South Fork Trail – Eagle and Symphony Lakes
Eagle and Symphony Lakes are too spectacular to miss. We cannot recommend this hike more highly. Whether you would like a good long day hike or a day in/day out backpack trip, this trail provides everything to make your friends back home green with envy. The two pristine lakes are surrounded by enormous peaks; Hurdygurdy Mountain, Eagle Peak, Polar Bear Peak, Organ Mountain, Calliope Mountain and Cantana Peak. Be sure to bring your camera and plenty of film!
To find the trailhead, take the Glenn Highway out of Anchorage northbound. Exit the Glenn on Hiland Road. At the first stoplight take a right and follow the Hiland signs all the way to almost the very end of Hiland Road. Look for the brown sign reading “South Fork Access” and take a right on South River Road. Almost immediately on the left there is a small parking lot at the trailhead. There is no fee to use the parking lot and trail, and there are also no facilities or water, other than what nature provides.
I rate this backpacking trip as easy, since it is relatively flat compared to other trails in the area. Most of the altitude gain is accomplished by driving up to the trailhead. The trail is also well maintained. Total distance to the lakes is about seven miles. The trail begins with a sharp climb up. Board bridges have been placed over the wet marshy regions. A quick gain in elevation brings you to a fork on the trail. Continue up and you will quickly reach the top of the hill. Keep walking up and over and you will be treated to a gorgeous view of Arctic Valley and the Chugach Mountains. However, don’t use all your energy on this assent. The real goal is taking the trail to the left at the fork. This is South Fork Trail.
The trail will continue to gradually gain elevation until
you are just above tree line, and then will remain level until dropping down to a bridge across the South Fork of Eagle
River at about the two and a half mile mark. The water in this part of
the river is so amazingly clear you can easily see the bottom.
Although there is always a danger of contracting waterborne illness,
Claimjumper and I have refilled our water bottles here and had no problem.
Having a filter is a good idea, however.
The trail will continue to gradually gain elevation until you are just above tree line, and then will remain level until dropping down to a bridge across the South Fork of Eagle River at about the two and a half mile mark. The water in this part of the river is so amazingly clear you can easily see the bottom. Although there is always a danger of contracting waterborne illness, Claimjumper and I have refilled our water bottles here and had no problem. Having a filter is a good idea, however.
For the remainder of the hike you will gain elevation quite
slowly, staying fairly low in the valley. You
will find yourself surrounded by mountains.
The only motor noise you will hear back here is the faint buzz of an
airplane now and then. But this is
At the five mile point you will pass by a huge table rock. The second time we hiked this trail, we camped on top of the rock. There are a lot of mosquitoes near the lake, which makes camping extremely unpleasant. Claimjumper, Emily and I pitched our tents on top of the rock, while Mountainman decided he wanted the softer tundra behind the rock for his bed. There is room on the rock to pitch up to three two-person tents. We recommend leaving your backpack gear here and making the rest of the trek pack-free..
The final portion of the hike can be treacherous. You will be climbing through a boulder field and will have to stretch, hop and maintain steady balance as you work through it. Piles of rock, obviously human-made, mark the trail through the boulder field. If you follow the rock pile markers, you spend the least amount of time in the treacherous boulder field.
On the other side of the boulder field you will see the two lakes. Eagle Lake is to your left and Symphony to your right. There are a hand full of places to camp along the lakes, and mosquitoes control most of the region. On our first trip to the lakes we chose a place along side of Eagle Lake. As we descended a hill toward the campsite we brushed along the bushes stirring up the mosquitoes. They began to rise and their buzz became louder and louder. We set our personal best record pitching the tent and made a mad dash for shelter. Our packs and food outside, we were helplessly stuck in the tent for the rest of the evening as swarms of mosquitoes turned the cloudless sky black. It was like a scene from a horror movie.
By morning the mosquitoes had settled back into their bushes. We swiftly broke camp and headed for higher ground away from the lake. There is a saddle between Eagle and Symphony Lakes where one can look down into both. At the far end of the saddle there are a few camping spots that were relatively bug free. If we were to camp here at the lakes again, we would choose one of these sites for sure.
There are no facilities out here, so either you must bring in enough water, or draw some from the river. We recommend drawing from where the water is moving if you do not have a filter. This reduces your chance of drinking Giardia or Triptho-sporidica. Also, the incubation period for these diseases is five days so if you have to drink from the river, you will likely be back to civilization should you contract either of these. Both are curable but will leave you feeling bad enough to wish you were dead. So by all means, bring a filter or water purification pills.
Keep in mind that the sun will also likely be out the entire time you are on this adventure. The sun stays up pretty much the entire night during the summer months. Even though it does not feel as intense, it can still burn skin quite badly. Be sure to use plenty of sunscreen wherever you hike.
Wildlife is plentiful. We spotted sheep, mountain goats and groundhogs on our visit. Bears also frequent this area, so be sure to pack your food in smell proof containers and eat away from where you intend to camp. Also, never bring food or other good smelling things (soap, toothpaste) into the tent. The bears may smell it and tear your tent apart to get at what they think is easy food.
Last Visited: May 2003