Discover the Oldest Artificial Lake in Alaska

Eklutna Lake Alaska
© iStock.com/MorningDewPhotography

Written by Alan Lemus

Updated: August 10, 2023

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Alaska is one of the states that might not suffer water shortages in the near future because of the yards of water bodies that cover its surface. In fact, Alaska has over 3,000 natural lakes and about three million unnamed lakes, which stumps Minnesota, a state famously referred to as the land of 10,000 lakes. It’s no wonder people want to know about the oldest arificial lake in Alaska.

Lake infographic for Eklutna Lake, Alaska.
A small, gorgeous lake stocked with fish and surrounded by wildlife and outdoor recreation.

Many lakes in Alaska remain unnamed because the state’s remote nature is marred with parts yet to be explored. Even with immense natural water bodies, Alaska still has artificial lakes constructed to supplement water sources for human consumption and generate hydroelectricity. 

Below, we look at the oldest man-made lake in Alaska, its history, and some activities to indulge in while in the vicinity.  

The Oldest Artificial Lake in Alaska

The oldest artificial lake in Alaska is Eklutna Lake. It was constructed between 1927 and 1929. The lake was constructed on top of a natural landslide dam in the Eklutna Valley. 

Between 1929 and 1956, the lake underwent a series of reconstructions under the supervision of the Bureau of Reclamation. The reconstructions entailed building the Eklutna dam to raise Eklutna Lake and allow the management of water volume through penstock gates. The reservoir is found on the rough terrain of the Chugach Mountains north of the Eklutna Village.

Apart from the Eklutna Glacier, this lake is also fed by the run-off from the surrounding mountains. The lake provides drinking water to its residents and is also a source of hydroelectric power for Anchorage city and its environs. 

Eklutna Lake in Alaska surrounded by white capped mountains

Eklutna Lake is the oldest artificial lake in Alaska, constructed between 1927 and 1929.

©iStock.com/Brittany Grant

Where Is Eklutna Lake Located on a Map?

Eklutna Lake is located 42.2 miles to the northeast of Anchorage. It is a 64-minute drive away by car.

History of Eklutna Lake

The Eklutna dam lake, located 25 miles northwest of Anchorage City, Alaska has a surface area of 3,520 acres and an average elevation of 840 feet. It is not far from the Native Village of Eklutna and is the state’s first hydroelectric project to solve the power shortage in Anchorage city and its environs. 

As a city at the center of power distribution, Anchorage had a contract with the Anchorage Light and Power Company back in 1927 that installed the Old Eklutna Hydro Plant. The first unit of the plant became operational in 1929, and with a series of reconstructions along the way, the lake dam was able to serve the people of Anchorage up to 1956.  

When the dam was created, it became a diversion blocking the water that flows from River Eklutna, which led to sedimentation and drying of the river. The aftermath of the sedimentation was the destruction of the natural habitat for the salmon, resulting in a decline in fishing activities on the river. 

In 1997, the federal government bestowed ownership of the project to three entities which, among other duties, were to look at the effect of the hydropower project on fish and wildlife. They include:

  • The Municipal Light and Power
  • The Matanuska Electric Association, formed in 1941
  • The Chugach Electric Association

The project generates over 175,000 megawatts of power annually. 

Other Artificial Lakes in Alaska

Alaska has over three million unnamed lakes but has 67 named man-made reservoirs. Some of them include the following.

Twin Lakes

As the name suggests, Twin Lakes encompasses two lakes in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. The upper lake is six miles long, and the lower one is four miles. 

The lakes pour into the Chilikadrotna River on the western side, eventually flowing into the Nushagak Bay. The lakes exist in remote regions, hence uncrowded apart from the summer season as people come for hunting. 

You may come across black or brown bears while visiting Twin Lakes, so you should stay alert while camping. While camping is allowed, it is only limited to 14 days. 

Blue Lake

Blue Lake is another man-made lake reservoir located in the western part of Baranof Island. It is three miles long, with Blue Lake Valley Creek and Sawmill Creek as their main inflow and outflow, respectively. 

Blue Lake is extensive, covering a surface area of 1225 acres, a maximum depth of 468 feet, and a surface elevation of 436 feet. 

The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park houses a small bottling initiative relying on water from Blue Lake. Alaska State allows Sitka Town to export around 9.5 gallons of raw water each year to the global market. 

Blue Lake is also a good destination for adventure lovers thanks to its thick forests, mountain drops, and vistas. While swimming is not allowed at the lake, visitors can indulge in activities such as nature walks, camping, and hiking. 

The Deer Mountain Trail at Blue Lake has two shelters that make the whole adventure unique. 

Chena River Lakes Dam

Chena River Lake is a Tanana River tributary located in remote Alaska near the Chena Hot Springs. It is a confluence of the river’s north and west forks and has an elevation of 1,024 feet. 

Chena River Lakes dam was built in 1973 in response to the flood disaster that befell the Fairbanks region. The disaster displaced almost 7,000 people in the area. Its named tributaries include the Middle, West, North, South, and the small Chena River. 

You can enjoy recreational fishing activities plus boating while at this place. During winter, you can also have fun with mushers and snow machines. 

The Chena River Lakes dam is a habitat for an array of fish species, such as the least cisco, humpback whitefish, arctic grayling, king salmon, longnose suckers, round whitefish, shellfish, and burbot. This makes it the most popular sport-fishing area in Alaska State. 

But the sport fishing of the grayling species is limited because of the overfishing of the 1980s that led to an alarming decline of the species. 

Abyss Lake

Abyss Lake is an artificial lake located in the southeastern parts of Alaska. It also borders the Brady Glacier on the eastern side, enabling it to receive melt water that pours into the Dundas River. 

The lake is 50-foot-deep and provides a good fishing spot for the cutthroat trout fish, and the rainbow fish can be easily spotted from mid-June to September in the absence of ice. 

Eklutna Village 

Eklutna is a remote village in the middle of Anchorage City, Alaska, in the United States. According to the Tribal Council, it has an estimated population of 70, with many of its tribal members inhabiting the surrounding communities. 

Eklutna village is located 24 miles from Anchorage City and only two miles from the mouth of the Eklutna River. 

In the interior parts of the region lies the Dena’ina Athabascan village, the last of the eight villages present before the influx of the American Colonialists who came around 1915 after the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Dena’ina is the oldest inhabited village in the Anchorage region, first inhabited over 800 years ago. 

You will also find many Russians in the area, having arrived back in the 1840s as missionaries. The cultural exchange between the native practices and orthodox Christianity led to the conspicuous spirit houses, which can be spotted at the Eklutna Cemetery, now a historical park. The cemetery stands out as the most photographed graveyard in the entire state. 

In 2014, a large homestead covering 160 acres of land was awarded to Dena’ina Village. The homestead is where the native people of Alaska lived for ages. The donated land has remained untouched for many years and is under a conservation easement, where it will be kept as a refuge for wildlife and protected from any form of real estate expansion. 

All the people of Eklutna Village have native Alaska origins and are federally known by the Native Village of Eklutna. Most residents work at the Eagle River, Anchorage, or the Matanuska -Susitna Valley as game rangers, tour guides, and environmental conservationists. 

Athabascan homes with a chapel in the background

Spirit houses at the Eklutna Cemetery, which is now a historical park and is the most photographed graveyard in Alaska.

©iStock.com/RONSAN4D

Things to Do Around Eklutna Lake 

Despite being a remote area, there are numerous activities that you can indulge in thanks to the mountains and water bodies available, like Eklutna Lake.

For instance, the Eklutna Lake State Recreation Area offers an outstanding recreational space. There are several activity options, such as canoeing and kayaking opportunities, mountain biking trails, 25 miles of hiking, a campground, and a fishing spot. In addition, the lake provides impeccable scenery. The lake is laced with glaciers, and the high peaks of the Chugach Mountains can be seen from the shoreline. 

Visitors can also rent canoes and bikes for hours or a whole day. Further, there are 50 campsites; some cater to groups while others are public. The campsites can be booked beforehand and are allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Thunderbird Falls, not so far from the Glenn Highway, offers an astonishing view. It is also a good spot for hiking. 

You will also get to experience the culture of the Alaskan natives at the Eklutna Village Historical Park. With the help of tour guides, you will explore the spirit houses, the outdoor altars, and the St. Nicholas church that depict the merging of Russian Orthodox culture and that of the natives. 

At the lake, swimming is allowed, but the water is usually cold because of the glaciers. 

Animals Around Eklutna Lake

A few miles from Eklutna Lake lies Anchorage City, a good place for wildlife viewing. Here, you’ll see many moose living within the Anchorage Bowl, making the site more unique and exciting. 

You may also be lucky to catch a glimpse of migratory birds that get to land in the Anchorage region during their migratory seasons. Besides, you will get to experience Anchorage’s wild lands that host various animals like whales, birds, bears, otters, puffins, and salmon that fill the surrounding water bodies throughout summer.

You can visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center or the Alaska Zoo for exceptional viewing.

Eklutna Tailrace is the perfect spot for fishing at Eklutna Lake. It is filled with pink fish, Dolly Varden trout, silver salmon, king salmon, and chum fish. 

In addition, the area does not have any regulations. This means you can fish salmon even when other regions prohibit it. The lake is also popular with sport fishing, particularly along the Glenn highway. Mornings and evenings are the ideal fishing periods as they help cast a shadow that attracts the fish. Colored lures are more attractive to the fish, granting you more luck. 

Lake Eklutna with Alaskan mountains in the background

Lake Eklutna, known as the largest artificial lake in Alaska, is a great spot for fishing, catching glimpses of birds, and moose sightings.

©iStock.com/Ashley Snyder

Final Thoughts

Lake Eklutna is the oldest artificial lake in Alaska. It has a dam meant to sustain its water levels. Its primary role is to offer hydroelectric power to the residents of Anchorage and its environs. However, it has also grown to become a massive source of drinking water. 

Eklutna Lake is located in a remote location with few residents. The low population makes it ideal for people who love uncrowded places. It has terrific trails and camping sites that allow you to experience nature with a close view. Visiting the area will also allow you to swim in a glacier-laced lake and view rare bird species that only appear during their migration season.


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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