The Eagle & Symphony Lakes Hike Near Eagle River, Alaska
Updated January 2021, The Eagle & Symphony Lakes Hike Near Eagle River, Alaska was originally published in August 2015
Two gorgeous lakes of different colors sit nestled, side by side in the mountains of Chugach State Park, just a short drive over from Eagle River, Alaska. This is definitely my favorite hike within close proximity to my home, and is long, at roughly 12 miles round trip, but isn’t too strenuous in my opinion.
The lakes are a part of the massive Chugach State Park, and there are several other side hikes that can be done from this trail.
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Why Are Eagle & Symphony Lakes Different Colors?
An interesting feature of these two lakes, especially if you continue hiking to the far side and up the hill, is that upon viewing them side by side, the lakes are two completely different colors.
Eagle Lake is an opaque seafoam green, while Symphony Lake next door is almost a Caribbean shade of turquoise. The reason for the difference? The lakes have different water sources.
Eagle Lake is fed by Flute Glacier, which is located further back (accessible via Eagle Canyon), southeast of Eagle Lake. Being glacially-fed gives Eagle Lake that opaque milky seafoam green appearance due to the silt and glacial runoff.
Symphony Lake is fed by runoff from snow and precipitation in the valley, which is why it’s a clearer blue when viewed from above.
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The Eagle & Symphony Lakes Hike
The start of the hike is fairly easy, and it’s not very steep. It follows a path through the trees, climbing up a hill, and then flattens off and turns east.
This whole first section down to the bridge is perfect for berry picking in August and September.
There are some ups and downs along the trail, but overall this section is fairly flat.
Eventually, the trail does descend down by the river, and roughly two miles in you’ll cross a small wooden bridge over the South Fork of Eagle River.
The trail meanders a bit before climbing up a hill and shortly after you’ll reach the split for Hanging Valley an option hike). The trail follows the river along its northern edge to eventually pass a runoff pond and then arrives at another small bridge that crosses the South Fork of Eagle River again to arrive at a boulder field.
The boulder field is my least favorite part of the hike, but it’s the indicator that you’re almost to the lakes! There are cairns stacked up to try and indicated a path, but it’s really just a dirty free for all getting across the boulders (be careful as it’s easy to lose balance and fall here).
You’ll, of course, reach Eagle Lake first as it’s longer. There are some nice spots you could set up for a picnic along it.
Eventually, you will exit the boulder field, and views of Symphony Lake will come to view. Continuing back further you’ll be on a wide isthmus that separates the two lakes. Near the start of the isthmus, you’ll reach a hexagon-shaped structure that is perfect if you’re looking for a spot to shelter from the wind or rain.
If you continue to the opposite (far side) of the lakes you can climb up the hill dead in front of you for amazing aerial views over both lakes.
Other Hikes That Tie In
The Hanging Valley is a gorgeous side hike, if you will, that veers off the main trail.
Beyond the first bridge where you cross South Fork Eagle River, the trail climbs up again and eventually turns a bit towards the mountains along the north side of the valley. Around here you will find the start of the Hanging Valley hike. The Hanging Valley is lush and green and home to several little tarns.
Starting from the end of Hiland Road this trek goes straight up to the summit of Harp Mountain offering beautiful aerial views of Eagle and Symphony Lakes, and the Hanging Valley.
You can actually access Rendezvous Peak from the South Fork Eagle River Trail, from Arctic Valley, or as a traverse between the two. The split for the Rendezvous Peak Trail is signposted along the South Fork Trail.
Hunter Pass is accessed from the main South Fork Eagle River Trail. A short distance in you’ll reach the signpost for Hunter Pass. Follow the trail up to the pass where you can continue onto the South Fork Ridgeline immediately to the south of the trailhead parking lot.
Continuing beyond Eagle Lake you’ll enter into Eagle Canyon, having to crisscross the stream at times. Eventually, you’ll reach a waterfall and from there you’ll want to continue up the left side of the waterfall to access Flute Glacier.
Camping At Eagle & Symphony Lakes
As Eagle & Symphony Lakes are located within Chugach State Park camping is permitted. You cannot have an open campfire (small camp stoves are okay for cooking). The best places to camp, in my opinion, are on the far sides of Eagle and Symphony Lakes, and up in the Hanging Valley. I would recommend packing a bear vault to store food and any scented items in.
Getting To The South Fork Eagle River Trailhead
From the Glenn Highway, you’ll take the Hiland Road Exit and at the stoplight, you’ll turn onto Hiland Road. You’ll follow Hiland Road back into the valley, eventually turning right onto South Creek Road, and then another right onto West Creek Drive to reach the South Fork Trailhead parking lot. There is an outhouse at the trailhead parking lot.
The biggest danger out here are bears and moose. I have seen countless moose in the Hanging Valley, and bear sightings are quite common as this is very much bear country. I’d recommend carrying at least a can of bear spray with you in the event you have a run in.
People have been attacked and even killed by bears in the general vicinity of Eagle River. If you want to read up more on what to do around bears and how to avoid encounters, click here.
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