Early Morning Hike to Horseshoe Lake

two moose wading in a lake
Moose can sometimes be seen feeding in Horseshoe Lake.

NPS Photo

Horseshoe Lake Trail starts high above its namesake lake. A bench offers a nice overlook of the lake, and affords a resting spot for hikers who do not wish to descend (and then ascend!) a steep hill.

Description

This is one of the most popular trails in Denali, but it is not usually busy early in the morning. If you start hiking by 7 am, you are likely to encounter few fellow-hikers. This also ensures you will be back at the visitor center well before noon, which is a common departure time for people leaving Denali by train or bus.

Horseshoe Lake is one of the best places to look for wildlife in the entrance area of Denali. Though wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, an early morning hike to Horseshoe Lake is one of your best bets for seeing a variety of animals, such as beavers, waterfowl and moose.

Benches overlook the lake from high above, after which the trail descends steeply to the lake. Hikers who travel downhill will find the trail winding its way around the lake, making a large loop. Several observation platforms sit along the lake, letting you keep an eye out for wildlife. The trail also gets very close to a beaver dam (please be sure not to walk off trail and onto the dam!).

Hiking the entire trail without any stops will take around 2 hours, but you may find it rewarding to spend more time in the area, enjoying the tranquility of the lake and hoping to spot some wildlife.

Access

There are several ways to reach this trail.
  • From the Denali Visitor Center
    The most direct route is to hike the Bike Path in the direction of the Wilderness Access Center. At the railroad tracks, cross the park road and continue along the Horseshoe Lake Trail.

    A longer route is to hike the Taiga Trail until it meets the Horseshoe Lake Trail. This route adds roughly 1 mile round-trip (or just half a mile if you plan to only hike the Taiga trail on the way to or from the lake, instead of in both directions).
  • From the Wilderness Access Center
    Hike the Bike Path in the direction of the Denali Visitor Center. At the railroad tracks, cross the park road and continue along the Horseshoe Lake Trail.
  • From the park road / Alaska Railroad junction
    A small parking lot is at the junction of the park road and the train tracks. You can park there or be dropped off by your hotel.
Details

We suggest setting aside at least 2 hours to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail from the visitor center and back again. 

There is a bench overlooking the lake early in the trail; visitors with less than 2 hours could easily hike to the overlook and back to the visitor center in about 30 minutes. 

Pets are prohibited on most park trails. 

Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Accessibility Information

Quick Details

  • Distance (round-trip from the Denali Visitor Center): 2.2 miles
  • Duration (round-trip): Around 2 hours
  • Elevation change: 250 feet gain, mainly in one long hill.
  • Max grade: 20%
  • Trail width: 5'
  • Surface: A mix of well-compacted gravel, loose gravel and areas of exposed roots and other impediments.

Though pets are prohibited on this trail, service animals are able to accompany visitors.

Last updated: January 18, 2017