Copper River Record November 2016
By Robin Mayo
Technically, the Tangle Lakes area is not really the Copper River Basin, but since so many of us love to hunt, fish, pick berries, and explore in this area, I couldn’t resist including a hike. The first few miles of the Denali Highway from Paxson are still in the Copper River Watershed, but the Lower Tangle Lakes drain into the Delta River and therefore this hike is actually in the Yukon River Watershed. A little further out the road, the McClaren River flows to the Susitna and on down to Cook Inlet. So you can experience the headwaters of three great Alaskan rivers in just a few miles. No wonder it feels like the top o’ the world up there!
Many trails leave the Denali Highway in this area, and you can have your choice depending on your mode of transport. Hikers are forewarned though, many of the trails frequented by off-road vehicles feature a lot of mud!
A favorite quick Tangle Lakes hike takes off from the BLM Campground, 21.5 miles from Paxson on the Denali Highway. Take the spur road from the highway towards the campground, then look for the trailhead on the left as you enter the campground. The well-developed trail traverses up the ridge, revealing awesome views of Tangle Lakes and River. At the top of the ridge the route gets somewhat less defined, branching out. This gives you the perfect chance to explore the network of open ridges. On a recent berry-picking foray we found not only fantastic blueberries and lingonberries, but also bearberries, crowberries, timber berries, and nagoon berries.
On one of the larger open patches at the top of an old glacial moraine, someone has arranged loose stones into a spiral maze. Normally I’m not a fan of finding signs of human intervention in an otherwise pristine place, but this spot feels magical enough that it works. We were feeling fanciful late one evening and tried a slow walk to the center of the spiral, hoping it would transport us through time. We were miraculously transported to the future, about 2 minutes from when we began! The exercise did spark a great conversation about when in history we’d like to visit. My choice: ride the Copper River and Northwestern Railway in the 1920s.
Taking care to keep your sense of direction, you can continue to explore almost indefinitely from this spot. Since you are in the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District, keep an eye out for signs of long-ago hunters, and please be respectful of anything you find. I guess the time travelling really does work, because this area always fills me with a feeling of peace and connection to those who came before us.
This trail never fails to reward you with panoramic views. Lauren Vos photo
Exploring a spiral maze at the top of the Tangles Ridge Trail. Lauren Vos Photo
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.