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Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

National Parks: Denali

Denali isnít just for experts. These guinea pigs will prove it. Probably.

by: Ted Alvarez

Crystal Creek Basin (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
Crystal Creek Basin (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
Descending to the Thorofare River (Photo by Elissa Alvarez)
Descending to the Thorofare River (Photo by Elissa Alvarez)
Cozy camp in a sheltered spot (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
Cozy camp in a sheltered spot (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
Crossing the Thorofare River (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
Crossing the Thorofare River (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
View from 4,724-foot Contact Pass (Photo by Ted Alvarez)
View from 4,724-foot Contact Pass (Photo by Ted Alvarez)


Do it From Grassy Pass (1), bushwhack to a ford of the Thorofare River (depth varies with weather and season) at mile .4 (2). Reach Glacier Creek and head 1.1 miles south to a canyon (3) in the Muldrow Glacier. Climb 150 feet southeast to a tundra bench adjoining Mt. Eielson (4). Weave through blueberry patches for two miles, then drop to cross Intermittent (5) and Crystal Creeks (clear-water streams: tank up), then ford calf-deep Glacier Creek above its confluence with Crystal Creek at mile 4.8 (6). Hug the gravel pathways next to the Muldrow until the streambed widens into a braided gravel bar at mile 6.6 (7); expect multiple crossings over the next 2.6 miles. Scout for a flat campsite near a tumbling creek at mile 8.1 (8). Dayhike on day two 5.7 miles (one-way) to Anderson Pass (9). Next day, follow Glacier Creek north to Crystal Creek at mile 22.4 (10); follow it about a mile until Wolverine Creek veers left of a tundra bench (11). Next up: a 3.3-mile, 1,174-foot climb to 4,724-foot Contact Pass (12). Then drop a steep mile along Contact Creek to campable ground (13). On your final day, follow the Thorofare River drainage 2.1 miles, scouting places to ford, before the river cuts west at mile 29.6 (14). Here, ascend a marshy bench, pass a lake at mile 30.5, then ford Gorge Creek at mile 31.7 (15). Close the trip on a 653-foot climb on a user trail leading to the Eielson Visitor Center (16).

Bus stop Hop the Camper Bus ($32, 800-622-7275 for times) across from the Denali National Park Visitor Center (reserve in advance at Ask the driver to drop you at Grassy Pass, two miles past the Eielson Visitor Center, a four-hour ride from the park entrance.

Gear Pack old sneakers for river crossings; trekking poles; bomber raingear; bear spray; deet and headnets. Get free bear canisters at the permit office.

Season September has fewer people, plentiful remnant berries, and typically lower river flows, but it comes with the risk of weathering the first winter storm.

Permits Free; pick up at the backcountry office the day of your trip or one day prior.

Maps $8 each at the backcountry office

Contact (907) 683-2294,

Trip data

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Eric Troyer
Oct 14, 2012

"The park has only had 23 bear-caused human injuries in its 94-year existenceónone fatal." Unfortunately, that last part is not true. First fatality was recorded this August. See this article:

Otherwise, the answer is spot on.

Al Dargiel
Feb 13, 2012

Catching up on reading magazines piled up at home. Read this article five months after returning from our 10 day trip to Alaska which included Denali NP and stopping at Eielson Visitor Center. Gives a better and more appreciative view of the area.


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