One of the easiest things for visitors to Lake Clark to do is hike the 2.5 miles along the established trail to Tanalian Falls. The elevation gain for this hike is from 300-400 feet. The hike takes about 1 1/2 hours depending on your fitness level. The falls are fed partly by lake drainage and partly by summer runoff, so they are most robust in the summer. The falls themselves drop no more than 50 feet but the spectacle is varied and energetic and worth a visit. The eastern half of the drop swirls and spills into the twin outlets before a large rock at the base, while the western half plummets directly like a mini-Niagara. You can either witness the falls from the base, walk a little bit downstream for a wide view, or from another established trail to the lookout (i.e. the rocks above where the water begins to fall). Be careful of your footing! The trails can be narrow and treacherous near the falls.
Known locally as Kontrash Lake, this reservoir is in many respects like a smaller version of Lake Clark itself (not to be confused with Little Lake Clark). Running east-west about 5 to 6 miles long, Kontrashibuna Lake is reached by hiking another half-mile from the Tanalian Falls Viewpoint. Moose and bear are known to frequent this passage among the birch and pine forests, and the trail is narrowest along this stretch so make noise or sing as you pass along. Mosquitoes are also notorious around the lakeshore and will test the quality of your repellent. Usually available to the enthusiast are hard-shelled aluminum canoes at the end of the trail, courtesy of Fishing Unlimited (one of the lodges in Port Alsworth). Two words of warning about the canoe use: the winds and the way. If the lake waters are rippling badly (i.e. strong winds), either don't try the canoe or keep close to the lakeshore. If you set off, be aware that the drainage for the Tanalian River and thus Tanalian Falls is not far off to your right (the west). The way east however allows a peaceful advance by water into a forest that is thick and unforgiving. Chances for eagle and bear sightings along the lake are good.
Lake Clark is part national park, part preserve. Its 4 million acres are home to bears and wolves and no place -- not even Port Alsworth -- is immune from their visitation. Visitors should be fully 'bear aware' when coming here, and a good knowledge of wilderness protocol will also serve. On one hike I came across a bloated carcass with plenty of flesh still attached. Guides and guidebooks counsel that such carcasses are 'known' to the local bears, or that a bear at least knows the carcass is there (some references have said that a bear can smell a carcass from twenty miles away). If there is meat on the carcass, anticipate a bear in the area and backtrack immediately.
In this instance, the deceased animal was itself a bear. This poor grizzly was shot legally in town on June 10, 2006 by a local (in defense of life and property -- there are nearly 80 children in summer residence or visitation in Port Alsworth). The head, paws and hide have been removed in compliace with fish and game regulations -- to show that the kill was not a 'trophy' kill. The disposal of the carcass however was not in compliance with game regulations or common sense. Instead of burying the bear, the shooter merely dumped the body by a nearby creek -- an obvious attraction for more bears. In wilderness areas where food is scarce, bears will eat other bears. Even in Lake Clark where salmon run in summer and vegetation is strong, chances are good that a bear will feed on a dead bear. In this instance the carcass showed no claw or chaw marks, but I was wary of nearby bears all the same.
Favorite thing: The majority of the trees in Lake Clark are either spruce or birch. For those who have spent any time in the backcountry, you know that pine needles will smolder underground for a good while. People who bury and burn their trash underground might not consider this when ultimately the practice results in a forest fire. On top of this the dark silhouettes of spruce do not offer early warning of the passage of a large animal like a bear or moose. Birch on the other hand has a blond trunk and lighter green leaves that when juxtaposed against the dark hide of a bear, detecting the animal is instantaneous. It is also known that many members of the deer family (moose, elk etc) eat the soft fibrous bark of the birch sometimes unto the death of the tree.
Favorite thing: Like most national parks in Alaska, the national park service has justly minimized the practice of establishing cleared trails for its visitors. Every trail at Lake Clark emanates from the community of Port Alsworth and leads to one of a handful of attractions: Tanalian Mountain, Kontrashibuna Lake, Dry Creek, Tanalian Falls, Tanalian River and the lakeshore of Lake Clark itself. By minimizing the number of trails, the park service preserves the pristine tundra and forests of the park while still providing some means of access to local spectacles. Elsewhere the park is unmarked by sign or trail. The former wagon trail marked on some maps as the Telaquana Trail is "undiscernible" on the ground. Veteran rangers tend to know the approximate way, but locals refer to this hike as the "Death March" between Kijik Lake and Telaquana Lake (even the abbreviated hike of 30 miles only to Twin Lakes still deserves the name, say locals). The long and the short of this means that to truly explore the park, you will have to "break the trail" and venture out on your own. This will either require bushwhacking off an established route or being flown into an area lake beyond the treeline (for those seeking easier accesses).
Favorite thing: For those wishing to learn more about the actual national park, the NPS visitor center is situated midway along the southern runway (of two runways). A single sign indicates 'VISITOR CENTER.' For this seldom-visited national park, the operating hours can be misleading. The office is closed Sundays, and might be closed for lunch from Monday through Saturday. It's also possible you will find it locked during other operating hours due to small numbers of visitors. When it's open you might find actual rangers inside, or just summer interns -- a broad spectrum of knowledge depending on who you find there. The visitor center offers several videos to watch upon request, a limited number of souvenirs, a collection of park maps and leaflets, and the only open-to-the-public flush toilet in Port Alsworth. Even if you came to the park to stay in a lodge to fish, the NPS visitor center is a good place to fill in the gaps whenever you have questions the guides can't answer.
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