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Alaska Guide | Interior Hiking | Travel Alaska

Map of trails at the Denali National Park Main Entrance Visitor Center. Note that the Taiga Loop and Horseshoe Loop trails are displaying total round-trip distance, all other trails are point-to-point. map disclaimer

Overview

Denali National Park is renowned for being a mostly trailless wilderness area. The few established trails are typically centered around a few popular rest areas and two Visitor Centers. The Denali Visitor Center at the Park Entrance has the highest concentration of maintained trails in the park. There is also something for everyone here, from short ADA accessible nature walks, to a very steep, rocky path with lots of elevation gain and

I’ve divided this guide into three sections. The first section covers trails south of the Park Road, all leaving from the back of the Visitor Center. The second section covers the longer, often narrower and steeper trails on the north side of the Park Road. The third is the Horseshoe Lake Trail, a bit closer to the Park Entrance. The Healy Overlook Trail (red and yellow on the map) is a separate guide (click the link).

Most of the trails here can be hiked year-round, and in the winter the National Park Service rents snowshoes at the Murie Science Center. There are a few connector trails and a short bike path that I don’t cover here, but you can find info on the at the National Park Service Website.

There’s always a good chance to see wildlife along the Entrance Trails. I frequently see snowshoe hares, arctic ground squirrels, and moose. You may even see black or brown bears and lynx in the area.

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South of Park Road

The southern trails all leave from the same point at the back of the Visitor Center and are a bit interpretive. I find the naming scheme for the trails a bit confusing based on where each trail starts or ends. This is largely true of the McKinley Station Trail which seems to make a partial loop and also head off to the Riley Creek Campground.

The table below lists a few of the trails. These are all point-to-point trails; I’ll describe how to make three good loops from them.

Trail NameDistanceDescription
McKinley Station Trail0.9 Miles one-wayThis is a confusingly named trail. It seems to do large, almost loop from the Visitor Center, but also head off to Riley Creek. You’ll hike part of it for all hikes listed here.
Morino Trail0.2 Miles one-wayReally a “connector” trail between two sections of the McKinley Station Trail. Allows to make the hike more of a loop than an out-and-back
Spruce Forest Trail0.15 Miles one-wayAnother “connector” trail allowing to make a short loop.

McKinley Station Trail and Spruce Forest Trail Loop

This is approximately a 0.3-mile loop with minimal elevation change. It’s not technically listed as ADA accessible, but it is a very hard-packed gravel and wide path. I think most wheelchairs would handle this fine. From the back (south side) of the Denali Visitor Center follow the path south. At the 4-way junction about 100 feet from the Visitor Center, stay straight to walk this loop counterclockwise. This early section of trail travels through boreal forest of stunted spruce.

Section of the McKinley Station Trail (part of loop with Spruce Forest Trail), one of the Denali National Park Entrance Trails
Section of the McKinley Station Trail (part of loop with Spruce Forest Trail)

McKinley Station Trail and Morino Trail Loop

This is the “medium” distance 0.7-mile loop adding on to the previous McKinley Station Trail and Spruce Forest Trail Loop. The elevation change here is also negligible but takes you through an area with some larger trees and beautiful wildflowers June-August.

The following description also goes counterclockwise.

Begin McKinley Station Trail the same as the previous loop description. Instead of turning back north on the Spruce Forest Trail, stay straight until you come to another junction in about 100 ft. Turn right along the Morino Trail. You will come to a three-way junction with the McKinley Station Trail to the right, stay straight here until you come to a T-intersection (also the McKinley Station Trail, I told you the naming scheme here is confusing). Turn left on the McKinley Station Trail and then take the Spruce Forest Trail to return to the Visitor Center.

Twinflowers blooming in Denali National Park
Twinflower along the Morino Trail loop

McKinley Station Big Loop

The largest of these three loops is approximately 1.3 miles and has about 200 feet of elevation gain. It is still an easy, wide trail, but most of the elevation gain occurs in a short distance, so it is moderately steep. Sorry to break the pattern of counter-clockwise loops, but this one is easier to follow making a figure-8.

Like the other descriptions, follow the McKinley Station Trail south of the Visitor Center, staying straight at the first 4-way intersection. Remain on this trail instead of taking the Morino Trail (you’ll take it on the return). After passing the other “connector” trail to the Morino, you’ll begin the descent on the McKinley Station Trail to Hines Creek. At the creek, there is an intersection with the Triple Lakes Trail (guide forthcoming). You’ll turn right, staying on the McKinley Station Trail. (Turning left is also the McKinley Station Trail, leading to Riley Creek Campground – description and map here is omitted)

Hines Creek along the McKinley Station Trail
Hines Creek

Numerous small paths lead down to the creek, some with some nice spots to sit and maybe have a snack by the water. The trail turns north away from the creek, and you’ll begin the short climb back up. Turn left at the junction with the Morino Trail and then left again when you return to the McKinley Station Trail. Like the previous two descriptions, take the Spruce Forest Trail back to the Visitor Center for some different scenery.

North of the Park Road

The trails north of the Park Road are narrower and steeper than the trails to the south. Each trail is also described as point-to-point, but there are also three popular loops that can be made from them.

Trail NameDistanceDescription
Taiga Loop Trail1.4 miles r/tBeautiful loop trail through the forest near streams and only moderate elevation gain (200 ft).
Rock Creek Trail2.0 miles one-wayBegins from the Taiga Trail near the road and climbs through forest to the Park Headquarters and dog kennels. Great views of the Healy Overlook. Can make a 2.2 mile loop with the Roadside Trail.
Meadow View Trail0.3 miles one-wayConnector trail that can make for a 1.7-mile loop with 310 ft of elevation gain with the Rock Creek and Roadside Trails. Great views overlooking meadows near the Visitor Center.
Roadside Trail2.0 miles one-wayTrail that parallels the road through boreal forest to the Park Headquarters and dog kennels.

Taiga Trail (loop)

Denali National Park Entrance Trails (taiga trail)
The very well maintained Taiga Trail

The Taiga Trail is the shortest loop hike available on the Denali National Park Entrance Trails north of the road. The trail is 1.4 miles with about 200 ft. of elevation gain.

Beginning at the main Visitor Center parking lot, walk to the west end of the outermost parking area. There is a pedestrian crossing sign to get across the road and start on the Taiga Trail. Stay right at the first trail junction and wander through some interesting short alder trees. The trail veers right with the Healy Overlook Trail after about 0.2 miles.

After crossing a service road, the trail turns to the right, leaving the Healy Overlook Trail. The next junction you come to is the Murie Science and Learning Center Trail.

Here the Taiga Trail only continues for about 100 feet before joining the Horseshoe Lake Trail, but I suggest turning right on the Murie Science and Learning Center Trail. This way, you don’t have to return along the road. Along this trail, you’ll descend to and cross a small stream before climbing back up and wandering through some more forest to the Murie Science Center. Just past the Science Center are the road and Parking lot.

Rock Creek to Meadow View to Roadside

This loop is slightly longer than the Taiga Trail, and in my opinion is much prettier. The loop is 1.7 miles with 310 ft. of elevation gain, and has a few steep ups and downs.

The view from the Meadow View Trail. Can you spot the moose?
The view from the Meadow View Trail. Can you spot the moose?

This trail starts the same as the Taiga Trail. Cross the road at the parking area, and stay right at the first junction. Stay straight on the Rock Creek Trail at the second junction where the Taiga Loop and Healy Overlook diverge.

At a sharp bend in the Rock Creek Trail, the Meadow View (kind of) continues straight (it should be well marked). There are a few benches along this trail to have lunch or catch your breath. Take some time to look for wildlife in the meadows below!

After 0.3 miles, turn left at the next junction with the Roadside Trail which will bring you back to the parking lot. I often see lots of snowshoe hares along this stretch.

Snowshoe hare spotted along the Roadside Trail in February
Snowshoe hare spotted along the Roadside Trail in February | Purchase Print

Rock Creek and Roadside Trail Loops (With Extension To Dog Kennels)

The Rock Creek and Roadside Loop is 4.0 miles long with 760 ft of elevation gain. It’s only another 0.2 miles to the dog kennels and if they are open, I highly recommend stopping by.

Begin this hike exactly as the other two, staying on the Rock Creek Trail, passing Meadow View. (You can hike a short way out Meadow View to the overlooks as a side-trip). After 2 miles you’ll hit the junction with the Roadside Trail. Turn right and cross the road to get to the kennels, otherwise, turning left returns to the Visitor Center (2.0 miles).

View of the Healy Overlook from the Rock Creek Trail
View of the Healy Overlook from the Rock Creek Trail

Horseshoe Lake Trail

Horseshoe Lake from the trail above
Horseshoe Lake from the trail above

Horseshoe Lake is tucked away from much of the other entrance trails and surprisingly pretty. The lake is a great place to see beavers, we say 4 up close in one night! It’s about two miles, part loop, part out-and-back with 315 feet of elevation gain.

It’s easiest to park at the Railroad Tracks to the east of the main Visitor Center. This is where the trailhead is. Walk north along the railroad tracks for about 250 ft (careful, it is an active railroad). The trail turns right into the woods, continuing north and then east and descends through the forest.

Reflections on Horseshoe Lake
Reflections on Horseshoe Lake | Purchase Print

There is a junction at the bottom of the hill, and you can continue straight or turn right to complete the loop around the lake. The trail takes you past cliffsides, beaver lodges, and multiple beaver dams, as well as the Nenana River. A short trail extension on the east side of the loop brings you to a close look at one of the beaver dams. Once completing the loop, return the way you came.

Young Beaver on the Lake
Young Beaver on the Lake | Purchase Print

Thanks for reading! If you have interesting experiences on these trails feel free to comment below. Please subscribe for updates and new guides!

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