If they filmed “Alaska Public Use Cabins — The Movie,” the producers would have a hard time finding a better place than James Lake for the setting. Nestled on a hillside in an old-growth birch-spruce forest with a sweeping view of quiet, isolated James Lake, this handsome, well-seasoned log cabin is the postcard for your public use cabin dreams of paddling, fishing, skiing and chilling out. As private and welcoming as an old family cottage, James Lake cabin is in the middle of the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area and off-limits to aircraft.

As Pretty As A Postcard

High summer transforms the hillside into a meadow with paths winding through tall grass and Devil’s club beneath a stand of majestic old birch (some 12 feet in circumference.) Children build forts while adults hang hammocks to enjoy the secluded, airy and often bug-free atmosphere. Summer brings long evenings around the campfire, with great light and views that reach to Pioneer Peak and the Talkeetna Mountains. Winter is about seclusion and quiet. You can stay here for days and not see another person.

Amenities

A 16-by-24 log cabin with sleeping space for six on bunks and benches. Big porch with protection from rain and snow. Feels big inside. Ample wood stove, large table (great for board games) and counter for cooking and storage. Outside is a fire ring, outhouse and picnic table.

Common summer wildlife includes common loons, beavers, black bears and moose — moose sometimes swim in the lake below the cabin. Lake water must be purified. Burnable wood can be sparse near the cabin, and completely buried by snow in winter. Be prepared to gather and transport wood from surrounding country.

What Can You Do At James Lake Cabin?

  • Spend long summer days paddling, fishing, swimming and exploring the lake’s coves and shoreline. Good fishing for Northern pike, especially in weed beds near sunken snags.
  • Take a portage south to tiny Javit Lake and then down to Lynx Creek, making a fun loop back to James via Lynx Lake and the canoe trail. Can done winter or summer.
  • Paddle a shallow channel to Owl Lake when water is high, almost doubling the shoreline available to explore. Check out a species of carnivorous plant growing in the wet bog between the lakes: jewel-like Sundew.
  • A gravel bottom good for swimming can be found along the peninsula across the cove to the south.
  • Explore the hillside above the cabin on an unofficial trail system, with a possible view (or even a bushwhack) toward Chicken Lake.

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 61.635117
Longitude: -150.095

Summer

Paddle the canoe trail system. Beginning at the Tanaina Lake trailhead at Mile 4.5 of the Nancy Lake Parkway, the trail forms an eight-mile wilderness loop via portages to 14 lakes. (A south extension leads to four other lakes with access to the Little Susitna River.) James Lake is the most isolated lake on the loop — about 3 miles in if traveling south off Tanaina Lake toward Milo Pond with several large portages. Going the other way is longer but offers longer paddles and shorter portages. Count on half a day from trailhead either direction. Portages can be muddy and buggy, so headnets, bug dope and the right shoes can be helpful. Be prepared to encounter bears and moose. Canoes can be rented from Tippecanoe Rentals in Willow: 907-355-6687. Here is a good PDF map of the area.

Winter

Depending on snow conditions and ice cover, you can travel by snow vehicle, skis, snowshoe, dog sled, snow bike or foot. Check the park conditions report first. Beginning at the winter trailhead at Mile 2.2 of the Nancy Lake Parkway, it is about 5.5 miles to James Lake PUC over a route that crosses Bald Lake and turns south at Twin Ponds before reaching Shem Pete and Ardaw lakes and then picks up the canoe loop. Alternative routes could follow extensive snowmobile and ski trails.

Break up / Freeze up

James Lake cabin cannot be reached when the ice is too thin.

Photos

James Lake Cabin