Naknek is a small fishing town located at the northeast tip of Alaska’s Bristol Bay borough.
Yup’ik and Athabascan tribes have lived in Naknek for more than 6,000 years, fishing its famous river for salmon and other local fish. It took the rest of the world a little longer to cotton on to Naknek’s natural resources though. Its first salmon cannery was opened on the Naknek River in 1890, and seeing its early success 11 more followed over the next decade.
Salmon fishing continues to be Naknek’s most important industry today. When the migrating red salmon hit town during summer, the city comes alive. Thousands of keen amateur anglers flood the city, along with seasonal workers ready to take on positions catching and processing the latest hauls. It’s worth noting that with the passing salmon to feed upon, the local rainbow trout, Arctic grayling, and northern pike grow much larger than the average. Salmon might be the most important fish around these parts, but it’s not the only delicacy for traveling fishermen!
Naknek’s fishing season begins in early June, when the baby salmon smolt reach the mouth of the Naknek River, bringing with them hungry rainbow trout and Arctic graylings. The large King salmon typically arrive in the middle of June, and they’re joined by sockeye near the end of the month. The following months bring silver, chum, and pink salmon, and the return of the rainbow trout. Naknek’s best fishing can be enjoyed through to the end of October.
Anglers receive a little competition from the local bears. Naknek is home to the largest bear population in North America, and these creatures love the local seafood as much as visitors do! Their imposing presence can be daunting, but if you leave them alone they’ll happily extend you the same courtesy.
Tourists looking for a break from the water can learn more about the region’s past at the Bristol Bay Historical Museum. Exhibitions document the area’s indigenous culture and history, archaeology, and the growth of the salmon fishing and canning industries. The museum itself is also a bit of Naknek history. Its building was once an early meeting place for local anglers called the Fisherman’s Hall.
Naknek’s dining options are simple but hearty. There aren’t many eateries to choose from, and none of them are likely to win Michelin stars. However they’re a great option when you want someone else to do the cooking. Many make use of Naknek’s famous seafood, but you’ll also find places serving pizzas, burgers, and other American staples.
As you can imagine, with less than 700 residents, Naknek doesn’t exactly rage after five. But during the summer months the Fisherman’s Bar can get rowdy. Dress is incredibly casual, with plenty of punters arriving in their fishing gear, complete with waders and rubber boots!
With Naknek attracting more seasonal workers than short-term tourists, long-term vacation rentals are Naknek’s most popular accommodation option. There are almost 150 such properties within the city limits. A smattering of wilderness lodges and bed and breakfasts offer more short-term accommodation solutions for visitors. However as there are not very many of these short-term lodgings, travelers are advised to book in advance, especially during the summer.
Naknek’s coastal location brings maritime weather conditions. Summers are humid but cooler than in many parts of Alaska, mainly due to the town’s persistent winds. Those gusts don’t let up in winter either, so be prepared to rug up with scarves and coats to shield yourself from the seasonal chill.
Naknek has its own airport, but it’s most often used by smaller private carriers. Larger airlines, including Alaska Airlines, ERA Aviation, and PenAir fly to nearby King Salmon. Taxis at the airport will happily take travelers to their Naknek accommodation for around $20. Despite its coastal location, Naknek is not a stop on any of Alaska’s cruise ships or ferry routes.