Kanas Lake – Altay Prefecture, China - Atlas Obscura

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Kanas Lake

Altay Prefecture, China

A lake that borders Kazakhstan and Russia allegedly harbors the giant "Terror Trout" or "Chinese Nessie." 

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This narrow glacial lake in far northwestern China is beautiful, but the journey you must take to get there is remarkable in and of itself. Although you can now fly, a train makes a more special journey as you skirt the Gurbantünggüt Desert with free-roaming camels and barren sands, cross the Junggar Basin badlands, and finally reach the foothills of the Altai Mountains, where granite slaps dominate. After all this, you arrive in a paradise of alpine grazeland flanked by pine-covered slopes, with snow-capped mountains completing the vista. 

This land has supported a nomadic population for thousands of years. Even with growing domestic tourism, there are still nomadic Kazakh herders who work the land. Various on- and off-trail walks and hikes allow you to escape other tourists and see the nomadic way of life up close. With these open, rolling hills, if you can see it, you can probably walk there.

But you came for the big fish.  

Tales of giant fish are nothing new, but in this part of world we are talking trout. Back home, grandpa would be proud if you reeled in a six-pound trout. Not so here. Mongolian and Chinese local legends tell of massive fish of up to four tons trapped in ice or swimming in the lake.

A Russian account from 1943 recorded a fish six feet in length that weighed 243 pounds, but the modern record is 4.9 feet and 101 pounds. Nevertheless, sightings of larger fish still occur, and one was even allegedly captured on video (it’s grainy, but there’s definitely something down there). 

In 2005, a scientific expedition was launched at a cost of $1.5 million to find the giant trout, but came up short of producing a specimen. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying your hand at citizen science. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk the boardwalk around the east side of the lake. You can also hike (or take the bus) to the top of a nearby hill and look down on the lake from the aptly named “Fish Viewing Tower.” It’s 500 feet above the lake, but you are looking for giant fish after all! This is also a great viewpoint from which to see the mountains of neighboring Russia and Kazakhstan

Know Before You Go

Buses or shared taxis link the train station to the park. The lake is frozen until mid-May, which makes giant fish spotting a bit more troublesome. In summer, it is possible to hike from the village of Hemu to Kanas lake, either independently or with the help of local horse guides, but foreigners aren't allowed to camp, so it's a long 35 km day with 1700 m gain.

In partnership with KAYAK

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