Hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail in Denali National Park

In this guide we’re sharing how to hike the short and sweet Horseshoe Lake Trail in Denali National Park!

The Horseshoe Lake Trail is one of the shorter hikes in Denali National Park and its length and lack of elevation gain may make you wonder, “is it even worth hiking?” And the answer is a big YES!

While other hikes in the park, like the Savage Alpine Trail and the Mount Healy Overlook Trail may offer better mountain views, the Horseshoe Lake Trail is packed with different features in such a short distance, making it a huge bang for your buck while in the park. We were so pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this hike!

Check out our video in Denali National Park where we hiked the Horseshoe Lake Trail, plus other short hikes in the first 15 miles of the park!

In this guide we’ll share what to expect along the Horseshoe Lake Trail in Denali National Park, plus anything you need to know beforehand!

Looking for more things to do in Denali National Park? 

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

Horseshoe Lake Trail Stats

Distance (round trip): 2.1 miles
Elevation:  393 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Horseshoe Lake Trail features a railroad track crossing, a beautiful forest, overlook of the lake, beaver dams, stunning blue water, a river, and more! Compared to other hikes in the park, and in Alaska, this is a pretty easy, flat hike, but there are some stairs, so if stairs are difficult for you, you may struggle with one section.

Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!

We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.

Getting to the Horseshoe Lake Trail

The Horseshoe Lake Trail is located right at the front of Denali National Park and Preserve in central Alaska, so it makes for an easy trail to add on at the beginning or end of your Denali National Park adventures. And since it is located within the first 15 miles of the park, you can also drive your own vehicle here!

There is a small parking area right next to the trailhead, as well as across the street from the trailhead, which would be the best place to park, but together they can only fit about 8-10 cars,  so they might be full when you visit.

Horseshoe Lake Trail Parking | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

If this parking area is full, you can park at the visitor center, where there is plenty of parking and then walk to the trailhead either along the Murie Science and Learning Center Trail (on the west side of the road) or on the Denali Bike Trail (on the east side of the road), both of which leave from the visitor center. This will add around 0.5 miles each way to your hike, but will be pretty flat!

Horseshoe Lake Trail Parking | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Want to learn more about Denali National Park? Check out our ultimate guide to Denali National Park, where we share all of the important things you need to know, such as the different areas, where you can and cannot drive, where to stay, and the best things to do in Denali!

Things to know before hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail

Dogs are not allowed

Just like the rest of Denali National Park, dogs are not allowed on this trail. If you’re curious what we do with our dog Kona when we explore the national parks, you can read all of our tips and methods in this blog post. For this hike she just napped in our van, since it was cool enough out to leave her for a bit.


There are no restrooms at the small parking area directly next to the trailhead, so make sure to plan ahead. The visitor center is a short drive and walk away and has plenty of restrooms available!

Is the hike busy?

Being an easier and shorter hike, this trail definitely gets more visitors than some of the harder ones in the first 15 miles of the park, but it’s not too bad! We hiked this trail in the late afternoon and despite the parking being full, we were able to enjoy many parts without anyone else near us. We’d suggest going early or late in the afternoon to beat that midday rush, but there are many areas to explore along the way and find some solitude.

How long does the hike take?

This hike took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes, so it was short and sweet!

What to expect hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

The Horseshoe Lake Trail may seem easy and less exciting on paper, but it makes for a great warm up, cool down, or just relaxing stroll in the park!

The trail starts out with some fun, as you have to cross some train tracks! Be careful crossing these tracks because these are active tracks and a train could come by any minute, which would be really neat to see! 

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

After crossing the tracks you’ll enter the actual trail and hike through the forest, which is a steady downhill hike (you’ll have to go back up this later!), leading to a bench with an overlook of Horseshoe Lake. This is a gorgeous spot and although it does have some trees obstructing the view a bit, you still get a great glimpse of the lake and its beautiful color, which is even more beautiful when the sun hits the water.

From here, you’ll continue your descent down to the lake and will reach a junction. This is where the trail makes a figure 8! We suggest going straight at the first junction, which will have you hike the lake counterclockwise.

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Shortly after the first junction you will reach another junction. At this second junction, go to the left, which takes you to a dead end, where you not only get to admire part of the lake from eye level, but you will also get to see beaver dams! 

Although we didn’t see any beavers, the dams were super impressive! Others have reported seeing beavers though, so keep your eyes open for them!

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

After leaving this offshoot, which makes up the middle of the “figure 8,” you’ll continue back on the trail towards the Nenana River. This part of the hike is very beautiful, as you can walk down to the edge of the river. This part of the river cuts through a canyon and its tall walls are impressive to witness from standing right along the river. 

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

From here, you’ll continue back towards the lake, crossing a bridge over some lake runoff and then walking right alongside the lake. The trail here is pretty narrow, with a mountainside on one side and the lake on the other. This section of the hike is one of the best chances to admire the lake’s blue and green water color up close, as well as see the lake with a mountain backdrop.

Once leaving the lake you’ll walk on a nice boardwalk portion of the trail through the woods and then the uphill climb begins! It may be a short incline, but it’s enough to get your heart pumping. After making it up this hill you’ll cross back over the railroad tracks and make it back to the parking area!

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

When to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail

Denali National Park is technically open year-round, but as you may expect with the park being in Alaska, the park gets a lot of snow (55 inches of snow fell within a 7 day period this past December!) and most of the park is inaccessible for the majority of the year. But since this trail is so close to the beginning of the park, this section of the road is almost always maintained and snow free. 

So with that said, for a snow free experience, we’d suggest visiting between May 20 and September 14, which is when the 43 open miles of the park road will be accessible and the buses will be operating (these exact dates may vary, but those are the 2023 dates). If you’re happy to hike with snow then this is a great trail for snowshoeing. 

By visiting during this timeframe, you’ll be able to experience mostly snow free trails (there may be some lingering snow), go as deep into the park as currently allowed, camp within the park, and take advantage of park amenities, like the visitor center.

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

As for the weather in the summer, temperatures can range from the 30s at night and early in the mornings to the 60s-70s during the hottest part of the day. However, one thing to be aware of is that June-August is the rainy season at Denali National Park, so make sure to be prepared for some rain and even the off chance of some snow. 

Another thing to know is that fall in Alaska starts at the end of August, so if you visit towards the beginning of September, you’ll have a good chance of seeing some fall foliage in the park, which looks stunning!

We visited around June 17-20, 2022 and had one very sunny day, a couple partly sunny days, and a couple cloudy days with the occasional quick rain storms. We encountered very little snow on trails and the crowds also weren’t that bad either!

What to bring to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail

Horseshoe Lake Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you when hiking in Denali National Park!

Hiking shoes

Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots, but still great for the trail. 


You’ll want to have lots of water on you for all of your adventures. We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go.


Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. One minute it feels like a cold, windy winter day and the next the clouds part, the sun is beaming, and it feels like summer. Carrying some layers with you helps you be prepared for a day in Alaska. 

Rain Jacket

Similar to above, it can rain or snow any day of the year so having rain gear is recommended. Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears a Columbia rain jacket

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles can really be helpful. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!

Bear Spray

Denali National Park and Alaska are home to a variety of wildlife, including bears. Specifically, both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.

Although we didn’t see any bears in Denali National Park, you have a good chance of seeing one and carrying bear spray is highly recommended. We always had our bear spray strapped to our hip or chest when we were hiking on trails and even walking along the roadside trail with Kona.

Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar. 

Bug Repellent 

If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Inland Alaska is definitely where they can be the worst and Denali National Park was one of the few areas in Alaska where we noticed mosquitoes. Make sure to bring bug spray with DEET! We also brought a Thermacell for camping and we think it helped some.

Sun Protection

Even though a lot of this hike is in the trees, some areas are completely exposed, so sunscreen and a hat will be very helpful! 


The vastness of Denali National Park is truly remarkable. You’ll be able to see very long distances, so carrying binoculars is a great way to get a closer look! We have the Bushnell H20 Roof Prism binoculars and we love them! 

Ready to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail?

Pin this hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail at Denali National Park guide to help plan your trip!

Hiking the Horseshoe Lake Trail at Denali National Park

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.


affilliate disclosure

This website contains affiliate links from websites such as MileValue.com, Amazon.com, Booking.com, and Rentalcars.com. If you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. We only recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!


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