Pristine beauty with a wickedly violent temper. Skilak Lake broods within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as a jewel in nearly two million acres of wilderness. Our guests know Skilak Lake as that hour we spend from the Upper Kenai inlet to the Upper Skilak Lake boat landing. On calm days, I refer to the crossing as happy hour. The Kenai River flows into Skilak Lake as the Upper Kenai and out of Skilak Lake, 15 miles later, as the Lower Kenai. Locals and guides typically refer to the river reach below Skilak Lake as the Middle Kenai, until it reaches Soldotna.
Skilak Lake is a large body of glacial and snowmelt water with exteme depths. In addition to the Upper Kenai, the lake is fed by the Skilak Glacier outflow from the massive Harding Icefield. The Harding sits within the Kenai Mountains between Skilak and the Gulf of Alaska. Daily temperature swings create glacial winds of varying degree. The bottom line is that when the wind from the glacier is funneled down the valley, the water of Skilak is pushed into breaking swells that stack together along the steep shorelines and are very problematic for smaller boats to navigate. Wind patterns on the Upper Kenai above the Kenai Canyon can be different than those encountered on the Lake. Once boaters pass Jim's Landing and enter the canyon, their next take out point is the Upper Skilak boat landing, approximately 7 miles of open water from the river mouth. Strong westerly winds from Cook Inlet can also flow across the Kenai lowlands, sending large waves pushing east and into the path of boats heading toward the Upper Landing.
The Skilak Loop Road provides access to and from the lake. The loop road is gravel surface and can get pretty beat up at times, especially in the spring when it is wet and during mid summer when traffic volume is highest. At one time, Skilak Loop was part of the original road down the Kenai Peninsula. The East Access (Cooper Landing side) is from mile 58 Sterling Hwy and the West Access is from Mile 75.2 (5 miles from Sterling). Skilak Loop Road offers access to several other campgrounds, lakes and trails in addition to the Upper and Lower Skilak Landings.
Skilak Lake is of great significance to the Kenai River System as a nursury for juvenile sockeye salmon and a refuge for rainbow trout and dolly varden, primarily in the winter months. Lake Trout and whitefish also reside in its depths, but very little effort is directed toward fishing the lake. Skilak is beautiful, but the water is often heavily silted from the glacial outflow and the large size is intimidating to most anglers. Recreational boaters, campers and sea kyakers often enjoy the lake for its other values.
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Kenai River - Cooper Landing, Alaska
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