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Big Lake

Recreation area one hour from Anchorage off Mile 52.3 Parks Highway. Fishing and boating opportunities abound here.

In the 1890's the Iditarod Trail, which was heavily used by miners on their way to and from Nome, passed only 2 miles south of Big Lake. The region was first homesteaded in 1916. Right past Wasilla, it now sits on on a spur road at Mile 52.3 of the Parks Highway, an hour's drive from Anchorage. It offers boating and year-round fishing.

Big Lake's 50 miles of shoreline and proximity to Anchorage still draws fishermen and boaters. It has not gone through its long history without a few close scrapes, however.

Several years ago, a massive forest fire (believed to be started by fireworks) swept through the Big Lake region, and hundreds of people living around Big Lake were left without homes. There is still evidence of the charred forests as you travel down Big Lake Road. Now, almost a decade later, most homes have been rebuilt, and Big Lake continues in its role as a summer playground. And by the way, if you want to sound local, put the accent on the first syllable when you talk about "BIG Lake!"


At Willow, you’ll find a second access road to Hatcher Pass. It is 32 miles from here to the state historic park.

Willow started as a support community for the area’s hard rock mines. Today, its lakes and streams make it a recreational center for Alaskans.

Many Iditarod mushers live and train their dogs in this part of the state. For the last two years, the Iditarod Race restart was held in Willow, because there wasn’t enough snow in Wasilla.

(Photo, Vern Halter)

Mat-Su Valley Fishing

There are 500 miles of official recreation rivers in the Mat-Su Valley.

Six major large rivers are known for their accessibility, fishing, plane and boat charter services, and wildlife viewing. They are: The Little Susitna River, the Deshka River, the Talkeetna River, the Talachulitna River, Lake Creek and Alexander Creek.

All of these rivers are close to Anchorage. If you enjoy fishing on small lakes, there are lots of lakes in the Palmer-Wasilla area that are filled with plump rainbow trout.

There’s easy access to roadside lakes north of Wasilla too.

Big Lake and the Nancy Lake Recreation Area have many small lakes with grayling and rainbows, as well as some northern pike.

There are canoe trails at Nancy Lake.

Fishing on the Way to Talkeetna

On the drive north to Talkeetna, you’ll cross several good salmon streams.

At Mile 57, the Little Susitna River has June king salmon fishing, and silvers in late July & August.

In Willow, at Mile 70, there’s access to Willow Creek, Little Willow Creek and Deshka Landing.

Sheep Creek is at Mile 86, and Montana Creek is at Mile 96.3.

These streams have kings, silvers, rainbows and grayling.

Fishing Tips: Know Your Salmon

Parks Highway rivers have good salmon fishing. Although you can use guides, there are also good roadside fishing spots. Ask locally.

Meanwhile, here’s how to identify your salmon:

King Salmon (Also known as “Chinook”). Big, 16 to 40 lbs, use 20-30 lb. test line. Run in June and July.

Silver Salmon (“Coho). 8 to 12 lbs., bright silver. State record is 26 lbs. Run in August.

Red Salmon (“Sockeye”). 6 to 8 lbs. Single hook streamer flies of various colors. Keep your streamer near the bottom, let it “bump” along. Reds run in July and August.

Pink Salmon (“Humpies”). Smallest salmon, 3 to 5 lbs. Use Pixies or Mepps. Run in July.

Chum Salmon (“Dog Salmon”). 7 to 8 lbs. Good for smoking.

+ Activities + Things to Get
+ Where to Stay + Where to Eat

willow nancy lake


Knik Museum

Museum Of Transportation
Park Connection
Deshka Landing

Three Bears Stores

Best Western Lake Lucille Inn

Willow Creek Resort

Talkeetna Subway


+ Map of Big Lake, Houston & Willow Area
+ Iditarod Trail Map

+ Map of Alaska Gold Rush Towns
+ Map of Bearfoot Campgrounds


WASILLA, KNIK, BIG LAKE, WILLOW AND HOUSTON are stretched along the Parks Highway 43 to 98 miles north of Anchorage. These areas blend into each other in a sprawling new community.

Farther up the Parks Highway, the people thin out. There are lakes, creeks, dog kennels, and recreational sites.


Thirty years ago a “cup of coffee” in rural Alaska meant something that had stood for hours – or a spoonful of instant powder in a cup of warm water. An open can of evaporated milk stood by on many a lodge table, to spruce up the coffee.

But now, you can’t travel very far in any part of remotest Alaska without running into an espresso stand that serves latte, double latte, mocha (cold and hot), 20 different flavors, and cappuccino.

In the gold rush, many miners came by way of Seattle. That coastal city’s hold on Alaska proved itself a decade ago, when the first espresso stands came north from Seattle, America’s espresso capital.

Boating on Big Lake
This State of Alaska website offers sound boating safety advice for Big Lake and Alaska's other, often dangerous lakes, streams and rivers. | Alaska Travel & Vacation Information by Bearfoot Travel Guides
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