The Willow Creek State Recreation Area is located in an area where massive glaciers covered the landscape 9,000 years ago. These gigantic ice rivers carved the valley and reward us with breathtaking views in the present day. This Alaskan 3,583-acre state park features activities for the whole family with beautiful nature as a backdrop. The tributary systems of the Sustina River expand west of the campground as they flow south towards the Gulf of Alaska. You will marvel at the impressive panoramas of the rolling landscape scattered with hundreds of lakes and ponds.
Hikers, RV campers, fishermen, nature viewers, bird watchers, photographers, and hunters will all be in paradise in this Alaska wilderness. The many rivers, lakes, and ponds give anglers the chance to catch bluegill, bass, catfish, walleye, tiger musky, and bullheads. As a nature viewer, you will be able to see abundant beavers, and waterfowl making use of the fresh water streams and rivers in the summer time. Please do not disturb the dams and lodges these animals have built, as they are crucial in maintaining healthy ecosystems in this untamed part of the United States. Hikers have the whole expansive wilderness open for exploration, with some easy hiking tracks leaving from the campground itself.
There are 140 different campsites at the the Willow Creek State Recreation Area, with all RVs, campervans, camper, trailer, and tents welcome. Some visitors have reported that while there are no strict size restrictions, for a comfortable fit, set ups of 30 feet are ideal. Each campsite has access to toilets and running water along with sheltered picnic tables. The area is easily accessible due to it's paved roads and large parking area, making it ideal for big groups on their family vacation.
The drive to the campground is less than two hours if you are arriving from Anchorage, and follows Glenn Highway until a turn off just past Willow Lake. There is a gas station located a short drive away from the campground making it simple if you do forget anything. If the weather gets too cold, there are many accommodation options located in close proximity for you to warm up in. The whole campground and facility area is paved, meaning it is easy to drive in and find your campsite. Most spots are drive-through which will make it easy if you have a big camping set up. There is also plenty of parking spaces, options for day use visitors, and enough space to comfortably turn around in.
There are 140 camping spots available at the Willow Creek State Recreation Area, with visitors being able to stay anywhere between four and 15 days depending on the time of the year. The campsites are basic paved parking spaces with a picnic table on one end. If you have an awning or sideways expanding campervan, then you might need to take up two car spaces.
There are well-maintained facilities, with flushing toilets and showers. There is drinking water available, and pets are welcome to come along with their owners. The camping spots are easily accessible and can accommodate RVs and campervans up to around 30 feet comfortably. There is, however, no official size limit.
Guests should contact the park directly regarding hours of operation, driving permits, and any other specific questions. The park does get busy during the weekends as many visitors drive up from Anchorage to enjoy a weekend of fishing on Willow Creek and Sustina River, so make sure to book ahead!
Have you always wanted to catch a king salmon? Because by early June you will start to see these powerful fish moving through the clear waters of the Sustina River drainage. The streams around Willow Creek are open to king fishing from January until June. Check the regulations during your camping trip to ensure you are staying within the law. You can take your boat out to the center of the creek and try your luck to catch bluegill, bass, catfish, walleye, tiger musky and bullheads.
A spectacular place for people who enjoy hiking and exploring nature on their own two feet. The rolling landscape interspersed with lakes and ponds making it worthwhile experience with every step.
The whole area is interspersed with trails, so all you really need to do is grab a good pair of hiking boots, plenty of water, a jacket against possibly cool weather, and a good map of the area. You will enjoy the views of sparkling lake waters, blooming wildflowers, and the occasional animal scampering across your path.
Why not try the 15.5 mile hike along the Willow Creek Sled Trail? This one will give you great access to old mining sites and the gold pan.
If you wish to venture out further and enjoy full views of the Willow Creek Valley, you can head over east into the mountainous region. There at the Summit Lake State Recreational area you will be met by a chilly wind as you hike the small knoll on the west side of the lake. This is the point where many hang gliders launch to fly down into Willow Creek Valley, right into the storybook view.
During the warm summer months, there is no better way to explore the Alaskan wilderness than hopping into a canoe or kayak to paddle the river. Your kayak trip will show you many water dwelling creatures, stunning deciduous over hanging trees, and the occasional blockage created by a beaver's dam. If you do see a beaver, do not disturb them from their work as they are helping keep the river systems and surrounding nature healthy!
There is an opportunity to rent a kayak from Willow, however that is at least a 20-minute drive away from the campground. The most popular kayaking spot starts near the Tainana Lake Canoe Trailhead, a little further down south from the campground. They offer day trips or even several overnight expeditions to become truly one with nature.
The Willow Creek Recreational Area is nestled in between two mountain ranges, with stunning topography carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. The cold temperatures in the winter, and often ice cold winds, make this a harsh environment for animals to live in. However, once the spring sun starts shining, you will begin to see many animals who have made these extreme conditions their home.
If you quietly go to the rivers and streams, you will be able to see the industrious Beavers constructing their dam lodges. For your best chance to spot larger mammals, including Caribou and Moose, you should head out at dawn or dusk. Move quietly and try and stay downwind of the animal, as they have much better senses of smell than we do.
During the wintertime, the whole area gets covered in a thick blanket of snow which attracts winter adventurers. Snowmobiling, or snow machining as it's known in Alaska, is one of the best ways to get around the countryside.
One of the easy self-driving trails is the ihe Willow Creek Sled. You can use it to explore the old mining sites, take photos of the winter wonderland, and check out the gold pan. The length of the trail is 15.5 miles and gains an elevation of 1,000 feet; this however, is no challenge to the powerful snow machines.
There are many trails in the surroundings which you can explore with your snow mobile, however if you rather join a tour, there are several companies which offer day trips. These trips will lay out the snowy landscape with every squeeze of the throttle whether travelling through forest trails or free riding on the snow powder fields. Snowmobile riding is typically possible during the winter season between November and April.
Certain sections of the recreational area are open to hunting once the season opens on the first Tuesday after Labor Day. If you wish to hunt with air rifle or a shotgun, you have the chance to shoot pheasant, quail, mourning dove, rabbit, squirrel and a variety of waterfowl. Otherwise, the use of firearms is restricted within the Willow Creek Recreational Area.
On the other hand, archery is permitted in the area, and you can try your tracking and hunting prowess by challenging yourself to a deer hunt. There are many designated areas a short drive away which permit the use of hand guns and rifles. In those sections, some people get the opportunity to hunt a caribou, moose, or even bear with the appropriate permit!