Man watching sunset Otto Lake

An Ode to Otto Lake

Alaska, Photo Essay

Denali National Park in the summer is a strange place. The sun sets at midnight in the north; the wilderness is invaded by busloads of marauding senior citizens; winter lasts until May; in August the recently green tundra turns a surreal red.

I love Denali, but summers can be taxing. I work long, sometimes stressful hours in the tourism industry and at times clouds can settle in and overstay their welcome like a freeloading family member. There are many great places to escape for some peace and quiet, but one special place for me is Otto Lake near Healy.

Otto Lake sits on the north side of the Outer Range, with no mountains between it and the setting northern sun. Wheras clouds usually cling to the peaks, it is usually clear on the plains meaning that Otto Lake may actually enjoy a sunset while other areas are covered by a bruised sky. These conditions also make it a breeding ground for rainbows as the slanting sun knifes through rainy skies.

Moreover, it is off the main tourist trail and it is never crowded with people. Otto lake is a haven for me.

Below are 10 of my favorite photos I’ve taken over the years, which I publish with some reluctance because others may get the idea to join me at this peaceful place. You are allowed to join me only if you participate in the poll at the bottom and bring snacks.

10 Photos of Otto Lake

Otto Lake with Neutral Density Filter

1. Exploding Clouds over Otto Lake

This is a 2-minute exposure taken with a neutral density filter to blur the clouds. Do you like the effect? It feels like the clouds are exploding on the right.


Rainbow and boat on Otto Lake

2. Rainbow and Fishing Boat

I crawled through some trees to get a good reflection of the rainbow in the water and was surprised to find this fishing boat.


Otto Lake in Autumn

3. Aspens Ablaze

I took this photo in 2007 and haven’t seen the trees this yellow since.


Man watching sunset Otto Lake

4. Pondering the Sunset

A classic Otto Lake sunset. Not a bad place to sit and enjoy life. This was taken at 12:11am on June 22.


Otto Lake Evening

5. Otto Lake Panorama

I like how the sunlight catches the tops of the trees on the right and reflects in the water.


Canoe on Otto Lake

6. Red Canoe

Two people enjoy a perfect summer evening on the lake.


Spring time at Otto Lake

7. Otto Lake in the spring

The setting sun casts a red glow in the peaks above the lake.


Otto Lake in the fall

8. Boulders

Boulders protrude from the lake in the fall. During times of rain these are completely submerged.


Otto Lake Rainbow

9. Otto Lake Rainbow

Classic full rainbow over the lake. The low angle of the sun and propensity for clouds on the mountains leads to many rainbows.


Otto Lake in Autumn

10. Black and White Aspens

Aspen trees line the lakeside making is especially beautiful in the fall.



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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

21 thoughts on “An Ode to Otto Lake”

  1. Absolutely stunning!!! I voted for Exploding Clouds but it was a tough choice. My runner up would be Rainbow and Fishing Boat. My Alaska trip is still several years away, but I hope to join you at Otto Lake!

  2. I wish #4 was me! That looks like a wonderful place to find equilibrium (unless it’s just a photographer making wonderful photos).

    • He didn’t have a camera so I think he was finding equilibrium. Last time I was there 3 raucous youths arrived with alcohol and were shouting and making noise on that pier – they were doing the opposite of finding equilibrium.

  3. Linda Howell says:

    I like Otto Lake because the citizens of Healy have placed free life vests on a rack there beside the picnic table. Never saw that before. I love the people of Healy and Otto Lake.

  4. Jess says:

    Otto Lake is amazing and DOC is like a second home to me. My husband and I were married there too 🙂 Awesome pictures, truly captures the beauty of the place.

  5. Jeff, I vote for Aspens Ablaze because it’s just so stunning, and my runner-up is Rainbow and Fishing Boat with its beautiful composition. You’ve got the eye! You said the tundra turns red in August – do you have a photo of that? ~Terri

  6. Jeff you would expect that a person could pick just one?! Your photography is astounding. I actually picked the boulders which is not at the top for most in yur poll. I found it so creative.

  7. Beautiful pictures! We will be staying at Otto Lake for a couple days in September..hope to get a few good pictures myself! Have you fished Otto Lake? Any good tips? 🙂 We are from upstate New York and live year round in the Adirondack Mts… and understand your comments about the tourism industry completely!

    • I have not fished it but I know it is stocked, likely with trout and grayling. You can rent bikes and canoes from the Denali Outdoor center right on the lake. Black Diamond resort on the lake has excellent food, as well as the 49th State Brewery about 4 miles away.

      Otto Lake is a great place to stay, but make sure and go into the park itself, as I’m sure you plan to do. The Tundra Wilderness Tour or Wonder Lake shuttle are a must!

  8. Wow, your pictures are amazing, and I can tell that you are a good photographer because you just know how to “select” from a big 360 grades view,just the essencial part. Also, you know when is the right time to take that photo and make a beautiful portofolio that make our lives more beutiful and we are able to see places where we can’t go even if we want to. Congratulations!

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