As we headed north on the Parks Highway, a distant hue of smoke on the horizon turned into a smokey fog on the other side of Wasilla. The plan was to take our RV to Nancy Lake State Recreation Area for some workamping (working + camping), fishing, and kayaking. Well that was the plan, but there was a wildfire burning 25 minutes up the road closing the highway and our campground was only 10 minutes from the frontlines.
Needless to say, the Sockeye Fire changed our plans and we had to find a new place to camp. We pulled out the trusty Gazetteer and did research on our phones to pick a new campground.
Right now you may be asking, Why are you guys staying in the Mat-Su Valley when there is a wildfire raging? [Ironically a few days after the Sockeye Fire began, a new fire started on the Kenai Peninsula, too]. The answer is simple, because we had a king salmon fishing charter coming up and the Valley is large and has plenty of camping options.
The most promising campground (and in the general direction we needed to be) was in Big Lake, located a few miles off the Parks Highway and aptly named for the large lake it is built around. It is known as a place of vacations homes, recreation, and good times. We had been to Big Lake before. Back in 2007 when I was working in the area, Rebecca and I would grab a meal or get groceries when we did not want to drive all the way down to Wasilla.
Years ago we learned a simple phone call can save time, money, and hassle. So we called the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce to check on local conditions. They were very helpful and told us they could smell smoke, but it was not smokey. We decided that was the best we could hope for considering a wildfire was raging in the area. They too recommended we try the Big Lake North Campground. Local Chambers of Commerce are amazing resources for travelers.
Our first impressions of the Big Lake North Campground was that it was nice and clean, but resembled a suburban park. The RV sites were long parking spots on an asphalt lot next to the water. We generally prefer to be closer to the wilderness and were still not convinced this was the place for us. Out comes the Gazetteer for further discussion!
It was brutally hot in Alaska at the time, daytime temps were in the high 80’s to low 90’s. I know if you live in Arizona you are chuckling, but all things being relative 90 degrees is extremely hot in Alaska. Call me crazy, but in Alaska the sun feels especially intense during the summer and we because we were boondocking, air conditioning was not an option.
While searching for another campground a lady walked up to introduce herself. Her name was Karen, she and her husband Jon are the hosts of Big Lake North Campground. After we exchanged formalities, Karen convinced us to stay in their campground. It was not in a pushy way, but in a truly genuine appreciation of the property. She proceeded to tell us the best campsite in the house (#64) was available and we really would enjoy ourselves here.
Have you ever had a feeling when something is right? After talking to Karen, we did and proceeded to set up camp in spot 64. Another good sign was our phones were glowing with voice and data service, this is always a relief when workamping. It was still blazing hot and the motorhome was even hotter. The engine cover in our motorhome radiates heat, on cold days this is nice, but on days like today it turns the place into a sauna. The engine cools off in about 30 minutes but the leftover heat can stick around for hours.
A swim in the lake was just what we all needed to cool off. One of Remington’s favorite activities is swimming and swimming with us makes it even better. The dogs have been burning up the past few days, even with their hair clipped they are not used to these kinds of temperatures. We have always found it ironic swimming in Alaskan lakes, considering they were iced over a couple months ago and will be iced over again in a few months.
As the evening progressed the winds shifted and the smell of smoke completely disappeared, it thankfully stayed that way for the duration of our visit. The sun set into a smokey horizon over the lake after 11 pm. We felt a little odd admiring this beautiful sunset because people were losing their homes while we were relaxing by the water.
The following day we thanked Karen for convincing us to stay. This was exactly what we needed and were looking for, a quiet place to work during the day and recreate in the evening with great mobile service. I’m not sure if the fire scared people off or if it was normally this nice and quiet in the middle of the week, either way we were not complaining because we practically had the place to ourselves. At any given time during our stay there was no more than one camper in the park.
This was also our first time boondocking with the Goal Zero Yeti 400 & Nomad 20 Solar Panel, which is a battery box and 110v power inverter built into one unit. Since we work from home/RV, keeping our computers charged is of the utmost importance. There will be a full post coming in the near future, but for now I will say that we are SUPER impressed with the Yeti 400, but the Nomad 20 leaves A LOT to be desired when paired with the Yeti 400.
We took regular dips in the lake for the sake of cooling off and evening drives to nostalgic places like Miller’s Market. When I was working in the Valley, our home base was in Houston which is about 10 minutes from Big Lake. One of our fondest memories is getting soft serve ice cream from Miller’s Market. Located on the Parks Highway, Miller’s Market is a popular stop for locals and tourists, occasionally tour buses will pull up with dozens of people looking to stretch their legs, hydrate and cool off.
On our final evening at Big Lake North we took advantage of one of their surprise amenities, jet skis! In case you didn’t know we love riding jet skis and water sports is one of the few things we miss from our days in California.
Riding jet skis on Big Lake is a very popular activity and it was the last thing I thought we would be doing on this RV trip. We had a great time riding around Big Lake at sunset. When Jon the campground host sent us on our way he recommended we visit the Islander Lodge, a restaurant and bar located on Long Island in the middle of the lake. I imagine the place gets busy on weekends, they have a large lawn and what looks like a stage for live music!
Before we left Big Lake North to go king salmon fishing on the Little Susitna we decided to take an early morning paddle in our kayaks. For me this means paddling and fishing! We were limited to how far we could travel because Big Lake is …. big. I hooked a small trout and it jumped and spit the hook, aside from a couple more hits the fish were not cooperating in our part of the lake. Kayaking is a very relaxing activity and has become one of our favorites.
Here is the first video in our Big Lake North series!
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Thoughts & Tips about Big Lake North Campground
- They do not allow alcohol consumption in the park. I think this is a good thing because it keeps the place nice and peaceful and a good environment for families. I’m sure having a casual glass of wine inside your RV is acceptable, just don’t plan on bringing a six pack down to the lake shore.
- Our visit during the middle of the week was nice and quiet, but if you want to camp at the park on weekends we recommend making a reservation.
- The RV sites do not have hook ups, but there are clean, well-maintained vault toilets and a well pump for water.
- The RV sites are long parking spots. They were okay with us taking up a little extra space but we were practically the only ones there. In other words you need to purchase two spots if you plan on putting out your awning and slides when it is busy.
- They have a concession stand with ice and treats or you can make the short trip into Big Lake.
- There are two pavilions that can be reserved for larger groups.
- Be sure to say hello to Karen and Jon from us!
As I wrap up our stay at Big Lake North Campground, I would like to thank Great Holiday Campgrounds the managers of Big Lake North Campground for their kindness and hospitality. We are looking forward to our return visit and staying at some of the other campgrounds they manage in the Mat-Su Valley.
Although we may not have paid for some of our experiences, our opinions are genuine and can not be sold.