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"Highlights:  scenic views of Horseshoe Lake and the Nenana River; 
occasional sightings of beavers and other wildlife." 
~ park website description of guided ranger hikes to Horseshoe Lake

This entry is a continuation from the previous entry of today's hike on the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail and Healy Ridge.

This is the map section that I highlighted with today's total hike. Horseshoe Lake is at the upper right:

When I got back down to the Taiga Trail trailhead at the railroad tracks I realized I had some time to spare before returning to Riley Creek Campground.

I decided to see what Horseshoe Lake looks like.

The trailhead for the trail to the lake is directly across the tracks from the end/beginning of the Taiga Trail:

Taiga trailhead and Mt. Healy to the left, Horseshoe Lake to the right

I hiked 8/10ths of a mile 250+ feet down to Horseshoe Lake, a small, scenic U-shaped lake just above the Nenana River. By the time I wandered around part of the shoreline I'd gone over two miles. I realized later I missed a spur trail to the riverbank.

The park service rates the difficulty of this trail as easy to moderately difficult. This photo and description are from one of the interpretive panels at Denali's main visitor center and other locations:

The first part of the trail to the overlook above the lake is definitely easy, with grades of about 5%. There is a 20% grade going down to the lake and back up in the second two-thirds of the trail.

That's pretty steep for people who aren't used to hiking up and down mountains. After just being up on the rougher, steeper Mt. Healy Overlook Trail and Healy Ridge I didn't think the grade on the Horseshoe Lake Trail was very difficult.



There was a sign at the beginning of the trail re: serious trail work being done:

Much of the work has already been done. That part of the trail is great lots of new smooth crushed rock and wooden logs used to prevent erosion:

New trail surface about 1/4 mile from the trailhead;
no water bars used here because the trail is pretty flat.

More smooth trail surface at beginning of the descent to the lake

This part of the trail is all or mostly finished with crushed rock placed
between wooden logs to prevent erosion on the hill down to the lake.

Today the crew was working near the trailhead and between the bottom of the hill and the lake, where the trail is still somewhat rough:

The crew was gone when I started my hike . . .

. . . but they were back at work when I returned to the trailhead:

I was surprised when I got back to the hill going up from the lake. During the time I was at the lake they placed all these logs across about 200 feet of trail, ready to be filled in:


When I went down to the lake an hour earlier, the logs weren't there.

Between the bottom of the hill and the lake I saw about 15 huge bags full of crushed rock for the pathway:

I guessed they weighed about a ton each and wondered how they were brought in. I ruled out helicopters because of all the tall trees. I figured they were hauled in on heavy-duty ATVs. 

Nope. When I returned to the trailhead I talked to one of the young men cutting thick logs for the trail:

He said they were indeed brought in by helicopter. They weigh about 1,800 pounds each, so my guess was close.

The guy has a farm in Alabama but came to Alaska this summer to work on the trails. He was very friendly and gave me some good suggestions for hikes and bike rides farther back the park road.


The first one-third mile of this trail is relatively flat to an overlook above the lake, where there is a bench:

The U-shaped lake is in the foreground, the Nenana River in the distance.

Then the trail descends at a 20% grade for several hundred yards. It flattens out the last one-third mile to the lake. The crew is still working on that part of the trail but it should be nice and smooth by the end of summer.

This was my first view of the lake from the trail:

The lake was originally formed by beavers building dams and backing up the water.

Signs ask visitors to respect the critters by staying off the dams:

I took the remaining photos as I walked around the lakeshore:




As I was looking west across the lake toward Mt. Healy I saw this Alaska Railroad train approaching the park on the tracks I'd crossed earlier:

I saw very few people on the Horseshoe Trail this afternoon. More people probably hike there earlier in the day. Park rangers also offer guided walks on the trail each morning.


I returned to the camper via the bike path, completing a great hike of about 11 miles. I highly recommend either or both parts of the hike up to the Mt. Healy Overlook and Horseshoe Lake.

If you're in good shape, I encourage you to go beyond the "end of maintained trail" and explore Healy Ridge as far as you can go. On that or a separate hike, continue down to Horseshoe Lake and walk around since you're in the vicinity.

If you don't have that much time or aren't used to rough trails or much elevation change, just hike out a ways on the Taiga Trail and back to the trailhead by the railroad tracks. At Horseshoe Lake, just walk about 1/3 mile to the overlook above the lake.

Next entry:  We went to bed tonight wondering what the weather will be like tomorrow for our plane flight over Denali . . . 

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil