hike and backpack beside a mountain lake the same color as the Caribbean. Or head to the Silver Salmon Lodge, where brown bears are more populous than lodge guests and daily interaction with them become almost casual. It’s a glorious cross-section of Alaskan wilderness that’s still not impossible to reach, and a fantastic first foray into untamed Alaska.
How to get there: From Anchorage, you can find scheduled flights into Iliamna, then take an air taxi into the park. You can also take a boat through Cook Inlet to the park’s coastline. The park is not accessible by road.