In the northwestern corner of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge there is a large wetland of lakes and rivers. Motorised vehicles are not allowed so canoe or kayak is your best bet to explore this part of the refuge. The Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe routes is a combined network of more than 100 miles and you can spend days enjoying the wetland.
The northern network is a combinations of the Swanson River and lakes, while the western network is not connected to the river and is a network of lakes only. There are multiple entrances into the waters from both networks and we had set our mind on what was called ‘the west entrance’.
Related: ‘Our Alaska Adventure – Denali to Kenai ‘
We were only going on a day trip and the west entrance had 2-3 smaller lakes that seemed to be connected without to much of a portage. Unfortunately when we took of from Swanson River Road to Swanson Lake Road we found the road to be closed due to road work. They hadn’t mentioned anything about the roadwork where we rented the canoe…
We were quipped for a day out canoeing and decided to try our luck on Swanson River instead. The road down to Swanson River Landing was open and had easy access to land a canoe on the river bank. From this landing you can reach the upper network of lakes, but that would be more than what we could chew over for a day trip. The two maps below of the Swanson River and Swan Lake Canoe Routes gives a good impression of how large this area is.
Maps over Swanson River and Swan Lake Canoe Routes (from akcanoe)
Canoeists must register at the entrance where they embark and we found a registration box at the landing. While carrying the canoe to the river we met a very chatty guy and learned he was travelling around Alaska with his RV. He also said he had lived on road kill and salmon the last 14 days. At that time we figured it was time to set up the river and politely said goodbye to this interesting gentleman.
It didn’t take long before I regret not bringing a fishing rod. Fish was frequently jumping in the river and the water was very clear so sometimes I was able to spot them swimming as well. Turns out the Swanson river system supports a large population of game fish like silver salmon, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. Well, they would all be safe today.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was first established as the Kenai National Moose Range in 1941 to protect moose. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) changed the name and purpose of the refuge. The refuge now exists to protect wildlife populations and the variety of habitats they need to survive.
The area around the river was basically wetland and finding a spot to land the canoe was a challenge. Despite not seeing the birds in the tall grass we could definitely hear them as their singing accompanied us throughout the paddle.
Bogs, marshes, and muskeg are nesting areas for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. These birds depend on the abundant insect life found in summer wetlands to feed their young. Areas around rivers, lakes, and ponds are home to beaver, muskrat, loons, trumpeter swans, and spawning salmon.
The river was calm and fairly easy to navigate except for some larger rocks we had to navigate around. Tall grass covered the banks on each side of the river, you never knew what was around the next corner. Hopefully not a bear! It felt like we were in an episode of Indiana Jones. Unfortunately the tall grass blocked any view of possible wildlife. We were hoping to spot a moose or two as the wetlands of Kenai Peninsula is supposedly the ideal habitat for them.
Did you know the moose spend a great deal of time wading and swimming in lakes and ponds, foraging for tender aquatic plants such as horsetail, sedge, and pondweed. They will even submerge completely to get at a particularly tasty mouthful.
Getting back to Swanson River Landing we found several fishermen along the banks, so maybe those salmons wouldn’t be that safe after all!
This was the only moose we spotted this day. Thanks for stopping by, your comments are much appreciated.