Alaska’s Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is among the nation’s most remote, wild, and least visited National Parks, making it the perfect destination for wildlife viewing and quiet exploration of the Ring of Fire landscape, formed by a volcanic eruption over 3,500 years ago.
Outdoor activities include fishing and hunting. Both are regulated by a licensing and permit process, and hunting within the National Monument is not allowed, only in the greater National Preserve. King Salmon is bountiful within the parks boundaries, and is one of five species of Pacific Salmon found within the preserve.
For hikers, there are no formal trails within the park, but following along wildlife trails makes for easy access through the ashen caldera floor, and dense patches of vegetation. Visitors are encouraged to warn wildlife of their approach, especially bears, who live in all areas of the National Park. Aniakchak is the ideal bear habitat for the same reason it’s appealing to humans, ample King Salmon and excellent forage conditions. All of the park’s camping is primitive, and hikers may set up camp anywhere, no permit needed. Bear-proof food storage is essential. Hanging food in trees is not a viable option due to the low height of trees in the tundra landscape.
The Aniakchak River not only provides excellent fishing conditions, but is enjoyed by recreational white water rafters. Deemed by Congress as a National Wild River in 1980, the “Big” river offers extreme conditions and extraordinary adventure for the skilled oarsman who is prepared. Those who complete the entire length can travel from inside the volcano to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of over 25 miles, which takes approximately 3-4 days. Low water temperatures mean dry suits are recommended, even in July when most parties choose to make the journey. Ample repair materials are suggested, as rafters will pass through extreme conditions, car-sized boulders, and fast drops of over 75 feet per mile.
For those who choose to journey into these challenging conditions, the reward is the landscape and the wildlife. The Aniakchak caldera is the interior of a volcano, the caldera floor is surrounded on all sides by the volcanic ridge. Vent Mountain and Half Cone are two smaller volcanic peaks inside the larger ridge. Surprise Lake is located within the volcano, and drifts from there to the Pacific Ocean through The Gates, a narrow passageway through the volcanic ridge. Wind conditions through the Gates are notorious, and will shred tents and make emergency airlifts in the area impossible. As the Aniakchak, or Big, River flows to the Aniakchak Bay, it merges with the smaller, Hidden Creek. Wildlife in the area includes bald eagles and sea birds, seals, sea lions and sea otters. Through the Alaskan tundra, visitors see moose and caribou, wolverine, wolves, fox and smaller animals such as rabbits and ground squirrels.
Historic structures within the preserve include The Columbia River Packer’s Cabin, located towards the mouth of the Aniakchak River, surrounded by remnants of 9 other structures. The cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
History: The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve was established to preserve the unique landscape surrounding the volcano. Although it last erupted in 1931, springs and hot spots on the caldera floor provide evidence that the volcano may erupt again at any time. Since the preservation of the land, archeologists funded by the National Parks Service have discovered evidence of human culture dating back over 2,000 years. It’s theorized that after the last massive volcanic eruption, lava flow created a dead-zone that left the land uninhabitable for several generations. The area was re-colonized three hundred years later. By the 12th century, the population had grown and it’s these remains that offer us archeological history of the region today.
Russian explorers and fur traders arrived to the area in the 18th century. Towards the early 19th century, local residents had moved from a culture primarily based in hunting, fishing and gathering, to commercial operations, running several canneries and commercial fishing businesses. By the 20th century the Aniakchak Bay was being explored for oil production, and was among the areas affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Due to the area’s remote nature, many travelers choose to partner with third party fishing, hunting, and rafting providers, for the equipment, safety and expertise they bring. The park is not accessible by road, and visitors should expect delays flying in and out due to year-round wind and fog, which can be unpredictable.
1000 Silver St. King Salmon, AK 99613, Phone: 907-246-3305