Alaska is a place full of breathtaking sights, clean air, and undeniable beauty. It’s easy to see why artist Sydney Laurence made it his home and never left. A vacation to the last frontier will leave you with an unforgettable experience. In a state over twice the size of Texas, the travel options might seem overwhelming. Alaska has mountain ranges, glaciers, tundra, abundant wildlife, and oh yeah the northern lights. The entire landscape is amazing but you would be missing out if you didn’t visit Byers Lake in Denali State Park. The lake and the surrounding wilderness are a fantastic place to experience nature without busloads of camera-toting, selfie-snapping tourists.
Byers Lake is a dream for campers, kayakers, hikers, and all outdoors enthusiasts. The panorama doesn’t fail to please. Tree-lined-views, crystal clear lake shores, distant mountain ranges, beautiful skies, and Denali (Mount McKinley) cap off the view. Denali Southside River Guides offers kayak and canoe rentals and the lake’s sole boat dock gives you an easy place to launch. Gas powered motors aren’t allowed on the lake, so the peaceful surroundings aren’t disturbed by roaring engines. This is a place where you can commune with nature. Keep reading to learn more about why you need to visit Byers Lake.
Byers Lake Campground
The campground at Byers Lake offers a few amenities. Already mentioned are the canoe and kayak rentals but you can also book a 1/2 day guided kayak tour of the lake with guides experienced in Alaskan wildlife, nature and local living. Consider making the tour a full day and add a raft excursion down the scenic, glacial fed Chulitna River.
There is also firewood for purchase, which can be a welcome addition on cold nights. The amenities aren’t the reason you come to Byers Lake campground, though; you come for scenery, nature and an authentic Alaskan experience. In this respect, the lake delivers. A common misperception is that Alaska is perpetually buried under a blanket of snow, but the greenery of Byers Lake campground is abundant and widespread. The variety of flowers and natural berries around the lake will please most plant lovers.
The park is open year round but summer and fall are the best seasons for greenery and outdoor activity. The campground entrance fee is $5. A negligible trade for the amount of entertainment you can get from this beautiful area. There are 73 campsites to choose from with a $15 fee. Nature feels uninterrupted here, even though there are well-traveled trails around the lake, and the wildlife seems to agree.
The Alaska Veteran’s Memorial
The Alaska Veteran’s Memorial is also located within the Byers Lake Campground. The memorial consists of five 20-foot tall concrete panels, one each to represent the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, arranged in a semi-circle. A statue of two Alaska Territorial Guards, carved by Canadian sculptor George Pratt, great you at the entrance. On each panel is a short history of that branch’s contribution to Alaska.
Public Use Cabins
Whether you are staying with a group of friends, don’t have a tent or other camping gear, or just feel more comfortable inside four walls, Byers Lake Campground has three public use cabins available. The cabins are available for $70 during peak times. Because there are only three, you will need to reserve yours several months in advance.
These are rustic, minimalist cabins in the woods, not ski lodges decked out to look like cabins. Don’t expect a TV and refrigerator, in fact, don’t expect a toilet in these cabins (the toilet is nearby, though!). Each cabin has a wood stove to help manage the cooler weather, sleeping platforms, a food-prep counter, fire ring, and picnic table. As mentioned above, you can rent firewood to burn from the campground host. While all three cabins have slightly different layouts, each max out at six guests and five night stretches. It’s worth noting also that the cabins lack electricity, except cabin three. This cabin is wired and ready, as long as you bring a generator to provide the power.
Byers Lake Cabin #1 (12′ X 16′) Sleeps 6 (maximum 6) with a maximum stay of 5 consecutive nights. Summer access: gravel road for one mile from the highway. Winter access: Park at the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial, milepost 147.1, Parks Highway, and follow the marked winter trail with snow vehicle, skis, dog sled, or on foot. At the bottom of the hill near the lake, take the left-hand fork – total distance is one mile. This hand-crafted, sod-roofed log cabin is a true example of a traditional Alaskan bush cabin.
Byers Lake Cabin #2 (12′ X 16′) Sleeps 6 (maximum 6) with a maximum stay of 5 consecutive nights. Summer access: one-half mile walk from the gate in the campground, or canoe one-half mile from boat launch. Winter access: Park at the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial, milepost 147.1, Parks Highway, and follow the marked winter trail with snow vehicle, skis, dog sled, or on foot. At the bottom of the hill near the lake, take the right-hand fork – total distance is 1.7 mile.
Byers Lake Cabin #3 (14′ X 20′) Sleeps 6 (maximum 6) with a maximum stay of 5 consecutive nights. Summer access: one-half mile walk from the gate in the campground, or canoe one-half mile from boat launch. Winter access: Park at the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial, milepost 147.1, Parks Highway, and follow the marked winter trail with snow vehicle, skis, dog sled, or on foot. At the bottom of the hill near the lake, take the right-hand fork. The Cabin is about 70 yds. south from public cabin #2.
Reservations are not accepted over the phone but can be made online at Reserve America or in person at Public Information Center offices located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau or at the nearest State Park office.
There are plenty of animals besides the five species of salmon in the lake. Wildlife in the area is just that wild, so if you see a bear, please keep your distance. There are 223 different species of animal that live in the Denali State Park area. Birdwatchers rejoice because 169 are species of birds. Of note, you may catch a glimpse of an American classic, the bald eagle. Other birds to watch for include trumpeter swans, loons, mergansers, golden eagles. Aside from the birds, sheep, moose, caribou, black bears, wolves, and grizzly bears all live in Denali State Park. As can be expected, larger animals tend to shy away from human populations, so you are more likely to see varieties of squirrels, foxes, and marmots wandering through the park. Make sure to seal your food at night as bears may wander around the campsites. Whether you’re out for birds, bears, or just the scenery, bring along a pair of binoculars!
You might start off your trip with a hike around the Byers Lake Trail. Plan a little longer than an hour and a half to walk the 5mile length of Byers Lake Trail. The trail is clear but wilder than trails at a more heavily trafficked park. On top of that, there’s a chance you’ll want to stop along the way to take in the beautiful sights or have a picnic.
Byers Lake sits at the foot of the Kesugi Ridge, which means access to excellent hiking via the Kesugi Ridge trail system. If hiking is your thing, the area offers several trails varying in difficulties from easy to hard. Other trailheads close by include Little Coal Creek, Ermine, and Troublesome Creek. Load up your backpack, put on your shoes, and hit the trails!
Byers Lake Campground offers one of the best views of Denali in the entire state. It’s also a perfect launching ground for hiking, canoeing, bird watching, fishing, camping, and so much more. If it’s not love at first sight, you’ll definitely find yourself wishing you could stay forever after a week in the final frontier. There are a few options regarding where you could stay around Denali, but you don’t want to fall into a tourist trap. Byers Lake Campground is a place where you can avoid the crowds and the noise, escape from the outside world, and get close to nature. A visit here is an authentic Alaskan outdoor experience.