About the Refuge


Becharof National Wildlife Refuge embraces the largest lake in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Becharof Lake nurtures one of Bristol Bay’s largest sockeye salmon runs, part of the foundation for the regional economy. The Refuge, protecting 1,157,000 acres, also includes an active volcano, unusual geological features, historically significant landmarks, and a federally designated Wilderness.

  • Becharof Lake

    Becharof Lake

    Enormous Becharof Lake covers approximately 300,000 acres. In the state of Alaska, only Lake Iliamna is bigger. Some six million sockeye salmon run here annually, supporting a wide range of wildlife. Dolly Varden char and Arctic grayling grow to impressive sizes on a salmon-rich diet, along with brown bears, cormorants, terns, and bald eagles. Several places around the lake are popular angling sites. The drainages feeding into the lake provide habitat for moose, caribou, nesting waterfowl and songbirds, small mammals, and other species in a rich matrix of vegetation types. Boating on the lake is uncommon, as access up the King Salmon River from Egegik is made challenging by rapids.

  • Becharof Wilderness

    Kejulik peaks

    The Becharof Wilderness spans a swathe of the Alaska Peninsula from the Pacific Ocean to vast Becharof Lake. Diverse terrain and wildlife are found here. A wide array of wildlife occupies habitats ranging from windswept uplands to sodden tundra, in a scenically remarkable setting. Layers of rock dating back to the Jurassic Period are rich in fossils, including a pliosaur (a giant marine reptile) found in the Kejulik drainage. 

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  • Kanatak Trail

    On the Kanatak Trail

    Kanatak National Recreation Trail, designated in 2012, has been used for at least 2,000 years to cross the coastal mountains between Becharof Lake and the Pacific Ocean. Archaeologists have found evidence of villages on both sides of the pass, some repeatedly inhabited for centuries. Kanatak Village, on the ocean shore, saw its last permanent residents in the 1950s. Elders in the region today remember childhoods walking or riding horses over the trail, following the seasonal rounds of their families as they traveled to find work or subsistence.

    The trail today is used most often by bears and other wildlife. No road leads here and hikers are unlikely to see other people on the trail. The challenges of access, weather, and terrain ensure a unique and wild experience. Cairns of piled rocks mark the route through the pass, past Summit Lake. Scenery is spectacular: glacially-carved Ruth Lake is surrounded by sharp, iron-stained peaks; and views from the pass encompass mountains, ocean, lake, and tundra. The pristine water of Ruth River is seasonally packed with bright red sockeye and draws bears, char, and grayling.

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  • Mt. Peulik, Ukinrek Maars, and the Gas Rocks

    Mt. Peulik and the Gas Rocks

    4,835 foot Mt. Peulik can be seen from vantage points in King Salmon (the location of Refuge headquarters), 55 miles away. Cone-shaped and capped with snow even in summer, this active volcano is younger than the Ugashik Caldera adjoining it. Surrounding the volcano are fields of old lava flows.

    Close by are the Gas Rocks, emerging from the edge of Becharof Lake. Around the Rocks are bubbling torrents of carbon dioxide, easily visible on calm days, leaking up from deep cracks in the bedrock.

    Between the Gas Rocks and Mt. Peulik lie two unusual craters: the Ukinrek Maars. Maars form when groundwater meets a hot spot in the earth and causes a steam eruption. For 11 days in 1977, plumes of steam and ash rose high over the Refuge. Today, the craters have cooled, leaving distinctive landmarks in a geologically active landscape.

  • Big Creek drainage

    Big Creek

    From headquarters at King Salmon, only one part of the Refuge can be readily reached by boat: Big Creek. Big Creek’s exaggerated curves and shallow depth make it a challenge to navigate even with a jet boat. Emptying into the Naknek River, this waterway is important for salmon spawning and rearing, and includes key moose, caribou, and brown bear habitats. It is one of the most heavily visited parts of the refuge for subsistence purposes and is a favorite trapping area for local residents. Recreational hunting for moose is popular in this area of the refuge.

    The final fringe of the boreal forest fades away in the upper part of the drainage. Spruce trees are not found in any other part of the Alaska Peninsula south and west of here, except for those planted in the villages.