Hiking the Oxbow Trail in Denali National Park

The Oxbow Trail in Denali National Park is a hidden gem that has recently been rebuilt by the park service and is in fantastic condition. This is an ideal hike for all ages and ability levels and anyone who wants to get out for a hike in Denali.

There are no views of Mt Denali here, but there are views of other mountains and the beautiful Nenana River. The highlight of this hike is how peaceful it is and the taiga forest that is a signature of Denali National Park. There are lots of blueberries here too in August!

Denali National Park does not have many marked and maintained trails, so this is a wonderful opportunity to hike on a trail that is smooth, flat and goes around a loop, walking distance from Denali Park Village.

I spent quite a bit of time in the area during the season as a tour director, and this trail along with nearby Triple Lakes are my go to hikes when I can talk a coworker into going with me.

The Oxbow Trail is a 1.6 mile loop from the new and soon to be opened (expected 2024) parking area (2.8. miles round trip from the Denali Park Village lobby) with minimal elevation gain.

The Oxbow Trail is the homeland of the Athabascan People of Interior Alaska.

Parking Pass: None

Dog Friendly: No. Dogs are not allowed on most trails in Denali National Park.

Cell phone coverage: Decent. Most of the trail has at least a couple of bars with most carriers (roaming if you are visiting Alaska). My phone has enough for texts but not data or calls.

Restrooms: None currently, however there are pit toilets being built that should be operational for the 2024 season in the new parking lot. There are restrooms at nearby Denali Park Village.

Accessibility and Mobility: One of the most fantastic things about this trail is that it does not have any barriers, rocks or roots. The trail is mostly wide and mostly flat, except for the first 50 feet. At the back of the loop there is a section of trail that is slightly narrower, but still wider than a typical trail. At the time of this writing, there is an uncomfortable walk along the highway required to get to the trail, but a new beautiful trailhead parking area is almost complete so this should be solved by the 2024 season.

A close up of two blueberries on a green blueberry bush, with out of focus vegetation in the background
Blueberry bushes are a highlight on the Oxbow Trail in August

Where is the Oxbow Trail?

The Oxbow Trail is located in Denali National Park, about a 15 minute drive from the main entrance area. At the time of this writing, a new parking area is being built that is expected to open in 2024. The new trailhead is just north of the Nenana River and the Denali Park Village Lodge. Currently, you have to park at Denali Park Village and walk along the highway to reach the trailhead.

When is the best time to hike the Oxbow Trail?

This is a great hike during the summer season from June through mid September. Bugs can be absolutely brutal in early summer. August is my favorite time for this trail because of the many blueberries along the way. Late season has fewer bugs.

Bear Safety on the Oxbow Trail

Bears are present in the area and while I have not seen a bear on the trail, plenty of others have. I only do this hike with at least one other person and preferably two and I recommend you do not hike it alone either.

If you have bear spray, that’s a good thing to bring, but if you don’t have it, making noise and being in a group is ok. Also, make sure to NEVER run from a bear and follow the park service’s bear safety guidelines.

Trail Description

If you are staying at Denali Park Village, you’ll start by going up to the highway and walking across the bridge over the Nenana River. This part is not fun, traffic flies by and it’s not comfortable. Walk single file and keep moving until you reach the other side.

For those driving to the trailhead, or stopping to stretch their legs while driving the Parks Highway, a new parking lot is almost ready at the time of this writing and should be ready by 2024. This parking area will eliminate the need to walk along the road (currently the temporary trailhead is at Denali Park Village).

A map of the Oxbow Trail and the Triple Lakes Trail in Denali National Park
The sign at the new trailhead showing the Oxbow Trail and the Triple Lakes trail

Once you get to the trail, you’ll gently descend a couple of switchbacks into the forest.

The recent trailwork by the park service is impressive. It’s a wide, smooth trail winding through the forest and along the Nenana River.

In a very short distance (less than half a mile) you’ll come to an overlook of the river with a beautiful new bench and railing.

A glacial river flowing through the forest with distant mountains on an overcast day from the Oxbow Trail in Denali National park
The beautiful Nenana River and distant mountains along the Oxbow Trail

To continue the loop, you can go in either direction. I like to go to the right first. You’ll be walking through the Taiga forest and blueberry and cranberry bushes and then along the river at the back of the loop.

There is also a signed short cut if you want to shorten your hike. Continue around the loop until you get back to your starting point near the parking area.

Extending your hike

If you’d like to get more miles or more climbing in, head over to the Triple Lakes Trail (follow the signs to get on the Triple Lakes trail from the start of the Oxbow Trail.

The Triple Lakes Trail goes all the way to the Denali National Park Visitor Center in about 10 miles. That’s a long hike, and one way! You can add on just a hike to the first lake, which adds 2.5 miles onto your hike.

Where to stop after your Oxbow Trail hike

You absolutely must go to the bright orange thai food truck in the parking lot at the Grizzly Bear store, near where you park now and very close to the new parking lot opening in 2024. This is the best food deal in Denali! $20 gets you plenty of food for two people.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!