Nancy Lake State Recreation Area
Nancy Lake State Recreation Area is different from most Alaskan park areas. It is one of the few flat, lake-studded landscapes in Alaska preserved for recreation purposes. The recreation area's clear waters are ringed with unspoiled forests, and provide tranquil settings for canoeing, fishing, hiking and camping. In winter, the rolling topography is ideal for cross-country skiing, dog mushing and snowmachining.
Nancy Lake State Recreation Area is a ninety-minute drive north of Anchorage along the Parks Highway. To enter the recreation area, turn west onto Nancy Lake Parkway at Mile 67.3 of the Parks Highway. From there, the Nancy Lake Parkway travels 6.5 miles southwest to South Rolly Lake Campground; in winter the parkway is not plowed beyond the Winter Trailhead at mile 2.2. The community of Willow lies two miles north of this junction, and has a full range of services for the traveler.
Nancy Lake State Recreation Area Winter Information and Activities
Nearly 40 miles of trail are maintained throughout Nancy Lake State Recreation Area including 10 miles of trail only for skiers. With the exception of the ski trail, all trails are multi-use trails, which means that they must be shared by visitors snow machining, dog mushing, skiing and snowshoeing.
The Winter Trailhead, mile 2.2 on the Nancy Lake Parkway, is the focal point for all winter recreational activities in the area. A large parking lot is maintained and a self service fee station is located near the winter trail entrance where visitors will also finds maps and posted current conditions of the park.
The unplowed portion of the Parkway, 4.5 miles from the Winter Trailhead to South Rolly Campground, is heavily traveled by all users. In early winter, dog teams use the road for training; motorized users should exercise caution when meeting or overtaking dog teams.
The Red Shirt Lake Trail is a 15 mile loop from the Winter Trailhead to the second largest lake in the area. The west side of the loop goes from South Rolly Campground to the outlet creek from the lake and parallels the creek to the north end of Red Shirt Lake. The eastern portion of the loop leaves the Parkway at Mile 5.7 and travels through frozen bogs and along ridges to where Lynx Creek enters Red Shirt. There is a crossover trail from the east side of the Red Shirt Trail to the Lynx Lake Loop about two miles south of the Parkway.
The Lynx Lake Loop Trail is a 13 mile trail which generally follows the portages from the Canoe Trailhead at Mile 4.7 on the Parkway.
The Bald Lake Trail is a winter only shortcut from mile 2.5 on the Nancy Lake Parkway to Ardaw Lake. It provides access to the east side of the Lynx Lake Loop without having to travel to the Canoe Trailhead.
The recreation area's gently rolling terrain, forested hills and open swamps make ideal cross country skiing conditions. There are nearly 10 miles of trail maintained strictly for skiing, plus over 30 miles of other multi-use trails in the recreation area. The ski trail, which begins across the Parkway from the Winter Trailhead, is located in the non-motorized area north of the Nancy Lake Parkway. This 9.7 mile trail consists of three interconnected loops.
Parkway Loop Trail is a 3.0 mile (4.7 km) trail through hilly, forested terrain. This trail begins and ends at the Winter Trailhead.
Jano Pond Loop is a 3.6 mile (5.6 km) trail that leaves the Parkway Loop Trail about 1.8 miles out. If skied together, the total distance is 6.6 miles (10.7 km). The terrain on this trail is gentle hills and frozen, open swamps.
Rhein Lake Loop is a 3.1 mile (5.0 km) loop which starts midway around the Jano Pond Loop. The trail travels across several open swamps and over some steep hills. If all three trails are skied, the total distance is 9.7 miles (15.6 km).
Ice fishing is another recreational activity offered at Nancy Lake. Most lakes in the area have limited fisheries but Nancy Lake, Lynx Lake, and Red Shirt Lake offer fair to good fishing for rainbow trout. Red Shirt Lake and Lynx Lake have good fishing for pike. Pike have also populated several lakes on the Lynx Lake Loop Trail from Tanaina Lake to Little Frazer Lake and may offer fair ice fishing. Additionally, Big and Little Noluck lakes are stocked with rainbow trout by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. These two lakes usually offer good ice fishing for trout up to 14 inches.
Winter Safety Tips
Winter temperatures at Nancy Lake can fall to 40 below and colder. Come prepared for your visit. Dress in layers so you can take off or add clothing as you warm up or cool down. Bring a map, extra clothing, matches or lighter, a first aid kit, and try to travel with a partner. Snowmachiners should carry tools, extra spark plugs and a spare drive belt. Skiers should bring an extra ski tip and strong tape for emergency repairs.
Plan your visit according to your ability, equipment, the prevailing temperatures and weather conditions. Don't overextend your skills or equipment. Before leaving on a long trip into the backcountry, leave a trip plan with a responsible person or at the Nancy Lake ranger's
A common hazard of winter travel in the recreation area is overflow, the presence of water on top of the frozen surfaces of lakes, ponds and streams. This condition is usually concealed beneath a layer of undisturbed snow which acts as an insulator to keep the water from freezing even when temperatures are well below freezing.
The biggest risk from overflow is not from breaking through the ice but in having a snowmachine become bogged down in cold water and slush. A snowmachiner can become exhausted and have his/her clothing soaked with perspiration trying to free the machine. In deep overflow of 12" or more his/her boots can be flooded with ice water. In very cold weather, a person in this condition is a potential victim of hypothermia and frostbite.
Skiers and dog mushers can also get wet feet in overflow. Iced-up skis or sled runners can slow the team down and make them work much harder. This can lead to exhaustion and/or hypothermia. A person is more likely to avoid overflow by staying on packed trails across lakes and wetlands. Stay near the shoreline because the lake ice will sag towards the middle, causing overflow to generally be the deepest there. Avoid the mouths of streams along the shore to reduce the risk of overflow and thin ice.
If you should encounter overflow while snowmachining, try to maintain momentum and slowly steer towards shore. If the machine does bog down it is usually easier to get out the way you came in. If you are traveling with companions, the machine can usually be freed without any overexertion. Travel with enough space between snowmachines so that only one will get caught in the overflow. If you are alone, don't struggle to the point of exhaustion. Pack a "snow island" and put the machine up on it so it won't freeze into the slush. Then get to shelter (or make one) and wait for the open track in the overflow to freeze. This may take only a couple of hours or overnight depending on the temperature.
Nancy Lake State Recreation Area Summer Information and Activities
Canoe Trail System
An attraction that the area is well known for is the Lynx Lake Loop canoe trail which travels through an eight-mile chain of lakes. Portages are well-marked with orange, diamond-shaped signs marked with a "P". Wet sections are covered with boardwalk.
Beginning at the Tanaina Lake Canoe Trailhead at Mile 4.5 of the park road, the Lynx Lake Loop is an ideal weekend trip, although it can be easily paddled in a full day. A longer trip can be made by continuing south from Lynx Lake to Butterfly and Skeetna lakes before returning on the same route to rejoin the loop.
An alternative trip for those who want to reach the recreation area by canoe is to travel down the Little Susitna River, at Mile 57 of the Parks Highway in Houston. The river is mostly easy traveling, but some canoeing experience is advisable. Canoers should use a map to be sure of their location on the river and watch for the sign marking the portage to Skeetna Lake. Travel time on the river is four to five hours from the highway to the portage. Canoers should be alert when meeting powerboats. Overnight canoers are requested to use designated campsites along the canoe trail and remember that fires are permitted only in the fireplaces provided. There is a large amount of private land along Lynx Lake and camping is limited to the campground on the northwest shore.
Canoes are available for rent from Tippecanoe Rentals in Willow. Call to have one waiting for you at the trailhead on Tanaina Lake (907-355-6687) .
Catches range from fair to good on many of the lakes in the recreation area. Fishing is usually best when the ice first goes out in the spring and just before freeze-up in autumn. The four largest lakes in the area ( Red Shirt, Nancy, Butterfly and Lynx Lakes) are fed by large streams and support rainbow trout, lake trout, whitefish and Dolly Varden. Big and Little Noluck lakes are stocked with rainbow trout fry by the Department of Fish and Game. These lakes produce good catches of up to 14-inch fish. Trout fishing on other lakes can be slow, but the occasional 20- to 24-inch lunker makes the trying worthwhile.
The newest addition to the fishing scene in the recreation area is the northern pike, first noted in Red Shirt Lake in 1980. Fish of up to 30 pounds have been reported in Red Shirt, and up to 15 pounds in Lynx Lake. Many lakes and ponds in the Lynx Lake Loop have populations of northern pike. Also, try fishing in the smaller ponds and lakes not directly on the trails. Explore off the beaten paths and find some great fishing.
Trail hiking at Nancy Lake SRA in the summer is limited due to the terrain. The major hiking trail in the recreation area is the Red Shirt Lake Trail. The trailhead is located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway across from the entrance of the South Rolly Lake Campground. The three-mile trail (one way) generally follows the tops of glacial drumlins and moraines, and occasionally provides a panoramic view of the area's lakes with the Chugach Mountains on the horizon to the southeast. There are eight lakeside campsites at the end of the trail. Bring your own water or purify lake water (by filtering, boiling, or chemical treatment) as there is no well.
There is a 5.5-mile (one way) trail used primarily in the winter that also provides access to Red Shirt Lake. The trailhead is located at mile 5.6 of Nancy Lake Parkway. Winding through varied terrain and ending at the east shore of Red Shirt Lake, this trail offers no amenities at the lake shore and provides no access to the public use cabins. This trail is not yet intended for summer use and has also not been marked for winter use.
Winter cross-country ski trails in the northern part of the recreation area offer summer hiking opportunities; however, there are wet areas to negotiate. Off-trail hikers will find heavy underbrush and wet terrain, but may be rewarded with a small lake all to themselves. Go ahead and explore! Only the Parkway Loop trail is recommended for hiking and has inadequate signage.
There are two maintained campgrounds with road access, water and latrines. South Rolly Lake Campground, with 96 sites, is located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway, 6.5 miles off of the Parks Highway. Nancy Lake State Recreation Site, on the northeast shore of Nancy Lake, has 30 sites, and can be reached from mile 66.5 of the Parks Highway.
Summer Safety Tips
Certain dangers are inherent in roadside camping or back country travel. To safely enjoy your visit, make sure you are properly equipped, and observe the safety tips.
In summer, boating accidents pose a major safety hazard. All occupants of boats, rafts, and canoes must have, and should always wear, an approved personal floatation device. If you capsize, stay with the boat or canoe. High boots and waders are especially dangerous if you capsize, and should not be worn when boating. Keep close track of youngsters at all times, especially near water.
Come prepared for the outdoors and rapid weather changes. Bring warm clothing, rain gear, appropriate footwear, extra food and emergency gear. Always inform a responsible person of your destination and expected return. Traveling alone in the back country is not recommended, especially in winter. It is easy to become lost in the dense woods and rolling terrain of the recreation area. Be sure of your location if you venture off the trails.
Wildlife, including bears, may be encountered at any time. Bears usually run away, but are unpredictable and can be dangerous. Confrontations can be reduced by several common sense policies.
Don't leave food or garbage in the open or in your tent. Keep food well wrapped and properly dispose of garbage. In backcountry camping areas there are metal food boxes provided for storing your food.
Don't surprise bears; Make noise when hiking.
Don't approach wildlife; They may regard this as a threat. Above all, leave young animals completely alone. Rarely is a young animal abandoned by its mother.
A pepper-based bear repellent may be a good alternative to carrying a weapon for protection.