Sitting on the dock of South Rolly Lake in the summertime, the peace of Alaska wilderness envelops you through the glassy water surface, the lush woods, views of the mountain peaks of the Talkeetna Range, and the sound of the distant train horn of the Alaska Railroad.
If you are the type of traveler who comes to Alaska to find some serenity while surrounded by the natural beauty of tranquil forests, the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) near Willow, Alaska may be just the place to unplug and get away from it all. Over 22,000 acres of pristine forests, lakes, and rolling topography makes Nancy Lake SRA the perfect destination for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and camping. There are canoe rentals available for those looking for some water adventures. The lakes in the area are linked with a paddle-and-portage trail called the Lynx Lake Loop. It makes for a roughly 8-mile loop through 14 flat-water lakes and is the ideal way to fully experience the beauty of the area.
Two campgrounds and several public use cabins are available throughout the recreation area. The campgrounds are both RV-accessible, but do not have hookups. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, and there is access to water and latrine facilities, as well as bear-proof trash receptacles in the campgrounds. Campsites are on a first-come basis with a 15-day limit. Outboard motors are allowed on Nancy Lake, and electric trolling motors are allowed on South Rolly Lake. Fireworks, firearms, and ATVs are prohibited within the SRA, and pets must be on leashes.
The closest town of Willow to the north offers basic services (gas, food, post office, hardware store, etc.). More robust shopping opportunities can be found 45 minutes or so south in Wasilla or Palmer. There are no concessions within the Nancy Lake SRA. Cell service and Internet may be spotty at best, so plan on unplugging and focusing on the beauty of the natural world around you.
Northern pike 14-20 inches long are commonly found in the lakes, as well as populations of trout. The lakes and forest lands host an abundance of wildlife – beaver, moose, bear (black and grizzly), lynx, and waterfowl are all familiar residents and critical to maintain the water levels of the lakes. Wild berries can be found by early July, including low bush cranberries, blueberries, crowberries, and raspberries.
The Nancy Lake Campground on the northeast shore of Nancy Lake offers 30 RV-accessible back-in campsites and a boat launch directly onto the water. This campground is accessed off of Buckingham Palace Road from the Parks Highway at mile 66.5. The Nancy Lake Campground tends to have some traffic (both land and on the lake) and may be full on busy weekends like the 4th of July. Cell service is better at the Nancy Lake Campground than South Rolly Lake Campground.
The South Rolly Lake Campground is a little more remote, located at the end of Nancy Lake Parkway (about 6.5 paved miles off of the Parks Highway). The South Rolly Lake Campground is RV-friendly with 90+ established campsites (including some pull-through sites), but doesn’t have hookups. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, and there are toilet facilities on site. A small boat launch onto South Rolly Lake provides great fishing access, and the trailhead for the 3-mile hike into Red Shirt Lake is adjacent to the campground. Most Saturdays you can participate in a 60-90 minute free interpretive hike with a naturalist where you can learn more about the history of the area, as well as the plants and animals that live there.
There is private property around Nancy Lake and some private in-holdings within the SRA, so please respect signs and postings in these areas.