Sitting about 45 miles south of Fairbanks on the banks of a sprawling lake, Harding Lake State Recreation Area is one of the oldest park facilities in the Alaska State Park system, tracing its start back to 1967. The park's historical links go back further, as the lake owes its name to President Warren G. Harding, who visited interior Alaska shortly before his death in August of 1923. With an interesting history, tons of campsites, and recreation on its namesake lake, this Alaska park makes for a great RV vacation.
Harding Lake State Recreation Area's main draw is, of course, the sprawling lake it sits on, which offers great opportunities for boating, paddling, fishing, and swimming. Fed by a combination of hillside runoff, springs, permafrost, and two inlets, Harding Lake spans nearly three miles at its widest and 140 feet at its deepest. Boaters, paddlers, and anglers can make use of the park's boat launch, and swimmers can meanwhile take a dip and sunbathe on the park's swim beach. Those looking for recreation on land can also enjoy hiking along the park's nature trails, or playing a game of baseball, volleyball, or horseshoes on the park's designated fields.
Visitors who plan to stay overnight at Harding Lake State Recreation Area will have over 90 campsites to choose from, spread across the park's main campground and a mix of other smaller areas inside the park. Many of the drive-in sites in the main campground can accommodate large rigs, and all campers can make use of the park's dump station. The park is open year-round and the sites can be claimed on a first-come, first-served basis, so visitors eager to snag a spot at this scenic Alaska park should make sure to plan their trip accordingly.
RV Rentals in Harding Lake State Recreation Area
Transportation in Harding Lake State Recreation Area
Sandwiched halfway between Fairbanks to the northwest and Delta Junction to the southeast, Harding Lake State Recreation Area can be reached fairly easily from the Richardson Highway by RV or car. This Alaska park sits about 40 miles from Fairbanks and 15 miles from the nearest town of Salcha.
Once inside the park, visitors can expect to navigate in their rigs with relative ease, as the park is a manageable 325 acres and the roads inside it are fairly straightforward. Visitors with larger rigs will also be able to find a big rig friendly campsite among the park’s more than 90 sites, as many of the sites in the park’s main campground can easily accommodate larger RVs and trailers.
While the park has plenty to offer in terms of adventure and recreation, Harding Lake SRA has limited amenities on-site. The park has toilets, water, and a dump station, as well as firewood for purchase, but beyond that, visitors will have to leave the park for any additional supplies and needs. For restaurants, gas, and groceries, visitors can travel north or south from the park along Richardson Highway and find a small range of options on the highway on the way toward Fairbanks or Delta Junction, with the widest selection of options concentrated in Fairbanks about 45 minutes away.
Campgrounds and parking in Harding Lake State Recreation Area
Campsites in Harding Lake State Recreation Area
Harding Lake SRA Main Campground
Harding Lake State Recreation has over 90 campsites for visitors to choose from, spread across a couple different areas of the park. The park’s main campground is located in a spruce and birch forest and consists of 78 drive-in sites and five walk-in sites. While the sites do not offer water, sewer, or electric hookups, visitors can take advantage of the drinking water, vault toilets, and sanitary dump station all located within the park. Guests can also enjoy the fire ring and picnic table available at each site, and can purchase firewood at the campground. Even larger rigs will be comfortable in the park’s main campground, as many of the drive-in sites are large enough to accommodate large motorhomes or trailers. Visitors planning a trip with a large group should note that there is a limit of six people and two vehicles per campsite, but some sites are adjacent to others, enabling larger groups to park together. The sites in this campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so visitors eager to stay in Harding Lake State Recreation Area’s main campground should plan to snag one on arrival.
Harding Lake SRA Additional Camping Areas
In addition to the 78 drive-in sites in the park’s main campground, Harding Lake State Recreation Area also offers additional camping space for self-contained units on weekdays at the Lakefront Day Use Area, and additional camping for up to 10 units in the Camp Lot camping area, located close to the lake. For a less scenic camping experience, visitors can also make use of the game field parking lot, which can hold a maximum of 12 camping units. As with the main campground in the park, all of these sites and spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so visitors hoping to grab a particular space should plan accordingly and make sure to stake their claim on arrival.
Seasonal activities in Harding Lake State Recreation Area
The central feature of Harding Lake State Recreation Area is the sprawling lake it sits on, with Harding Lake spanning nearly three miles at its widest and 140 feet at its deepest. Boaters will be happy to learn that the park features a boat launch that gives visitors access to this sprawling lake. The boat launch opens up onto a canal, which leads to the heart of Harding Lake. Motorized boats, jet skis, and other types of watercraft are all welcome on the lake, and the park makes access easy: boaters can take advantage of the convenient boat launch parking lot as well as the overflow parking lot.
Luckily for paddlers, Harding Lake is not just for motorized boats: the massive lake is also a prime destination for canoeing and kayaking. The park's boat launch allows paddlers to start out on the modest canal before venturing out into the center of the lake. Harding Lake SRA overlooks the northwest end of Harding Lake, so paddlers will have a chance to explore the part of the lake located near the confluence of Salcha and Tanana rivers. While the park does not offer any boat rentals, visitors with their own kayaks and canoes can enjoy a wealth of paddling options at this Alaska park.
Swimming & Picnicking
While boaters and paddlers venture out into the heart of Harding Lake, visitors eager to explore this Alaska park and its chief feature in a more laid-back way can still soak in the beauty of Harding Lake SRA, by instead taking advantage of the park's swim beach and picnic facilities. Swimmers can enjoy sunbathing on the park's beach, and then cooling off in the refreshing waters of Harding Lake. To cap off a day in the sun, visitors can then enjoy a packed lunch or dinner at the park's numerous picnic sites and picnic shelters.
Anytime of year, Harding Lake State Recreation Area also offers great opportunities for visitors eager to pull on their hiking boots and stretch their legs on a scenic hike. This Alaska park boasts a rich ecosystem worth exploring on foot: Harding Lake is surrounded by spruce and birch forest, offers views of the alpine tundra of the Alaska Range on the horizon, and is fed by hillside runoff, permafrost, springs, and two inlets. For an easy stroll, hikers can hop on the half-mile nature trail inside the park, which offers quiet wildlife viewing opportunities.
While there are many draws to Harding Lake, the sprawling lake is best known for its hearty population of both introduced and native fish, so anglers will have plenty to explore during a visit to Harding Lake SRA. Native species in the lake include slimy sculpin, least cisco, and burbot, while introduced species include coho salmon, rainbow trout, and arctic char. Anglers should try their luck, in particular, at catching lake trout, arctic char, and burbot; though it's important to note that all visitors should check the sport fishing limits and regulations for the season.
Sports & Games
Visitors looking for a different kind of activity during their visit to Harding Lake State Recreation Area will be glad to find that the park also offers a wide array of sports and games on-site for visitors to take advantage of. In particular, visitors can make use of areas set aside for baseball, volleyball, and horseshoes, and can even rent equipment from the ranger station. Those looking to balance out the hiking, fishing, and boating with a group-friendly game on land can find everything they need right inside the park.