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Swanson River lakes next week

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  • Swanson River lakes next week

    A couple of us are planning spend a couple of days on the Swanson River lakes late next week. We don't have a huge amount of time, so I'm thinking of starting at the East Entrance (Portage Lake) and the other end at the West Entrance (Canoe Lake) both on the Swan Lake Road.

    What are the camping spots along the portages like? And what about the bugs at this time of the season?

    Any other suggestions, considerations or tips would be welcome.

    Thanks much......David
    David M Johnson
    Anchorage, Alaska

  • #2
    East entrance to west

    The first 4 lakes on the east entrance end do not have fish in them, or should I say "Trout" they do have stickle back fish but they are only a few inches long. the portages on the east entrance are OK, with the longest one about 1/2 mile to Swan lake. There is a hill or two you have to climb but they are not terrible. One of the lakes is for some reason about dried out and is about 3/4 the size it used to be so watch out for the mud, and go over to the side of the old landing to avoid that mess.
    From Swan lake to West entrance is a breeze with most lakes within 1/4 to 1/3 mile range between each other. Fishing is good in these lakes. all the way up to the West entrance trail head.
    I have done this trip in a couple of days and it was easy. It will be pretty nice out their now with the fall colors and the fish are on the bite a bit more in the fall.
    The camping is also excellent at all the lakes and you won't have trouble finding a good level spot to put your tent.
    I usually gather a little wood along the lake edges and toss it in the canoe if I am going to have a fire. some of the campsites are picked a little more clean of firewood and this saves having to work as hard for it.
    Have fun.
    If you want one of the canoe trail books by Dan Quick you can either get it at most book stores, or just give me a call and I can get one for you.
    I also have maps
    When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

    Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


    • #3

      The mosquitos are not bad, but the White Socks are a little tough in areas. I got into a swarm of them while picking berries out there this week and they are a mean critter for sure. ,, but then in other areas, not a bug in site.. ???
      When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

      Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


      • #4
        Great response

        Thanks, Max. Those responses are very helpful in visualizing where we're going.

        We appreciate it.....David
        David M Johnson
        Anchorage, Alaska


        • #5
          We did the trip

          My son Glen and I went to the Kenai Peninsula to travel the Swanson River Lakes canoe trails on Thursday evening September 21, 2006. This is something I have wanted to do since I was in my 20’s, but for one reason or another, I’ve never taken the time for it.

          These lakes, formed by the glaciers that covered the landscape not very many centuries ago, are, as seen from the air, like little gems dotting the rolling forested landscape. The lakes are on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and are located in a formal wilderness unit. (Read: no power anything. You can't even land a floatplane on these lakes or use a chainsaw in the woods. But that's part of the charm.)

          Decades of enthusiastic canoeists have made a relatively easy to use trail system between the lakes. One needs only a canoe and camping gear to make a trip of as many days as desired back into the lake country.

          I tried something a bit different on this trip: I made an audio log as I was going along. The new digital voice recorders are easily small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, and that's where I kept mine, except when I was talking into it.

          Trip Audio Log

          Where the canoe came from; first night (0:40)
          Rain in the tent (0:43)
          At the west entrance (0:48)
          Description of the country 0:52
          Logistics: car and bicycle 0:42
          A beautiful time of year 0:27
          Leeches and the first portage (1;19)
          Repairs and duct tape (0:49)
          The first long portage (0:35)

          A new way to pack (0:48)
          Whitesocks (1:25)
          Making a wet wood fire (1:00)
          Looking over the country from Swan Lake (1:20)
          Swan Lake portage and tea drinking (1:02)
          Stopping for an MRE (0:30)
          Gavia lake and loons (0:42)
          Trout lake trout (1:05)
          The fall forest (0:46)
          The smell of fall (0:30)
          Mushrooms (0:23)
          MREs and swans (0:47)
          The water portage (1:06)
          Salmon along the way (1:21)
          West entrance (1:24)

          Glen is a good traveling companion: hard working, wilderness savvy, strong, full of interesting conversation and happy to be outdoors, even when it rains.
          Our outfit was not complex, but on the longer portages, one questions EVERY item in the bags. Was the windbreaker really needed, or was the rain jacket enough? (Yes) Et cetera.

          In retrospect, we both wished that we had planned more time for the trip so we could have relaxed a bit more...and eaten the one really nice looking rainbow trout we caught and released. I think the trip we took (via Gavia lake) would have been better with three or even four days. As it was, we got a bit of a late start on the first day on the lakes, and then pushed hard from about 8 AM to 6 PM from Swan Lake to the West Entrance.

          Saturday morning showed the Kenai Mountains across the surface of Swan Lake. We actually did see a few Swans later in the trip. The golden leaves on the trees and the dark green of the spruce was beautiful to see as we paddled through the lakes and walked the portages. Swan Lake is one of the largest among these lakes. We stopped Friday night at the north shore of this one because the long fetch of the lake makes big waves.

          When I see whitecaps on wave tops, my enthusiasm for venturing out in a canoe on these waters tends to diminish. We were tired, anyway. Had it been a little calmer, I think we would have gone a bit further.

          After grunting over the portages, it was easy to stop for a moment on the far end. It was nice to have a bit of wind because it kept the whitesocks (a colloquial name for a small biting fly) from chewing us. This country is pretty thick with mosquitoes earlier in the year, but we saw only one on this trip. The whitesocks were only irritating when the wind laid down. These irritating little pests act like they aren't doing anything important, but then sneak under your shirt cuff and cut out chunks of hide and then make their getaway, a small puddle of blood the only sign of their passing.

          One thing I wished for was a couple more waterproof bags. The dark green bag in the picture at left was perfect: it held my sleeping bag, clothes, lantern, and assorted trip necessities. This bag doesn't mind the rain, floats if it goes overboard, and has good straps for backpacking. Fewer items in the canoe makes for easier portages.

          The portages are well marked with little brown signs. Mostly it's easy to spot them from some distance away, but one should use a map to find where the trails start along the lake shore to save paddling around. We used the Alaska Road and Recreation map.

          The portages themselves are mostly dry, but a few lake edges are pretty boggy and make for muddy entrances into the canoe. We wore X-TraTuff boots that come up to just below the knee, and never needed anything more....although I did get my pants wet a couple of times due to failure to watch water depths.

          There aren't any high climbs along the portages that we followed, just some higher elevations along trails between the lakes.

          We used an Old Town fiberglass canoe with no keel. That worked okay, although I have found that some keel makes lake paddling simpler. Max and Annette at Alaska Canoe and Campground near the Swanson River Road fixed us up with all the gear we needed and added some good advice (see post #2 above).

          We had a good trip. I believe fall is a great time to make this trip, although it tends to be more rainy than the early summer months. We did run into several other parties, but mostly we were by ourselves. We'll be back!

          David Johnson
          Last edited by Webmaster; 11-15-2006, 19:01.
          David M Johnson
          Anchorage, Alaska


          • #6
            The Audio is great

            That journal in Audio is a great idea and worked wonderfully on here.
            When I handed you that orange spinner I wondered if you would try it or not,, Glad you did.. they work pretty good.
            When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

            Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


            • #7
              Now you have to go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico (if you haven't already). Absolutely outstanding there. That's something I miss about MN; I used to spend a couple weeks up there every year, and man do the pike get big way back in there (same with the walleye).
              "Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile." - Homer, Odyssey


              • #8
                My family and I went to BWCA several times in the early 1960's. I have wonderful memories of those trips. We caught fish, paddled the lakes, canoed the portages and slept under canvas for days. That was the life!

                That's one of the reasons I wanted to see the lakes on the Kenai. I wasn't disappointed.

                David M Johnson
                Anchorage, Alaska


                • #9
                  I just found this site a few days ago & it's good to see some stuff on canoeing the Swan Lake area. With the exception of 5 yrs off for good behavior in Montana, I've lived in Kenai for near 20 yrs & until this past spring when I took our churches youth group for a 5 day/4 night trip had never been in the canoe system with the exception of floating he Swanson for hunting. Man had I been missing out!!!
                  I've got a lot of exploring to do, but I believe the Swan Lake system will become my hunting & family playing area of the future.
                  Does the system get much moose hunting pressure beyond the 1st couple of lakes?
                  Vance in AK.

                  Matthew 6:33
                  "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."


                  • #10
                    Swan lake moose hunting

                    You said it right.. Mostly just the first few lakes get any pressure.
                    lots of road hunters and the ones that go in a 1/4 to half mile at the most along the road system.
                    I have the Canoe rental business near the Swanson river road turnoff and so We are out their every day dropping off and picking up people.
                    Most of my customers are not hunters, but people from the lower 48 doing the lake thing. The reports from these people this year was that after about 3 lakes in on the west entrance, no hunters except for a few that were pushing thru to the Moose river paddle out.
                    I have had several people though over the years that have done pretty good near the road system by going in just a few lakes.
                    this year we had a young 18 yr old get a 54 inch bull back in the East entrance on the 2nd lake.
                    He called it up.
                    We need anouther good fire out their to get the forage back to the levels it was when it was deemed " MOOSE RANGE"
                    for many years after the big fires of that time the Moose did wonderfully and no matter the winter conditions was able to forage due to the new growth. Now those little Birch Tree's are too tall to reach for browse and so are alot of the other plants they enjoy and do well on.
                    Its not as good as it was, but it is still a great area that is inexpensive to reach and get into.
                    Good luck
                    When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

                    Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


                    • #11
                      I have a quick question about paddling the lakes. I just read on a website that people are required to wear PFD's in there. That's the first I've heard of that. Does a law state that I have to actually wear one? I'm pretty sure the law says I have to have one in the boat. If the law says I have to wear one, what are the boundaries of that from where to where???
                      "Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile." - Homer, Odyssey


                      • #12

                        I have read the same thing in the Kenai wildlife refuge canoe system rules.. I asked a trooper that works out here about that rule from the website, and he stated that State law is in effect on PFD's and use. Yes a PFD needs to be in the boat, and Children must wear one, but he has never enforced that adults have to have a PFD on. He was not sure that it is a Law, but a type error in the website.... This being said, he stated that 9 out of 10 water related deaths happen to people that choose not to wear a PFD..,,
                        I noticed the other day while looking at my own website, that a photo I posted showed my own children sitting in kayaks on a lake not wearing PFD's.... Why would I let my own children off the hook of not wearing a life saving device while in a Kayak???
                        Because they were swimming in that shallow pond near our home, and could stand up in the water at anytime.... I need to remove that picture though as people don't know that when they view the site...
                        When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

                        Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


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