All of the research that I did suggested that doing the eight National Parks in Alaska could cost around $10,000. I was a little skeptical. There had to be ways to cut corners, to make things cheaper. Lake Clark was our first introduction to that idea being wrong.
If you want to go to Lake Clark you have to take a plane. There are no major commercial flights to Lake Clark. There are a couple of small companies, Lake Clark Air and Pen Air that fly there very regularly. They are basically your two options. The price tag? $450 round trip, per person. There is no room for bargaining, there is not another carrier that you can use, it is simply the price that you have to pay. The really unfortunate part is that the $450 only gets you the most basic access—a flight into and out of Port Alsworth. Don’t get me wrong. You can see a lot from Port Alsworth, but given infinite money I would have designed a completely different Lake Clark trip.
Traveling on these little planes is a trip within itself. We showed up to the Lake Clark hanger and they weigh your bag. They then proceed to ask you to step on the scale. These weights matter, because if there is too much weight in a plane then you will either run out of fuel or go down trying to get there. You also don’t have to worry about camping fuel like you would on regular airlines. Oh, you have camping fuel? They’ll put it somewhere in the plane where it “won’t cause problems.”
Our path from Anchorage to Port Alsworth was quite circuitous. Normally it would be just a quick up and done. You, of course, fly past two huge snow-covered mountains on the way. Our experience flying was a bit different due to the other passengers we were with. We made our first stop on a dirt runway and dropped off some guys who were going fly fishing for the week. The pilot told us to keep an eye out for the salmon in the stream during takeoff, and as we looked down it looked less like a river of water and more like a river of fish. There were tens of thousands of fish just waiting their turn to swim up the river. We landed at our next airport, which was paved and picked up a lady who lived in Port Alsworth. She had come into Anchorage simply on a grocery run and we loaded the plane down with her basic supplies. The crazy part is that they have to pay by the pound when they fly them out! Everything becomes much more expensive when you are paying $0.90 a pound to get it out to where you live! Our final landing was on Lake Clark at Port Alsworth.
Port Alsworth is a town of two dirt runways, some fishing lodges, a church, and not much else. We arrived with little fanfare. We grabbed the sludge-like coffee that had been brewed in the morning and made our way to the National Park where we could camp. The main concern we had while walking through town was avoiding the four-wheelers and making sure to look both ways when crossing the runways so that a small plane didn’t mow you down.