Date(s) - September 27, 2023
Eklutna Lake Trail
Nestled amidst the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, Eklutna Lake stands as a pristine haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a remarkable adventure. From the tranquil waters of the lake to the rugged trails that wind through the surrounding mountains, Eklutna Lake offers a myriad of experiences for those who crave an authentic encounter with nature. From camping, biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing or ATV riding, Eklutna Lake is a great place for base camp for your next adventure. It is just about a 45 minute drive North of Anchorage, and you’ll want to be sure it’s is on your list when you are visiting Alaska.
1. Preparing for the Journey
Safety in Alaska: Alaska is a land echoing songs of adventure, but heed it’s melody; it can be unforgiving to the uninitiated. The last frontier demands respect, as remote wilderness and rapidly shifting weather patterns come with the territory. You are traveling in bear country. Be ready to be self-sufficient, especially if you are backpacking or hiking, as you will not have cell service in many places. Be sure to read the safety section in this article, which includes guides on bear encounters and hypothermia.
Gear/Food: Pack essential hiking gear, including bear spray, hiking boots, layered clothing, rain gear, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a first aid kit. Consider bringing a nice camera for capturing photos to document your adventures. Stock up on calorie-packed snacks and sufficient water to keep you hydrated throughout the journey. There aren’t sources of potable water along the trails, but there is water at the campground for guests.
Local Tip: If you are bringing your own kayak/canoe to the lake, It is a strenuous walk to carry a kayak or canoe to the lake, buy a kayak dolly at Wal-Mart or an outdoor sports store and save your back. If you are bringing camping gear across the lake, expect to make multiple trips from parking lot. There are also single and tandem kayaks for rent on site.
Eklutna lake features a campground with 50 campsites, plus 15 overflow sites. There are public restrooms, water, and (2) picnic shelters on site, and it is an ADA facility. There are camping options for both RV’s and tent camping.
If you are looking to go backpacking, consider the far side of the lake, which has several camp sites and hiking trails. Bike in along the Eklutna Lakeside Trail, or paddle in on a kayak/canoe and set up base camp for exploring the Chugach.
Yearning for solace and a break from mosquitos? There are also five public use cabins available for rent. Book early as they get reserved well in advance. See link at the end of article for cabin rentals. For a cabin with easy road access, and public facilities in the campground area, your best bet is the Dolly Varden cabin, in the heart of the campground, or the Rainbow Trout cabin, which offers both convenience and seclusion. For the bold adventurers, you’ll need to pack your bag and hit the trail, or the lake and navigate to your cabin like a true explorer on the far side of the lake. Your choice of transportation is by bike, kayak, ATV or for the most hardy trekkers, by foot.
These cabins are unembellished, and offer merely shelter from the elements. Do not expect any comforts. Bring a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, or you will have a hard night’s sleep. Cozy up to the woodstove, and tell your tales of adventures and conquests, but don’t forget to bring your own wood. Most of the cabins sleep 6 or 8 guests. For those with a large party, consider renting the Serenity Falls cabin, which sleeps 13 guests, but is also the most remote, get ready for an epic 12 mile trek to your base camp. For a really epic adventure, consider going on your adventure in the winter. Cross the lake by ski or snowshoe and warm up with a woodfire in the cabin. Bring a book, a jetboil for some hot tea/coffee and enjoy the serene winter landscape.
3. Hiking Options
Eklutna Lake offers a variety of trails catering to different levels of hikers and photographers. Consider these popular options:
– Thunderbird Falls Trail: If you’re looking for the easiest hike, this trail is a great option. The path winds through lush forested areas and leads to the impressive Thunderbird Falls, providing opportunities for nature and waterfall photography. The trailhead for this hike is near the exit of the highway, not going down Eklutna Lake road, (which is a ten mile drive to the lake).
-Eklutna Lakeside Trail: If you are looking for an easy hike, but want to see the lake, this is it. It is flat, but long. To do the length of the trail, consider renting a gravel/mountain bike. The trail is 12.9 miles one way, following the shore of Eklutna Lake and then continues along the river to moraines of Eklutna Glacier. Photography opportunities are abundant along the way.
– Twin Peaks Trail: This 2.6 mile hike is challenging, but provides panoramic views of Eklutna Lake and the surrounding mountains. The summit rewards you with a breathtaking 360-degree vista, perfect for landscape photography.
– Bold Ridge Trail: This 4.2 mile hike has an elevation gain of 3,600ft and is for experienced hikers. Towards the top, the trail is less developed, be ready for hiking over loose rock. Along the trail offers stunning alpine scenery and is particularly enchanting during the fall foliage season. Capture the vibrant colors of autumn against the backdrop of the lake and mountains.
Local Tip: Around the lake, there are some small streams to cross. If you have water shoes, bring them, or simply bring an extra pair of shoes and socks.
Eklutna lake is a great location for not only hiking, but biking, kayaking/paddleboarding, fishing, horseback riding, ATV’s and even snowmachines in the winter. ATV’s are allowed from Sunday through Wednesday between April 1st and November 30th only. Snowmachines allowed when adequate snow coverage. Dirt bikes are prohibited, as are motorized boats. Fish for Dolly Varden char, which will hit spinners and flies, near stream mouths.
***If you are planning to go out on the lake, make sure to bring a life jacket/personal flotation device (PFD), or get one on-site. Eklutna Lake is fed by glacier, it is very cold, and if you fall in the lake, hypothermia is a danger. The lake also can have a strong current and cause whitecaps. This is a lake that commands serious respect. The valley can produce a consistent wind, especially mid-day. I once was rowing a canoe packed full of gear solo, and fought the wind for 7 hours before having to bring it to shore and walk back. The northern shore has the trail alongside.
Prioritize safety throughout your adventure. Alaska’s wilderness can be unpredictable, so inform someone about your plans, be aware that weather conditions change quickly in Alaska, and adjust your itinerary accordingly. Pack ample food and water, and always pack clothing for cold, rainy and windy weather. Always pack ready for cold, rainy and windy weather. Be prepared for worst case scenarios and stay calm in emergencies.
Maps and Navigation: See link below for a downloadable PDF map of Eklutna Lake. Highly recommended to download the PDF map to your phone. Familiarize yourself with the route and have a reliable compass or GPS device to prevent getting lost. The lake provides a good reference for knowing where you are.
In conclusion, Eklutna Lake in Alaska offers an opportunity for any adventurer to immerse themselves in the heart of nature’s grandeur. With proper preparation, the right equipment, and a spirit of exploration, adventure awaits.
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Directions: From Anchorage, drive North on Glenn Highway (about 40 minutes from downtown) and take the Eklutna Lake exit at Mile 26 on Glenn Highway, and follow park signs ten miles to Eklutna Lake. The road has little or no shoulder room, be alert while driving.
Helpful online resources for your trip:
Safety and Info:
- How to travel in bear country: Bear Safety Guide
- Avoid hypothermia: Avoid Hypothermia
- Eklutna Lake map, trail information and park rules: Downloadable PDF File with Map & Info
- Weather forecast at Eklutna Lake: Weather at Eklutna Lake
- Public-use Cabin Rentals: Cabin Rentals
- Kayak & Bicycle Rentals, as well as guided trips: Tours and Gear Rentals
- Annual parking pass (or pay $5 per day on-site) dnr.alaska.gov/parks/passes
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