Iliamna Lake is the largest lake in Alaska, and one of the largest in the United States, with a surface area of 2,622 square kilometers. It is considered an inland body of water, situated in the Southwestern part of the state.
Geography and Hydrology
The lake is located near a volcanic region, surrounded by Lake Clark National Park and Reserve to the North, Katmani National Park and Reserve to the South, and Cook Inlet to the East. At the head of the Tuxedni Glacier there is an active volcano with the same name, with an altitude of 3,053 meters.
The lake’s main outflow is Kvichak River, which makes its way into Bristol Bay and eventually flows into the Bering Sea. A number of islands can be found on the lake such as Porcupine, Flat, Triangle and Seal islands.
The Name Iliamna
At first, the name was called Lake Shelekev on a map dating back to 1802, after the Russian explorer and merchant Grigory Shelikhov. Later in the century, on a map published in 1852 by the Russian Hydrological Department’s Chart, the lake is already named Big Ilyamna.
The name comes from the inland Dena’ina Athabascan name “Nila Vena”, which means “the island’s lake”.
According to G. C. Martin of the United States Geological Survey, Iliamna comes from “the name of a mythical great blackfish supposed to inhabit the lake, which bites holes in the bidarkas of bad natives”.
Legend of the Monster
A popular legend has circled around the region for decades, of an aquatic animal similar to the infamous Loch Ness monster, which drills holes into the canoes of the locals. Many suspect that this creature might be an undocumented population of white sturgeon. If this were true, it would be the most Northern population of this type of fish, located only a few hundred kilometers from the Arctic Circle.
Fish and Other Animals
Speaking of fish, the lake is home to a number of animals, and is quite a beloved sport fishing spot. The fat rainbow trout can grow up to 28 inches and can be caught in the months of August and September. Other popular fish are the arctic grayling, northern pike, dolly varden, and various salmon (including the sockeye and the Chinook salmon). The local fish policy is catch-and-release the trout and all native fish, except for the salmon.
The lake also serves as a nursery for the largest red salmon which, unlike other fish, spends half of his 5-year lifespan in fresh water.
Many mammals and birds can be found on the shores of the lake, including wolves, caribou, eagles, moose, and one of the Planet’s biggest brown bear population, which can be seen with the supervision of specialized guides. This particular area is also home to one of two populations of freshwater seals in the World.
Accessibility and Population
There are plenty of hunting and fishing lodges around the lake at your service. You can get to the lake either by air or water, through scheduled air service and air or water taxis.
The Williamsport – Pile Bay road is a utility-class road, therefore not for common daily use. It is 29 kilometers long, has only one lane and a total of four bridges, connecting Pile Bay with Williamsport. The gravel utility road’s purpose is hauling boats and fright, reducing fuel costs in the region, because they don’t have to travel all around the Alaska Peninsula to get to the destination.
There are a few villages spread across the shoreline, including Iliamna, Newhalen, Koktianok, Pedro Bay, Igingig, and Pope-Vannoy Landing, with a population of about 600 residents, inhabited mostly by Alaskan native communities.
Besides sport fishing, the local national parks also serve as important tourist attractions in the area. The best time to visit them is between the months of June and September.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve was proclaimed a national park in 1980, protecting native communities, pristine lakes and rivers and local wildlife. Besides the glacial lake after which the reservation was named, there are also two volcanoes on the premises (called Iliamna and Redoubt), hundreds of waterfalls and scenic mountain peaks. Among the protected animals you can find dall sheep, brown and black bears, bald eagles, caribou and peregrine falcons.
Katmai National Park and Preserve has also been established in 1980, and is home to 18 individual volcanoes, of which seven are still active today. The reserve also protects the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a dale that is covered in ash after the Novarupta volcano erupted more than 100 years ago. In this national park you can also admire the rugged coastline of the Gulf of Alaska, the crystal-clear lakes and rivers with an abundance of fish, and the mighty brown bear. Please keep in mind that any type of hunting and trapping is prohibited in this area.
The Problematic Deposit
There is a large pebble deposit, located nearly 25 kilometers from the lake, which is considered to be Northern America’s largest copper and gold deposit. There’s a bit of controversy going around this potential gold mine, since mining the area could lead to devastating consequences to the local environment and protected areas. Fisheries could be destroyed; streams and lakes could dry up and could lead to famine in the small communities who live out of tourism.
On the other hand, a new mine could raise the population’s standard of living and the economy, providing jobs for locals and other people from around the area.