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Less than three miles inland from Puget Sound, American Lake is one of the lesser known vacation destinations in Washington's Seattle-King County Region. Lovely American Lake is often bypassed for the grandeur of Puget Sound. Little do visitors know what they're missing at American Lake. Part of the lake is within the City of Lakewood, a suburb southwest of Tacoma. American Lake therefore has become a popular day use destination boating, picnicking and fishing . From the water, American Lake appears more as a scenic wilderness lake with majestic Mount Rainier as a backdrop to the southeast. Much of the shoreline is owned by the United States military, allowing it to keep its tree-lined, undeveloped perimeter. Camp Murray is home to the Washington National Guard while Fort Lewis, across the lake, is an Army installation. Fort McCord Air Force Base, near Fort Lewis, completes the trio. All three have waterfront access and facilities for current and past military members, but most of their shoreline properties remain undeveloped.
The presence of the military at American Lake goes back to before the United States boundary with Canada was fully determined. Originally the Steilacoom and Nisqually tribes of Native Americans camped, hunted and fished the lands surrounding the lake. Located midway between the Columbia River and the city of Vancouver, BC, the area was chosen by the British in 1833 as the site of Fort Nisqually, one of the fur trading post operated by the Hudson's Bay Company. The boundary was finally set at the 49th parallel in 1846 and in 1869, Fort Nisqually was finally closed and the property sold to the United States. The United States Army formally commissioned Camp Murray in 1889 but the camp has been in use since 1866 during the Indian Wars. The camp became National Guard headquarters in 1922 - 15 years earlier than Fort Lewis. As for the name? Some believe its because American settlers claimed the lake even though it technically belonged to the British and the name stuck.
Two public parks - Harry Todd Park and American Lake North Park & Marina - give the public access to the water. Both have lakeside beaches ideal for picnicking, swimming and fishing. The marina features a boat launching area; Harry Todd Park has tennis courts. Many of the regular visitors to the parks come from Tacoma and Seattle to enjoy a day of power boating, water skiing, tubing, sailing, jet skiing, swimming and fishing. Both sailing and rowing clubs utilize the lake on a regular basis and often have events scheduled that visitors can take part in. City-owned American Lake Seaplane Base is located on the northeastern shore and is the largest full-service seaplane facility in the western part of the United States. Located very near Interstate 5, the lake is easy to get to and a welcome recreational oasis near Tacoma, Kent, Seattle and other cities along the I-5 corridor.
Fishing is always attractive at American Lake, with largemouth bass, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass, sockeye salmon (kokanee) and perch The Sockeye salmo and perch are the most sought-after game fish. The Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife monitors the state of the fishery, stocking favored species regularly to guarantee good fishing. There are several spots where visitors can try their luck from the shore but boat rentals are available. The wooded shoreline lends itself perfectly to kayaking and canoeing. Silcox Island holds several summer cottages and year-round homes while most of the smaller islands are uninhabited. The hardy lakelubbers of Silcox Island can be reached only by boat or seaplane and finally were serviced with electricity in 1968. One enterprising islander owned an amphibious vehicle at one time for trips to the store!
Both Camp Murray and Fort Lewis maintain military museums on their properties that are open to the public. Military history buffs can easily get their fill of the views of tanks, planes and armaments used over the past century. Hours vary so its wise to call ahead for tour information.
The aspiring visitor to American Lake will find that vacation rentals of all types can be had in the immediate vicinity. Some are located on the waterfront; others have lake views. Bed-and breakfast locations can be found nearby and one resort exists in the form of a restored, former manor house from the turn of the century. Lodgings are plentiful in Lakewood and Tacoma for those who wish to be closer to the shopping, nightlife and cultural activities of the bigger city. Also in Lakewood is Lakewold Gardens, complete with restored formal gardens, rare plants and carefully-designed garden vistas to delight the eye. Tacoma is the cultural center of South Puget Sound, with five carefully preserved historical districts, many art galleries and many public art works.
Just to the west of American Lake,the old town of Steilacoom sports a public beach on the Sound, a walking tour of some of the oldest homes in Washington state and variety of seasonal activities to delight visitor and resident alike. Here, one can take a ferry across the Sound, explore trails along the shore or enjoy the Farmers Market in season.
East of American Lake, one can explore the area around Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range, with many hiking trails to access several scenic waterfalls and Mount Rainier National Park. Primitive camping is available in much of the park, with developed campgrounds located between Mount Rainier and American Lake. Here, too, vacation rentals can be found. Real estate is often available near American Lake and the entire Cascade area is a popular place for scenic home sites. Visitors to American Lake quickly realize that the view of the mountains above the water is what they want to wake up to each morning and start looking for the perfect property to call their own. Give American Lake a try - you'll wonder what took you so long!
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