Located at the foot of the Alaska Range in Denali National Park, this 14.6-mile route circles 5,802-foot Mount Eielson and offers incredible views of glacier-capped mountains—and on clear days, Mount Denali. Pick up your backcountry permit and a bus pass, then park your car at the Riley Creek Campground overflow lot. Take the Camper Bus to a pull-out on Grassy Pass, located 2.2 miles west of Eielson Visitor Center.
From Grassy Pass, pick up the social trail that cuts across the lush hillside and leads to a rock-strewn chute (make noise: black and grizzly bears live in the park). Descend this steep gully, then hike south-southwest across an expansive gravel bar, crossing the braided channels of the Thorofare River (vibrant wildflowers cover the ground). Near mile 2, continue past the Glacier Creek drainage and ascend a small ridge with big views of Mounts Mather, Deception, and Brooks. Next, bushwhack southeast back to the Glacier Creek drainage and follow the creek south to the Intermittent Creek drainage (mile 5.1). From here, it’s a 1.5-mile climb to a sweet campsite perched above the valley.
On day two, continue the climb up the Intermittent Creek drainage to a broad saddle located between Intermittent Creek and Wolverine Creek. Drop your pack for a short, 0.6-mile side trip to a nearby ridgetop (clear days reveal Mount Denali to the southwest). Soak up the spectacular views, then backtrack to the saddle and follow animal trails that lead to the headwaters of Contact Creek. Descend this mile-long drainage to the Thorofare River gravel bar, and head north for the return trip to Eielson Visitor Center.
The next 4-mile stretch feature numerous stream crossings. Use caution when picking your route through the countless channels (the water temperature is roughly 36ºF). At mile 13.6, bear right into the Gorge Creek drainage and head northeast for 0.3 mile to a small cairn marking an overgrown trail to the visitor center. Yell “Hey Bear” as you climb through the tall bushes flanking both sides of the path. The route ends at Eielson Visitor Center; catch a shuttle bus back to the Riley Creek parking area.
Note: There is no established trail system in Denali’s backcountry. Map and compass skills are required.
PERMIT: Overnight camping in Denali National Park requires a backcountry permit. Check out the latest fees and more details at nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bcpermits.htm.
CONTACT: Denali National Park, (907) 683-2294; nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm.
ZONE INFORMATION: Unit 12 and Unit 13.
-Mapped by Kim Phillips and Matt Vellone