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Horseshoe Lake Trail: A Must-Do Hike for Every Denali Visitor

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The Horseshoe trail at Denali National Park is a must-do for every visitor. Lined with towering trees, this trail offers stunning views of the Horseshoe Lake Trail Alaska. This trail is well-maintained, and you will likely encounter many other people while exploring the area.

The trailhead is on Denali Park Road at Mile 1, which is easy to access by car. You can park in the nearby parking area past the railroad tracks or at the Denali Visitor Center. Given its proximity to the check-in and great views, this was a last-minute addition to our Denali National Park itinerary.

You can take the Denali bike trail or Taiga Trail from the parking lot, leading you to the Horseshoe Trail. Ensure you’ve brought all the right accessories with our Denali packing checklist.

Denali National Park Scenery

Overall, it is not strenuous, making it suitable for beginner hikers rather than experts. However, even expert hikers enjoy this popular hike due to its excellent views. Read the post below and learn everything you need to know about Denali National Park’s Horseshoe Lake Trail.

Horseshoe Lake Trail Map

Horseshoe Lake Trail Map

Note: Before leaving for the hike, save a copy of the directions. As you drive to the trailhead, data connections could be spotty, and app-based driving directions aren’t always correct.

What To Know About Hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail

Denali National Park Mountain Range

It is not a very difficult hike, so you can take your kids along. After walking for some time, you will see that the trail gets wider.

As you walk up the paved trail, you will reach a bench overlooking the stunning views of the lake and the trail. The lake is quiet and calm; you would want to stop to take it all in. The lake water is clear and clean, giving out beautiful blue reflections.

Horseshoe Lake Sky Reflection

After this point, the trail gets steep, down as much as 250 feet. So, you should take it slow and move at your own pace when walking down the steep sections.

Nenana River and Skyline

After the incline, the trail branches into two as it loops around the lake. We took the east route, which leads to the Nenana River and the forest on the north side of the loop.

From this point, you can see the river flowing up close with a gorgeous backdrop of forested hills. You will also see the development of “Glitter Glutch” near this point.

The trail continues around the lake, offering more stunning lake views and allowing you to enjoy its serenity. The looping trail is flat, so there’s no climbing up or down, which makes it even easier. This part is also not forested, so it’s more open and offers more visibility of the surroundings.

Horseshoe Lake Scenery

Furthermore, the trail goes around the edge of a hill with the lake on the immediate right. This is another beautiful spot on the lake where you can take Instagram-worthy pictures of Horseshoe Lake.

It’s best to be here around mid-day to get maximum daylight to take pictures. The trees’ reflection on the water’s surface creates an incredible landscape and is very Alaskan.

The trail continues at the lake’s edge for another few hundred yards. The good thing is that this part of the trail is flat. Overall, it doesn’t take long to do a roundtrip of the Horseshoe Lake, perhaps over an hour and a half.

Depending on the time of year you go, there might not be much foot traffic, so you can hike slowly and take in the views as much as you like. Check out these top hiking tours in Denali.

See Related: Best Travel Backpacks

Crossing Horseshoe Lake While Hiking

Horseshoe Lake Denali National Park

After you’ve crossed the west part of the trail right next to the lake, the path gets wider and continues back to where you first began trekking the looped trail. This portion is not very dense with trees. Naturally, it’s probably that way and has nothing to do with deforestation.

This is also a flat trek until you reach the singular path back to the trailhead. Along the way, you will find some viewing points to view the south end of the lake. You can spend some time there to enjoy the breathtaking views.

You can also visit the east side to view beaver dams. Horseshoe Lake Trail is easier to trek for any hiker, regardless of their experience level. The elevation is not dangerous. Remember that you’ll need to hike back up the steps on your way back.

Here is a view from the top of my favorite hike.

Horseshoe Lake Trail Denali Alaska

Wildlife Safety Instructions

Majestic moose and calf near Denali Park, Alaska
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

When visiting Denali National Park, be aware of wolves, moose, and bears. At the Denali Visitor Center, we saw the posted signage that gives the following instructions when encountering wildlife:


  • Keep a distance from wolves, at least 25 yards away.
  • Shout angrily and hurl rocks at the wolf if it approaches.


  • Keep a distance of at least 25 yards from the moose.
  • If you go too close to a moose, especially one that is a mother defending a calf, it may charge. If this situation occurs, run and escape as quickly as you can. They’ll attempt to crush any perceived danger.


  • While hiking, talk or sing to alert bears of your presence and avoid being startled by them. If you have nothing to say, keep repeating, “Hey bear.”
  • If you spot a bear, stay put; they can mistake you for food. Keep your eye on the bear while you gently back away, raising your arms to make yourself appear bigger. Get away from the bear at least 300 yards.
  • Use bear spray if the bear charges at you.

According to estimates from 2021, Denali National Park’s 6 million acres are home to 90 wolves (14 packs), 1,700 moose, and 350 bears. When hiking the Denali Horseshoe Lake Trail, we saw no such animals, although we did spot moose twice.

Note: Visit the National Park Service website to get information on trail closures and road conditions while planning your journey and before your visit.

See Related: Best Hiking Trails in America

Essentials to Pack for the Hike

Here are some essentials that you must carry with you on this easy trail:


For this day trip, we carried a collapsible water bottle and two liters of water in our hydration bladders. If you plan to stay somewhere nearby, carry at least a water bottle.

Bear Spray

We each carried a bear spray and fastened a bear bell to the bag. They will ask you to seal it in your backpack if taking the bus. Bear spray is generally not required if you stick to the main trail. 


Sunscreen is necessary at all times while hiking. So carry one, reapply it when needed, and protect yourself from harmful UV rays.


It is an open area and quite bright at the top. If you are sensitive to the sun, you must bring your sunglasses, and perhaps even a hat.

Hiking Poles

Using hiking poles is better for your knees and makes climbing and descending hills considerably easier. However, it is not required for these short-distance walks.

Proper Hiking Shoes

You must get sturdy hiking shoes to protect your feet from abrasion and bruising when walking through rough terrains.


Given the length of this hike, we carried a variety of refreshments, including fruit strips, jerky sticks, granola bars, and more. In addition, we packed lunch to eat when we reached the top.

Bug Spray

Carry a bug spray as the bugs in Alaska’s summers are notorious. We didn’t get bitten by any bugs at Denali National Park. However, it is important to stay cautious.

Wear Layers

When hiking at a high altitude in Alaska, you never know what the weather may bring. So make sure to carry a raincoat and to dress in thin layers.

See Related: Camper Accessories You Didn’t Know You Needed

Where to Stay When Visiting Denali National Park

McKinley Chalet Resort, Denali National Park Review
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Check out the options below that you can check out when visiting Denali National Park:

Tent Camping & RV

You can camp at Riley Creek Campground, a three-minute drive from the Denali Visitors Center. If you take the bus, it is directly down the street from the bus stop.

Rentals or Hotels

The ideal area to stay for access to the park is the town near Denali Park, located at the northeast entrance. There are several lodging options, and the Denali National Park Visitors Center is only a short drive away. Here are some accommodations you can check out:

You can also easily get to the Denali National Park from the nearby small towns mentioned below:

Best Time to Visit

Scenic Nenana River landscape near Denali National Park, Alaska
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Certain hikes are available all year round in the Denali region. However, the ideal time to visit is the summer season. To experience the best weather, I suggest scheduling your trip between June and September. However, you are advised to travel between April and September. 

Furthermore, if you want a clean track with less snow cover, you can plan your trip for July or August. Remember, there can still be snow on the roads or trails during other summer months. Here are the best tours you can choose to make your Denali National Park trip more exciting:

You can check out several other tours and excursions at GetYourGuide.

See Related: Best Camping Spots in the World

Tips For The Hike

Denali National Park Scenery and Skyline

Follow the tips below when going on a hike at Denali National Park:

Leave No Trace

Follow the seven leave no trace principles: plan and prepare, dispose of trash properly, pack all your hiking gear, be considerate of other hikers, leave places as you found them, never feed or approach wildlife, and reduce campfire impacts.

Watch Out for the Weather

Before going for this great hike, make sure to monitor the weather. The weather in Denali is prone to abrupt changes.

Be Bear Aware

While visiting any area in Alaska, be cautious and practice bear awareness. Do not forget to carry bear spray wherever you hike. As it is a populated trail, we didn’t encounter bears or moose.

Also, we fastened a bear bell to one of the backpacks as we tend to be quiet hikers. So make noise, be attentive, and put food in containers when hiking through the trail.

Go Early

You may avoid the heat and crowds by going early. And if you’re interested, going early can even increase your chances of spotting some animals and beavers near the beaver dam.

It’s a popular trail, so there will also be other people. I hope you enjoy this part of Denali National Park and Preserve as much as we did.

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Where is Horseshoe Lake, Alaska?

Horseshoe Lake is a picturesque lake near the front entrance of the famous Denali National Park. The lake got this name from its shape. Boasting beautiful scenery, the Horseshoe Lake Trail Denali is the best way to reach this stunning lake.

How long is the Horseshoe Lake Trail?

Located near Denali National Park, the Horseshoe Lake trail is a 2.1-mile loop. It is considered an easy and nice trail compared to other hikes, and it will take you an hour on average to complete.

Since the area is well-known for hiking, running, and birding, you will likely encounter several other folks while exploring, so don’t expect to be the only hiker or group. Along the way, you will have a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and Nenana River.

Can you swim in Horseshoe Lake, Alaska?

Yes, you can swim in Horseshoe Lake. There are deep spots and a small beach where you can jump in. However, there are a few factors to consider. As the lake is shallow, wading is the best choice. Additionally, the lake has plenty of flora, making it vital to wear the right footwear to prevent scrapes and cuts.

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