For a sunny day there is nothing like an adventure involving a large body of water. Eklutna Lake is so pristine, it is used as a source of drinking water. It is also an amazing playground for bicyclist, hikers, ATVers, campers, photographers, kayakers and canoeists. There is something here for everyone.
Heading north on the Glenn highway from Eagle River take the Eklutna exit and turn right. Follow the "Eklutna Lake" signs to find the access road leading up to the lake. The access road is a ten mile dirt road, but it is maintained well enough so that any vehicle can drive it. Be careful on this road because parts are wash board. Vehicles easily loose control and fishtail if they are going too fast. Watch for moose as they can cross the road at any time.
The drive is spectacular. Although the pavement ends about half way up, the dirt road is well maintained and can be easily driven by any size vehicle. The views along it include Bold Peak, Thunderbird Peak and the Eklutna River Valley below. It is becoming harder and harder to find views unobstructed by clear cutting in the northwest. Fortunately, once you are this far north the wood is not valuable enough to bother with an expensive logging operation. You will see for yourself the majesty of undisturbed forests. We spotted a lonely porcupine along the road, flashing its spiny backside. It is not uncommon to find all sorts of wildlife here as shooting is prohibited in the park.
Nothing will prepare you for the sight of the jewel of this valley, Eklutna Lake. The color, a clear brilliant turquoise creates an almost surrealistic visage surrounded by green snow capped mountains. Nestled up in the freshest air breathable, the lake sits at just above 1000 feet. The walls of the valley ascend quickly to three and five thousand feet on all sides, and Bold Peak reaches a spectacular 7522 feet above sea level.
For those who would like to spend the day reveling in the bounty of all that Eklutna has to offer, there is plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities. At the top of the road, there is a state campground featuring 50 sites in the main campground, plus an overflow area. Each site has its own fire pit and picnic table. There are also covered picnic areas in case it starts to rain. The campground has toilets and a public phone. There area extra sites that can be reserved by groups by calling 345-5014. The other sites are all on a first come first serve basis. Camping costs $10 per night.
Also, for those wishing only to have a spot to park their vehicles, there is a large parking lot with plenty of space. Day use parking costs $5 per vehicle. At the northeast corner of the parking spot you will find the Eklutna Lake trailhead. Eklutna is a natural watershed that is used for public drinking water in much of the surrounding area. Eklutna, Inc. has created a trail to the opposite side so they can monitor the entire lake. They open this up for all kinds of recreation. The road around the lake is even better than the road up to the lake. But cars and trucks are not allowed on this road. It is open to small recreational vehicles Sunday through Wednesday. The other days it is closed to everything with a motor. Bikers and hikers are welcome anytime. The road features incredible vistas of the Lake and surrounding mountains including Mitre Peak an Bashful Peak. Numerous streams and creeks flow under the trail through culverts or under bridges.
At the beginning of this trail Lifetime Adventures operates a rental and guide facility. Here you can find mountain bikes and kayaks for rent, as well as very friendly guides who can take you on different excursions – kayak, bicycle, hike, camp or a combination of them all. For overnight excursions, Lifetime Adventures can even outfit you with the gear you will need. Call in advance to make sure everything you want is available and reserved.
The nine mile trail leads clear around to the other side of the lake. Even on All Terrain Vehicle days, you will still only see a few. Most people go out to enjoy the scenic road under human power. This is a terrific opportunity to get all the exercise you would get from you exercise equipment, only you are breathing fresh air and experiencing the beauty of Gods creativity. After the $5 parking fee all the views are free, and there are as many as you wish to set your eyes upon. The road is hilly, and a great cardiovascular workout. But for those not in peak shape, a system of lower trails stays closer to water level dodging the hills and joining back on the road for the flat spot. These trails are narrower, sometime muddy and can have tree roots growing across them in spots. But generally they are easier than the road. Motor vehicles are not allowed on these diversion trails, but you do have to be careful to watch for oncoming cyclists and pedestrians.
Between the eight and nine mile markers along the road lies a small airstrip. There are state park toilets, several picnic tables and fire pits. Camping is permitted here. And if you find a friendly bush pilot taking lunch at the site, it is not considered impolite to ask for a flight-see. Many of them are locals from Peters Creek or Eagle River just out for a quick flight. The worst they could say is “no,” and some of them would love to share their plane with a friendly out-of-towner. Etiquette would recommend an offer to pay for gas or even an invitation to come stay with you during an extended travel.
At the end of the airstrip you will find relatively easy access to the lake. Rock hounds will find pet rocks plentiful. We try to limit ourselves to the tops of our cargo shorts, but we always seem to leave with our hands full, too. The lake drops quickly in depth, but glacier deposit stone is abundant if one walks along the lake to the left where streams braid through the fields to meet the lake.
But this spot is not the end of the trail. It continues to a fork where you can choose either Eastside Trail (the left) or Glacier Trail (the right).
We rented a two person kayak and took a half-day paddle on the lake. Lifetime Adventures provided splash skirts and life vests. It was a warm day (about 72F) so we thought we would leave them off so we could work on our tans. We ended up wearing them when we realized they were a great defense against the “freakin’ cold” water of Eklutna.
The lake is great for beginners because one does not have to worry about tides or large waves. Although it was warm, the winds were pretty strong. Paddling against them we made about two miles of the eight mile lake in a little more than an hour. We sat in the boat in the middle of the lake and ate our lunch taking in the amazing views. Paddling the opposite direction took us only a half an hour as we rode the wind and small waves back to the end of the lake. If you are on a time schedule, be sure to determine which way the wind is blowing because it can make quite a bit of difference in terms of the amount of time and energy it will take to reach your destination. On a calm day, experienced kayakers have reported making it from one end to the other in two and a half hours.
For more info, check out the State's website at www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/chugach/eklutna.htm
Last Visited: September 2000.