Nancy Lake State Recreation Area
With its rolling topography and lakes, this is an ideal venue for year-round outdoor adventures
Squeezed between the Susitna River and the Talkeetna Mountains just 67 miles north of Anchorage, Nancy Lake State Recreation Area is one of the few flat, lake-studded parks in Alaska.
Once covered by huge glaciers, the area has been free of ice for at least 9,000 years. Nancy Lake's Indian Bay was the site of an Indian village that was established near the turn of the century. In 1917, the Alaska Railroad was built on the east side of the lower Susitna Valley, bringing homesteaders and fueling the growth of the towns of Wasilla, Houston and Willow. But settlers avoided the Nancy Lake area because it was too wet. As a result, the park has remained wild and natural.
Lakes, streams and swamps that drain into the Susitna River or Cook Inlet dominate the 22,685-acre recreation area. The park's clear lakes are ringed by mature spruce, birch and poplar forests and provide tranquil settings for canoeing, fishing, hiking and camping. In winter, the flat terrain is ideal for cross-country skiing, dog mushing and snowmobiling.
The recreation area's combination of lakes, wetlands and forests create an ideal habitat for a plethora of mammals and birds. Beavers are active in lakes and ponds throughout the park and moose and black bears visit frequently. Grebes, ducks, geese and shorebirds use the lakes and ponds in the area during their migrations and many stay to nest in the area. Green-headed loons, with their eerie laughing call, are one of the trademarks of the area. Arctic terns are also summer residents and sandhill cranes may be seen exhibiting their courtship dance along the Nancy Lake Parkway during their spring migration.
Fishing is one of the park's more popular activities. Lake trout, rainbow trout, whitefish and Dolly Varden are found in Red Shirt, Butterfly, Lynx and Nancy lakes. Northern pike are found in Red Shirt, Lynx and Tanaina lakes.
One of the main summer attractions is the Lynx Lake Loop Canoe Trail, a watery route through an eight-mile chain of lakes. Portages are clearly marked and wet sections are covered with boardwalk. Beginning at the Tanaina Lake Canoe Trailhead at Mile 4.5 of the Nancy Lake Parkway is the Lynx Lake Loop, a full-day paddle or an ideal weekend trip. Canoes can be rented at South Rolly Campground.
Hiking at Nancy Lake in the summer is limited due to the terrain. The major hiking trail in the recreation area is the Red Shirt Lake Trail located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway across from the entrance to the South Rolly Lake Campground. The one-way, three-mile trail follows the tops of glacial moraines to provide views of the area's lakes and the Chugach Mountains on the horizon. The Red Shirt Lake Trail ends at eight lakeside campsites.
The summer canoe and hiking trails are transformed in winter to 40 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, dog mushing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. While most trails are open for motorized snow vehicles, 10 miles of trails are reserved for cross-country skiers. Ice fishing is also a popular winter activity; Nancy, Lynx and Red Shirt lakes offer the best locations for catching winter rainbow trout.