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Hike to Eagle & Symphony Lakes

Fall Colors Along the River

(Symphony Lake)
Why This Hike:
This hike through the South Fork Valley offers stunning views of Eagle and Symphony Lakes, tarns and valleys surrounded by rugged, glaciated mountains. During September and early October (until the first snowfall) you will have the added bonus of vibrant fall colors. This trail is considered easy and can usually be hiked well into winter depending on snow conditions. 

Directions to the trailhead: Take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Road exit off the Glenn Highway just past the weigh station. Turn right at the traffic light onto Hiland and continue about eight miles up the road. Take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive and take another right. The parking lot is on your left. 

 South Fork Valley Trailhead: Google Driving Directions 

(Eagle Lake & boulder field in the foreground) 

The Nitty-Gritty:
The trail to Eagle and Symphony Lakes starts from the South Fork parking lot. It has become  extremely popular and the parking lot fills quickly even on weekdays, so get there early. A daily parking fee or DNR parking pass is now required. Go here for AK State Park Fees - Parking Fees

Significant improvements have been made to the first 2.5 miles of this trail which traverses the right side of the valley and gradually climbs about 400 feet for about two miles. At that point the hiker will see a fork where the trail (to the lakes) goes left and descends 200 feet to a bridge that crosses the river. It then climbs several hundred feet from the river and continues without any notable elevation gain/loss to Eagle Lake at the end of the valley. This section of the trail follows an old jeep road (now unrecognizable due to revegetation) which can be wet and muddy so waterproof footwear is recommended.

In about 5 miles (from the trailhead) you will come to a second bridge near Eagle Lake that crosses the Southfork and exits to the boulder field. After you cross this bridge veer to the right and look for a very faint path across the boulder field. This "trail" can be challenging to follow but if the hiker can stay on it, it will save you some boulder-hopping. If you lose the trail, look for cairns that may help with navigation. The trail across the boulder field becomes more distinct as it nears Symphony Lake which is about .8 mile from the bridge (according to my GPS.) So it's about 10 miles roundtrip (RT) to Eagle Lake and a little less than 12 miles RT if you go all the way to Symphony Lake. There is some camping around Symphony Lake if you want to make this a multi-day trip and explore the surrounding area.

Local Trivia:
The "octagon" structure located between Eagle and Symphony Lakes was reportedly built by a homesteader. The trail from the first bridge to the lakes was originally a jeep trail.
The "Loop Route" back to the South Fork Parking Lot:
It is possible to hike the Ship Creek ridge back to the South Fork parking lot (Loop Route) but you will need good weather, time and navigation skills. Go here for details on this hike  - Eagle & Symphony Lakes Loop Route.

Eagle Lake