Swanson River Lakes, Alaska, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Alaska - Southcentral -

Dozens of small lakes dot the lowlands of the pristine Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Forty of those lakes are linked together by the Swanson River to form the Swanson River Lakes. The world class canoe trail makes the Alaskan wilderness accessible to both novice and experienced paddlers. The Swanson River Lakes, including Pepper, Paddle, Eider, and Wild Lake, are linked by 46 miles of the 80 mile long Swanson River. The entire system makes up the headwaters of the Swanson River which has its outlet at Gene Lake.

In addition to being surrounded by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the Swanson River Lakes along with the thirty lakes that make up the Swan Lake Route are all located within a formal wilderness unit. Regulations prohibit the use of floatplanes and chainsaws and protect the wildness of the area around the lakes. One of the things that make the Swanson River Lakes so unique is that the Swanson River Road connects to the river route in two places. The Swanson River Road was built in 1957 by the Richfield Oil co. and Standard Oil to access the Swanson River Oil Field. Canoeists and kayakers can drive to the route and after just a days paddling find themselves in the heart of the Swanson River Lakes in a truly isolated setting. Basic canoe skills are needed and there are several challenging portages, but nothing is inaccessible. Very quickly visitors will find themselves deep in the wilderness surrounded by gorgeous lakes.

There are well worn trails marked with small brown signs for the portages and although accommodations are limited to primitive camping, there are several lakes with established lakeshore campsites. It is strongly urged that campers use existing sites rather than establishing new ones to preserve the areas wildlife. Visitors are required to abide by “Leave No Trace” rules.

Fishing on the Swanson River Lakes is exceptional, especially past the first few lakes that get most of the fishing pressure. There are healthy populations of rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. Red and silver salmon are abundant in most of the lakes in the system with the exception of Berry, Redpoll, Twig, Eider, Birchtree, and Olsjold. It isn’t uncommon for paddlers to be able to troll for fish as they cross the lakes and find they have dinner when they reach the other side.

There is hunting in season around the lakes and over 200 species of birds, so the bird watching is exceptional. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking and lots of wildlife viewing. It is not uncommon to see brown and black bear, wolves, moose and beavers. Loons, bald eagles, and trumpeter swans also make the Swanson River Lakes their home.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the Swanson River Lakes. Dedicated in 1941 by President Roosevelt, the refuge was originally called the Kenai National Moose Range. In 1980 the refuge was renamed the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and it was expanded to 1.92 million acres. It is sometimes called a “miniature Alaska” because the refuge contains all of Alaska’s major habitat types. It is a significant piece of Alaskan wilderness in a very road accessible area.

The Town of Sterling is relatively near the Swanson River Lakes. In fact there is a shuttle to drop off and pick up canoes as well as canoe rentals. Although the summer can bring thousands of canoes to both the Swan Lake Route and the Swanson River Lakes, there is plenty of room for all of them, and the lakes do not feel crowded.

The Swanson Lakes have a well deserved reputation as a world class canoe trail. With the majestic backdrop of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a trip to the Swanson River Lakes will not be forgotten.

Things to do at Swanson River Lakes

  • Fishing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge

Fish species found at Swanson River Lakes

  • Coho Salmon
  • Dolly Varden Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout

Swanson River Lakes Photo Gallery

    Swanson River Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

    Lake Area-Population: 4,705

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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