60 miles north of Anchorage. Population: 3000. Visitor information: Big Lake Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 520067, Big Lake, AK 99652; Phone: (907) 892-6109; Email: email@example.com
Big Lake, known as "Alaska's Year-round Playground," is a tremendously popular recreational paradise just 60 driving miles or a 15-minute flight north of Anchorage. With a backdrop of Denali and the Alaska and Talkeetna mountain ranges, this is a photographer's haven and a visitor's dream.
The Big Lake area was for many years the home of the Dena'ina Indians of Cook Inlet. Building a sophisticated maritime culture, the Dena'ina also hunted, trapped and traded. In 1834, the Russians established a mission at Knik, just a few miles south of Big Lake, converting the Indians to Christianity and trading with them. Contact with "civilization" was disastrous for the Dena'ina however, as smallpox ravaged their numbers.
When gold was discovered in 1890 north of Knik and later in Willow Creek to the east, Knik became the supply depot for the miners and the departure point for gold on its way to smelting. Many heavily used supply trails fanned out from Knik; one of them ran along the eastern end of Big Lake and another was the famous Iditarod Trail, which passes just two miles south of Big Lake.
Herman Gronwoldt, the first person to homestead at Big Lake in 1916, had been a gold prospector in Alaska for 15 years when he decided to settle on the eastern end of the lake, near the supply trail and about four miles from the railroad being constructed from Anchorage to Fairbanks. For the next 30 years he lived alone on Big Lake, fishing, trapping and raising mink. He supplied cured fish to dog mushers, transporters using the trail and railroad workers.
The community now covers nearly 138 square miles at the west end of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and has grown into a bustling community of 3,000 year-round residents, including four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser and his family. Most necessities can be found right in Big Lake and additional shopping is just a short drive south in Wasilla
Well-known as a top-notch recreational area, many of the housing units are rentals that fill up on weekends and holiday seasons. Some of the diverse activities available in summer are boating, jet skiing, fishing, birding, camping, hiking and golf. In winter there is dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and skating. The lake supports abundant rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, arctic char, sockeye and coho salmon and burbot. It is also a haven for many species of birds and waterfowl, including the spectacular sandhill cranes. There are abundant wildlife viewing opportunities year round along the 67 miles of shoreline.
Public Recreation areas include the Big Lake North and South State Recreation Sites, Rocky Lake State Recreation Site, Little Susitna River Public Use Facility and Fish Creek Day Park.
The grueling Iron Dog Snowmachine race along the northern Iditarod trail route has started in Big Lake since its inception in 1984. Covering more than 2,000 miles over rough, frozen trails from Big Lake to Nome and finishing up in Fairbanks, the race is now officially known as the Tesoro Iron Dog.
Special summer events include the Denali Cup Golf Classic and Big Lake Triathlon, autumn is celebrated with the Big Lake Fall Festival and Chili Cook-off and winter is ushered in with Big Lake's annual Tour of Lights, the Klondike 300 Sled Dog Race, Alaska Sports Car Club Ice Racing, the official re-start of the Iron Dog Snowmachine Race, the Susitna 100 and Little Su 50K and the Big Lake Ice Classic through mid-April.