There are plenty of opportunities up the Parks Highway in the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area – including a collection of public use cabins available for rent, and a fine canoe trail – but a family favorite is day tripping to Red Shirt Lake to go after northern pike.
This little adventure is near Willow -- your turn off the Parks Highway, Nancy Lake Parkway, is at mile 67 -- so figure a one and a half-hour drive from Anchorage. Red Shirt Lake itself is another three miles from the parking area at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway, so add another hour on foot to the trip time.
It's an easy hike, though -- we persuaded a flip-flop wearing four year old to walk to the lake and back again -- with a big payoff: Your watercraft is waiting at the lakeshore. Willow's Tippecanoe Rentals (open May 20 through Labor Day) has a stash of canoes on Red Shirt Lake, so the only aquatic equipment you need to haul down the trail are paddles and life vests. Tippecanoe doesn't have anyone stationed down the trail so you'll need to coordinate your rental with their staff at their South Rolly campground office before heading down the trail. Canoe rental for the day is $32; overnight is $54.
It's a large lake, with islands and feeder streams to explore, but the best part really is pulling a frog plug through the weedy shallows looking for pike. The strike can be like something out of Jaws.
If you need tackle (or fishing advice) stop by Three Rivers Fly and Tackle on your way through Wasilla. They're located at Parks and Main.
Contact Stephen Nowers at stephen(at)alaskadispatch.com.