The vibrant Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is a reminder to all who visit that Alaska is part of the volcanic “Ring of Fire”.
This 586,000-acre monument is home to one of the world’s largest calderas. This Caldera is six miles wide and 2500 feet deep. It came into existence as a direct result of a massive 7000-foot volcano collapse during an enormous eruption that occurred 3.500 years ago. While the true purpose behind the establishment of the monument was to recognize the distinctive geological significance of Aniakchak, the scientists ended up discovering something else: that the area also has a very rich cultural history.
Additionally, there’s something else that makes Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve very special – its remote location and challenging weather conditions. This secluded monument is the least visited in the area, making it a special point of interest amongst adventurers who seek wild escapes.
Throughout Aniakchak, brown bears roam freely and in huge numbers. The area provides them with good fodder conditions and ample food in the form of salmon. Before heading to this monument, you need to take every precaution the park officially shares regarding bear safety. The landscape of the park is a miscellany of cinder cones, flame-tinted walls, and stiff lava, which makes for some pretty amazing pictures. Activities at Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve includes some adventurous trekking and rafting through one of the world’s toughest landscapes.
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve are located on the Alaska Peninsula, nearly 150 miles southwest of King Salmon and 450 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve cannot be accessed via road and has to be reached via air. However, the unpredictable weather of the region can often postpone or cancel plans.
To make up for an unexpected turn of events, make sure you always pack some extra food and supplies, in case the pick-up from the National Monument is delayed.
The visitor center, however, is located in the nearest community of King Salmon. Grab any regular Alaska Airlines to fly from your destination to King Salmon, from where you can get further guidance from the visitor center.
Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve is pure wilderness and has no established campground. Any and all kinds of camping is primitive. Since the park is located remotely and can only be reached by air, RV camping is not possible.
The closest RV campsite is Buskin State Recreation Site, which can also only be reached via air. The small campground here has only 15 sites, but it can accommodate vehicles up to 40 feet in length. Sites are first come, first served, and amenities are basic. There are no hookups, but drinking water and vault toilets are available.
The Aniakchak River is named as one of the National Wild Rivers of Alaska. It begins softly and gently at the Surprise Lake, but it starts picking up speed as soon as it reaches The Gates – a narrow 2500-foot-high canyon in the caldera wall that is prone to extremely violent winds
Within the first 15 miles, the river falls 1000 feet in elevation as it leaves the caldera, and rushes past boulders the size of small cars. This is where it gets hard and challenges even the veteran rafters. The river flows past a tree-less yet grass-covered rolling lands and goes on for 32 miles before emptying into Aniakchak Bay. A decent budget, experience, pre-tested skills, and high-end gear are necessary for rafting in Aniakchak River.
At the mouth of the river, fishing is a popular sport and most anglers settle down there in hopes of a good game. Char and sockeye salmon are abundant from late July and August as they swim from the Gulf of Alaska to the lake. To enjoy sport fishing, make sure you have a fishing license if you are nonresident 16 years old or over, or if you are a resident anywhere between 16 years to 59 years of age.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is the nearest park to Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. That said, you’d still need to fly out to reach here. The best time to experience the exceptional culture walk at Katmai is probably on your way back. The Katmai landscape has served as a home for people for thousands of years and that has led it to its title of a National Historic Landmark and a National Register of Historic Places Archeological District.
The park has over 900 house depressions close to the river, which the cultural walk takes you through in addition to the trail of reconstructed traditional Native homes of people who used to live alongside the river and deep into the forest.
The Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve does not have any formal and marked trails, but hikers and backpackers will find many excellent hiking conditions all the same. The best and most popular hiking spots are above the cinder fields and caldera floor.
The terrain mostly consists of cold and swift rivers and nearly impassable patches of thick vegetation. It’s best to hike on the animal trails, however, it is highly recommended to make a loud noise to warn the wild animals of your approach. Be prepared for surprise encounters nonetheless, and prepare yourself to know what to do when it happens.
Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve permits hunting and trapping in the preserve section. To enjoy this recreational activity, make sure you have all the required licenses. The hunting permit is required by everyone 16 years old or older. Some of the areas within the preserve are private lands, and you cannot enter there without the owner’s permission. The most hunted animals are moose and brown bear.
The wildlife is abundant in Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve. Despite the extreme environment of the area, the wildlife continues to thrive. The brown bears are numerous in the area, along with wolves, wolverines, foxes, moose, ground squirrel, eagles, and caribou. The Aniakchak Bay is home to seals, sea otters, and sea birds.
At the west of caldera, the migratory birds from Bristol Bay’s coastal plain settle down. Waterfowl also inhabit the area.