Swan Lake Canoe Trail System
Looking to get away from it all? Want to escape from everyone, and contemplate your existence out in the middle of nowhere. Would you rather not stray too far from the beaten path or pay a pilot to drop you off beyond reach? One of the best little adventures we’ve found was exploring the Swan Lake Canoe Trails. There are a whole series of lakes on the Kenai peninsula that have been connected by small waterways and hiking trails.
In Sterling, Alaska look for signs pointing north up Swanson River road. You may need to take a quick trip into Soldotna first to rent a canoe. We found a pretty good deal at the Sports Den on the Sterling Highway just past the Kenai Spur. Head back to Sterling and turn left up Swanson River Road. This is a dirt road that travels through the lakes for about ten miles. You will see a big brown sign pointing to the right indicating you are in the heart of the lake system. Turn Right here on Swan Road.
Now your options for adventure extend in all directions. One of the best written guide books for the entire trail system, including detailed satellite photograph maps is The Kenai Canoe Trails by Daniel L. Quick. This is the book we use. If you want to spend a significant amount of time exploring, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. There are maps available at the trail heads, but don't count on them being there. There will be a long drive back to get a book if there are no more maps. You need these maps to be able to find your way along the trial. They indicate which side of each lake you will find the next portage. If you prefer topo maps, contact the U.S. Geologic Survey and request "Kenai C-2" map.
West Entrance: We had two days for a quick trip through the lakes. We decided instead of rushing through the shortest loop, we would just go in as many lakes as we had time to see, camp, and then head back the same way we came the next day. We parked at the west entrance. The GPS Coordinates are Lat. 60 43 22.10412 N Long. 150 41 57.563448 W. There is ample parking there with new restroom facilities. There is no fee. Be sure to sign in to let the park ranger know when to send out the search party. A short portage down to the waters edge of Canoe Lake #1 and you are on your way.
We were joined by Mike, Justin and Darryl for this adventure. For five people we used two canoes, with the boat having the fewest passengers carrying the most gear. We followed the book's maps through seven lakes that day, and camped on South Spruce Lake. The book marks the locations of sites suitable for tent camping. Finding these sights can be difficult as they are not right on the water. We would have to jump out of the boat and search for the camping spots.
The area is gorgeous and so peaceful. The water is chilly, but not cold enough to keep the guys from going in for a refreshing swim. The campsite had plenty of room to pitch two tens, plus make a campfire. Finding dry wood can be difficult, but there is plenty of dead stuff available.
East Entrance: In August 2014 I returned to explore the east side of the route. This entrace can be found aproximately six miles further along Swan Lake Road. There is a board with a sign-in sheet near the boat launch. A restroom lies right across the road. Parking for ten vehicles can be found a two minute walk back up Swan Lake Road. The park service does not charge to use the parking lot or trail system.
I was joined by by friend Tony for this excursion. We brought along a GPS and gathered readings for each point that we needed along the way. Once we had these points marked in our GPS, finding our way back took half the time because we were not searching along shorelines to find the next take out. Here is a chart of the points we recorded as well as the hike distances between lakes:
Note: The "Landing" lists the lake you are currently at followed by the lake the portage will connect you to if you hike the trail.
If you would prefer to load the GPS data and bring it in directly to your GPS, download the .gpx version of the data, here.
To download the .klm version of the data, click here.
To download the .kmz version of the data, click here.
For a Map of the East Entrance lakes we covered, click here.
For the East Entrance trip I wore my Tevas on my feet instead of rubber boots. I rolled up my pants and walked the canoe out into the water for each launch. The temperature was quite comfortable. However, I did get a leech stuck to me in one of the lakes.
For more information, contact the Refuge Manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Last Visited: August 2014