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Vacationers planning to visit Mount Rainer need to fit beautiful Alder Lake into their plans. This reservoir in the Southwest Region of Washington offers over 3000 acres of water fun. The sparsely developed lake stretches over seven miles alongside Highway 7, about 25 miles south of Tacoma, offering stunning water views to tantalize passersby. Those wise enough to stop will find 2,931-acre Alder Lake Recreation Area offers everything from boat launch sites to camping and swimming beaches. The main park area at the north end of the reservoir offers the breathtaking sight of snow-capped Mount Rainer reflected in the vast expanse of Alder Lake. There is no better place to photograph majestic Mount Rainer than this special vantage point.
The view was not the purpose when the Nisqually River was dammed in 1945. The need for hydroelectric power for Tacoma drove the Nisqually River Project. Although the river had been dammed before the project began, the newly-built Alder Dam was the highest dam constructed in the United States at the time. The resultant flooding drowned the small town of Alder, much of which had been moved to higher ground in anticipation of the reservoir. The newly-created Tacoma Power reservoir captured the Nisqually River and several tributaries fed by Mount Rainer's glacial melt. The town of Alder still exists as a cluster of homes near the main park entrance.
Tacoma Power has provided well for recreational opportunities on Alder Lake. Two different boat launch sites are provided, one near the main park area on the north end of the lake and another at Rocky Point a few miles away. Three separate campgrounds and two day-use areas offer camping, swimming, picnic areas, playgrounds, bathhouse, restrooms and water. The large open expanse of water lends itself well to all types of boating activities, including water skiing, tubing, windsurfing, sailing, personal watercraft and power boating. Boaters who are camping at the park and want to moor their boats overnight can use the first-come, first-served 20-slip boat moorage dock at the Stacel Point day-use area. The park does not allow overnight camping on moored boats.
The Little Nisqually tributary arm of the lake is designated a no-wake area, and a smaller arm does not allow any type of motorized craft. These sheltered areas offer quiet waters for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and wildlife observation along with providing the solitude necessary for waterfowl breeding.
Alder Lake is known for its kokanee fishery. Tacoma Power stocks 500,000 kokanee each spring to provide sport for visiting fishermen. Other fish caught include rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, perch, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass and bluegill. Some years, the Nisqually River and other Alder Lake tributaries are open for fishing all season long. Those wishing to fish these creeks should check availability in advance as rules may change from season to season. Lake fishing is sometimes erratic because Alder Lake is first and foremost a reservoir. During periods of drought, lake levels can drop drastically, making boat launching and fishing challenging. The lake also has a tendency to be awash with floating and submerged logs after various water events such as spring flooding, and boating should be approached with caution. Those planning activities on the water should call 1-888-502-8690 for recorded water level information.
The Snoqualmie National Forest abuts the southwest side of Alder Lake, offering even more public land for adventurous visitors to explore. Trails travel along the shore for a considerable distance, offering excellent areas for hiking and mountain biking. Several hiking and cycling areas exist in close proximity to the little town of Elba at the Nisqually River inlet on the south end of the lake. The Elbe Hills are well-known for a wealth of hiking trails as is the Mount Rainer National Park only 15 miles away. Elbe offers a restaurant and a small hotel for those not interested in camping. A scenic railroad nearby offers a tour by steam-powered train to Mount Rainer National Park. Rainer National Park offers a bounty of year-round activities from skiing in winter to hiking and glacier viewing in summer.
A variety of wildlife lives in the forests around Alder Lake, but the one sure way to actually see a number of them is to visit Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. This non-profit wildlife park is only about eight miles north of the lake near Eatonville. Besides exhibits of native wildlife in their natural habitat, the park offers various children's activities throughout the year to educate youngsters about the bounty of life that exists in the Northwest.
Vacation rentals at Alder Lake are somewhat rare. The occasional private dwelling can be found as a weekly or monthly rental, sometimes with rare lake frontage. Nearby motels and cabins are often available but, like the campsites, reservations should be made during the summer season. The off-season is usually less crowded and will offer a better selection of vacation rentals. A few bed-and-breakfasts exist near Mount Rainer, and real estate can even be found on occasion in the area. So, the next time you consider Mount Rainer part of your summer vacation itinerary, plan a few days at Alder Lake. It will quickly become one of your favorite vacation spots and will provide you with a host of scenic memories.
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