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Surprise Lake

Remote and rugged, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is one of the least visited units in the United States National Park System. If you're looking for an untainted natural landscape without a soul in sight, you'll find it at this truly wild park in Southwestern Alaska.

Inside the park is the 6-mile (9.7 km) wide Aniakchak Crater, a caldera created by a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago.


The area includes a national monument and a national preserve; the national monument contains 137,176 acres (55,513 ha) and the preserve 464,118 acres (187,822 ha). According to official data, this is one of the least visited areas in the National Park System, with about 100 visitors per year.

  • King Salmon Visitor Center (next to King Salmon Airport). 8AM–5PM in summer. Not in the park, but rather in King Salmon. Provides information, maps, and more.


The region was virtually unexplored until the 1920s, when exploration for oil brought reports of a volcano. In 1931 the volcano erupted, forming Vent Mountain. In 1978 President Jimmy Carter declared the area a national monument, and in 1980 it was established as a monument and preserve.


Inside the caldera

The core of the national monument encompasses the 6-mile (9.7 km) wide Aniakchak Crater. The high point on the caldera rim is Aniakchak Peak. The lake within the caldera, Surprise Lake, is the source of the Aniakchak River. Multiple streams and rivers within the caldera flow into Surprise Lake to form it. In addition to Surprise Lake, the other prominent feature inside the caldera is Vent Mountain, the site of the most recent (1931) eruption within the caldera. The preserve lands flank the monument on either side.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Caribou, moose, brown bears, wolves, wolverines, seals, sea lions, sea otters, salmon.

The progression of plant growth after the 1931 eruption is studied by scientists investigating ecological succession.


In general, spring, summer, and fall tend to be cool and wet, but be prepared for anything.

Summer temperatures are typically around 10 °C (50 °F). Clouds, rain, fog, and strong wind are common, making hypothermia a risk even in the summer.

Visitor information[edit]

Get in[edit]

Map of Aniakchak National Monument

Entry is difficult due to the park's remote location and challenging weather. There is no access by road. Instead, entry is by chartered flights, which are available from King Salmon (AKN IATA) and other towns. King Salmon has regular flights from Anchorage.

Most visitors fly into Surprise Lake inside Aniakchak Crater; other options include Meshik Lake, Aniakchak Bay, Amber Bay, or Kujulik Bay. It is also possible to fly into the nearby village of Port Heiden and proceed overland to the Aniakchak Crater.

Entry by boat is also possible.

Because of the unpredictable weather, including strong wind, your entry and exit from the park can easily be delayed.

Fees and permits[edit]

There are no fees charged within the monument.

Get around[edit]


  • 1 Aniakchak Crater. Aniakchak Crater, a National Natural Landmark located within Aniakchak National Monument, is one of the largest explosive craters in the world, averaging 6 miles (9.7 km) wide and 2000 feet (600 m) deep.


Rafting on the Aniakchak
  • Rafting — The Aniakchak River is beautiful and rewarding but can be dangerous. It takes 3–4 days to float from Surprise Lake to the bay. July is the most popular month for rafting. Dry suits are recommended and life jackets are required, and bring plenty of supplies to repair your raft. Get detailed information and advice before setting out.
  • Hiking — There are no official trails, but the caldera floor is a good place for hiking.
  • Fishing — You'll probably need an Alaska fishing license and possibly other documentation.
  • Hunting is allowed in the preserve but not in the monument. You'll need a hunting license. Read up on the relevant regulations, restrictions, and limits.


Bring a camping stove and don't expect to find firewood.


There are no facilities and no campgrounds, only primitive camping. Use bear-resistant containers to store food and trash. Don't count on finding a tree to hang your food from out here in the tundra.

Along the river, camp on sandy gravel bars to avoid bugs and reduce visible impact on the environment.

Stay safe[edit]

This is true wilderness: no facilities, no cell reception, no infrastructure whatsoever. You're on your own and are responsible for your own survival. Consider bringing a satellite phone.

There are many brown bears in the park. Bear-resistant food containers are mandatory, and you might be able to borrow one from the visitor center in King Salmon. Don't leave your gear unattended. In areas with low visibility, make plenty of noise to avoid surprising a bear. Stay in a group if possible, and follow other advice for bear safety. Stop fishing if any bears are close enough to see or hear you; if the bear learns to associate humans with food, it can become a danger to others.

Go next[edit]

This park travel guide to Aniakchak National Monument is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.