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Tucked away in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Soldotna, Skilak Lake is a rare combination of accessibility and Alaskan Wilderness. Called a "miniature Alaska" by some because it includes every major habitat type found in Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula is a fantastic place to explore, and Skilak Lake is a great place to start.
Skilak Lake is fed by the Kenai River and melt water from the Skilak Glacier. The glacier is on the east end of the lake, and the water near the glacier tends to be cloudy from glacial silt. It clears considerably further from the glacier, and by mid lake it is relatively clear. With a maximum depth of 528 feet, Skilak Lake is a very deep lake in a valley that was carved by past glaciers. The lake is 15 miles long and four miles wide at its widest point. The shore ranges from gently sloping spruce and aspen forests to imposing vertical rock walls.
It is possible to fish from the shore of Skilak Lake, but the lake is better suited for boat fishing. There are healthy populations of rainbow trout, lake trout, and Dolly Varden, a relative of the artic char. Spring and fall are great times to fish for Kenai rainbow and Mackinaw lake trout, and in the winter the ice fishing is exceptional. Lots of salmon spawn in the lake and along with Kenai Lake it is the most important sockeye nursery in the Kenai River System. Chinook Salmon spawn on a section of the Kenai River between Kenai Lake and Skilak Lake. Skilak Lake is home for ninety percent of the salmon fry in both lakes and has the most of any nursery in the Cook Inlet area.
Skilak Lake Loop Road, part of the first highway built on the Kenai Peninsula in 1947, is a 19 mile loop through the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. The Skilak Lake Loop Road connects to the scenic Sterling Highway and provides access to both Upper and Lower Skilak Lake Campgrounds. In addition to camp sites, fire pits, and restrooms, both campgrounds have boat launches, although the launch at the Upper Skilak Lake Campground also has a campground host.
Skilak Lake and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are in brown bear territory. In addition to brown bear, visitors will find black bear, moose, wolves, coyotes, lynx, beavers and many others. The bird watching is also exceptional. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge operates a cabin on the eastern shore of the lake that is a great base for wildlife viewing or fishing. Access is by boat or floatplane.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge began in 1941 when President Roosevelt dedicated 1,730,000 acres as the Kenai National Moose Range. The area's history is far older. About 10,000 years ago the peninsula was covered by glacial ice part of which is the Harding Ice Field today. After the ice receded the area was inhabited by both Indians and Eskimos. In 1778 British Sea Explorer Captain Cook claimed the Kenai Peninsula for England. By the mid 1800's Russian fur trappers had negatively impacted populations of otters and other fur bearing mammals. President Roosevelt dedicated the Kenai National Moose Range to protect the area and in 1980 the Alaska Natural Interest Lands Conservation Act changed the name to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and expanded its size to 1.92 million acres.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and Skilak Lake is one of its gems. Its proximity to Soldotna and amenities and accommodations make it an accessible Alaska getaway.
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