Local secret: One of the best ways to sneak a peek at Mount McKinley—North America’s highest peak—is to trek into the Talkeetna Range in Denali State Park. Heed this advice and hike to breathtaking views of the Alaska Range on this easy, 4.3-mile out-and-back.
Begin with a gentle climb through a damp forest of ferns, white spruce, and birch. Roughly a mile into the hike, pass beneath a 4-foot beaver dam and climb the ridge (lined with blueberries) to the east. Remember: This is bear country, and you’re not the only mammal that appreciates these tasty trailside treats.
After a mile, the route climbs above treeline where low willow thickets and tundra reveal clear views to the west of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the Eldridge Glacier, and the braided Chulitna River below. More Alaska Range peaks and the Chulitna River valley stretch beyond the horizon to the north. To the east, the tundra-covered foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains rise to smaller snowy caps.
If it’s a clear day, linger, eat berries, take plenty of pictures, and count yourself lucky. The sight a 20,000-foot mountain rising above the river at about 1,000 feet is a shocking sight, and the mountain’s notoriously unpredictable weather can make unobstructed views of the summit and its surrounding knife-like peaks and interwoven snowfields elusive.
From here, the trail continues up the ridge for another 1.1 miles. At the turnaround point, savor more 360-degree views of the Alaska Range. Bring binoculars to zoom in on glaciers or to scour the Talkeetnas for bears and other wildlife. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Jenn Fields