Chilkoot Lake, filled with salmon, ringed by towering peaks and surrounded by temperate rain forests teaming with wildlife, is pure Alaska. Visitors to this remote corner of the northern world will be awestruck by the area's endless rugged beauty. Mountains, their peaks rocky and snow-clad and their bases a verdant shade of green, pierce the Alaskan sky. Quiet forests are filled with towering spruce and fir, and nearly every surface is is coated with a rich green blanket of moss and other water-loving plants. Grizzly bears are frequent visitors to Chilkoot. They are drawn to the abundant salmon fishery just as human anglers are. In winter, the lake and its surrounds transform into an icy, white wonderland; stillness and quietude only enhance the area's awe-inspiring beauty.
Chilkoot Lake State Recreation Area, sitting at the southern end of Chilkoot Lake, is thus a park for all seasons and a park for all nature-lovers. Anglers, paddlers, ice-skaters, cross-country skiiers, photographers and naturalists will all find something to occupy and inspire them at Chilkoot.
Sporting a lovely primitive campground with 32-RV sites, Chilkoot, though out of the way, is a more than worthy destination for Alaskan travelers. Reservations at this gorgeous site can be made up to seven months in advance.
Chilkoot is reasonably accessible, considering its very remote location. Lutak Road, a paved, flat and relatively un-windy road, leads into the park. Lutak Road runs along the Lutak Inlet, passing by the Haines ferry station, where most of the area's visitors arrive.
The road then makes its way into the town of Haines, which is just about ten miles from the park. By land, Haines is only accessible via the Haines Highway, which heads north into Canada (Haines can be reached by road from Anchorage, but the circuitous drive is over fifteen hours long). Haines has grocery and supply stores, restaurants, museums, art galleries, additional campsites and even its own brewery.
Though the surrounding countryside is seemingly endless, the Chilkoot Lake park itself sits at only 80 acres. The park's road leads to its campsite and then ends - there are no spurs or turns, so it's pretty difficult to get lost driving. Sites are well spaced and drivers should have no problem parking, so long as they are within the park's stated length limits.
Chilkoot Lake's campground sits at the southern end of the lake's shore. Just to the south, Chilkoot's waters drain into the Lutak Inlet, while to the northwest, visitors can see the spectacular ring of mountains which surround the lake. Campsites sit in the shade of towering Sitka spruce, which grow to massive sizes in this rain-heavy corner of the world.
The campground sports 32 camping sites suitable for RVs and trailers. Many are on the smaller side, and the park limits vehicle lengths at 35 feet. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, but are otherwise primitive. No water, electric or sewage hookups area available, and the park does not have its own dumping station (though there are stations available in nearby Haines). The campground does have vault toilets and a boat ramp, as well as some exhibits and interpretive signage on the area's natural and human history.
All sites at Chilkoot are reservable, and reservations can be made up to seven months in advance.
Chilkoot's fish are the stuff of legend. The rich, cold waters of the Chilkoot River provide ideal spawning habitats for salmon, and it is these waters that flow into Chilkoot Lake. The lake was well-known and well-used for centuries by the native Tlingit people, who fished from its ample stocks of red and sockeye salmon. Abundant salmon prompted the building of canneries at the turn of the 20th century. The lake, scenic and still teaming with fish, is today a paradise for anglers. Make sure you take precautions not to attract grizzlies, though!
Chilkoot lake is massive, ruggedly beautiful, and usually quite calm. These qualities make it an excellent body of water on which to kayak and canoe. Paddlers can glide over glassy water, look for wildlife along the lake's shores, and watch eagles and osprey soar overhead across an endless sky. A rough circumnavigation of the lake takes about five hours to complete, depending on speed and skill-level. The park has a conveniently located boat ramp which provides easy access to the water.
There are abundant opportunities for seeing some of Alaska's magnificent fauna at Chilkoot Lake. Black and grizzly bears tromp through the forests and snag salmon from the lake and river. Moose can be seen lapping up water along the shoreline, while mountain goats frequent the area's rocky peaks. Harbor seals can be found in the lake, while ospreys and bald eagles can be seen soaring overhead or perching in towering conifers. Visitors should make sure binoculars or cameras are always handy!
Some photographers say that shooting in Alaska is almost cheating. So spectacular is the scenery, that almost anyone, it seems, can snap a National-Geographic quality nature photo. Photographers will have to test this theory for themselves at Chilkoot. Undoubtedly, the scenery is striking. Capture the mist rising off Chilkoot Lake as mountains scrape the sky in the background; capture the light as it filters through a verdant rain-forest canopy; or capture a still of a grizzly bear as it wrangles a salmon into its mighty jaws. The photographic opportunities are endless.
Chilkoot's location near the coast means it's temperatures are somewhat moderated during the winter - the lake and it's surrounds don't experience the brutal cold that interior Alaska often does. Chilkoot's place on the coast also means snow, and a lot of it. Nearby Haines, Alaska averages a stunning 262 inches of snowfall per year! All that powder makes for some fantastic cross-country skiing - winter visitors to Chilkoot can explore a quiet, snowy wonderland. There are no official or maintained trails, so make sure you have some navigation tools with you.
This is not you're grandma's ice-skating rink. When the days shorten and the snow begins to fall, Chilkoot Lake begins its transformation into a massive, glittering ice sheet. Ice-skating is a popular winter activity here, and with good reason. As you glide across the lake's surface, you can take in spectacular views of jagged, icy peaks and snow-clad forests. Skating at Chilkoot will be an unique experience you'll never forget. Coast-moderated temperatures mean you won't have to bring arctic expedition gear to fend off the cold...but still, dress warmly!