Lakes/ Rivers, Denali National Park and Preserve
Horseshoe Lake is an oxbow of the Nenana River and accessible by a maintained trail starting at the Visitor's Center. There are good views and possible wildlife sightings.
You may venture on your own or join a ranger-led hike. Check with the visitor's center for times.
Length: 3 miles/ 4.8 km
Elevation Change: 250 ft/ 77 m
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate
If you stay in Kantishna at the end of the Park road, a popular and easy evening excusion will be a trip to Wonder Lake. Wonder Lake is a few miles to the east of the Denali Backcountry Lodge. Kantishna is as far into the Park as you can go by motorized transportation - 90 miles from the Park entrance. All three lodges - North Face, Kantishna Roadhouse and Denali Backcountry do the same thing. They take lodge guests by van out to Wonder Lake at 9:00 pm. On a good evening, you'll see Mt. McKinley reflected in this lake. That would be a good evening indeed, since Mt. McKinley is visible only 20% of the time during the summer.
Look closely at this picture. You'll see Mt. McKinley in the distance. You may think this picture was taken in the late afternoon. The time actually was 10:00 pm.
If you visit this lake, be sure to take along your mosquito headgear. Wonder Lake is Central Station for those bugs.
This is another of the few trails near the entrance to the park that are marked. This trail drops down among the taiga forest, bringing you first to an overlook, and then further to the marshes along the lake shore. It is a rather easy hike, loosing about 200 feet during the hike. The lake is gorgeous, nestled against the hillsides of the mountains.
Total length: 3 miles
Total time: 1.5 hours
Denali is crisscrossed south to north by a series of mighty river systems, although not a single one is a broad and raging river. Most of the basins are quite wide and full of gravel bars, making for an everchanging current and system of braids (separate, thinner channels). Hikers can often follow an entire river system by staying on the margin of the basin, while the most adventurous can follow two or more systems by ridge-running (i.e. staying on the highest ridgelines on the surrounding mountains). Whichever you choose, Denali's rivers are stunning spectacles in themselves, but even more so with the addition of numerous wildlife.
This lake near the visitor center and train depot is an old oxbow of the nearby Nenana River. One of the few developed trails in the park, the Horseshoe Lake route takes you through a dense forest of spruce to give you an overview of the lake and river, and then winds down to the lakeshore. Fox and smaller game are common in this area, which is dramatic under perfect sunshine or cloudy weather, and accessible to most through its easy course. The sole drawback to the hike is the high visibility of new development outside the park to the northeast.
The Toklat River is also a scheduled stop on the shuttle bus route. It's a beautiful spot for some photos and again a great place to look for wildlife. I often saw Dall Sheep high above here in the distance. A few miles downstream from here is also home to a pack of wolves. Hey, you never know, maybe they'll wander near while you're there...
Wonder Lake is a great place to set up camp for a few days if you have the time. There are hiking possibilties and a magestic view of Mt McKinley. If you hike to the far side of the lake, you'll be able to get a photo similar to what you'll find on many postcards. A view of Wonder Lake with North America's highest mountain standing behind it. If you're lucky, you may even see a moose foraging in the water or caribou swimming across. Since this area is infested with mosquitos in early summer, you're more likely to see moose and caribou here later in the summer.
I camped here for one tortureous day of mosquito swatting in June. The only wildlife I remember seeing here at that time was a couple of loons. One was sitting on her nest. I'm sure that there was some more wildlife around, but I think the mosquitos were doing a good job driving them away.
This is also an option for people who don't have much time to spend in the park. What a shame! Instead of going as far as Eielson, they can make this their turn-around point. This is a mistake if you consider doing this, especially if you want to see grizzlies. Not far from this river begins an area that is particularly good for bear sightings. Grizzlies can show up anywhere, but this area is almost a sure bet. Also, if it's a clear day, you haven't yet gotten to the best views of Mt McKinley!
A blockage in a river caused by sediment, rocks or mud will cause it to change course adding a new branch to it's braid. There were quite a few opportunites to see intricate weaves of the braided rivers.
There are many streams and rivers in Denali which are fed from the melting glacier ice. Many animals e.g. bears can be found near to these locations because it is a vital source of fresh water for them to survive..
If you are at Horseshoe Lake, remember to check out the beaver dams. You may even spot a beaver if you are lucky, but I have so such luck when I was there in 1998.
The beautiful Horshoe Lake is located near the park entrance and is an ideal place for short and easy hikes. The scenery here is fantastic and not to be missed.
This river is located in the park, near to the park's entrance. Very good photograph opportunities here and you don't need to travel far into the national park.
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