Denali National Park: Anderson Pass

As every student of wilderness knows, Denali’s rewards—raw Alaska, awe-inspiring wildlife, soul-quieting solitude—are commensurate with the challenges. Get them all on a 31.8-mile crown-jewel trip that climbs to Anderson Pass, the only nontechnical path across the Alaska Range.
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As every student of wilderness knows, Denali’s rewards—raw Alaska, awe-inspiring wildlife, soul-quieting solitude—are commensurate with the challenges. Get them all on a 31.8-mile crown-jewel trip that climbs to Anderson Pass, the only nontechnical path across the Alaska Range.

From Grassy Pass, bushwhack to a ford of the Thorofare River (depth varies with weather and season) at mile .4. Reach Glacier Creek and head 1.1 miles south to a canyon in the Muldrow Glacier. Climb 150 feet southeast to a tundra bench adjoining Mt. Eielson. Weave through blueberry patches for two miles, then drop to cross Intermittent and Crystal Creeks (clear-water streams: tank up), then ford calf-deep Glacier Creek above its confluence with Crystal Creek at mile 4.8.

Hug the gravel pathways next to the Muldrow until the streambed widens into a braided gravel bar at mile 6.6; expect multiple crossings over the next 2.6 miles. Scout for a flat campsite near a tumbling creek at mile 8.1. Dayhike on day two 5.7 miles (one-way) to Anderson Pass. Next day, follow Glacier Creek north to Crystal Creek at mile 22.4; follow it about a mile until Wolverine Creek veers left of a tundra bench.

Next up: a 3.3-mile, 1,174-foot climb to 4,724-foot Contact Pass. Then drop a steep mile along Contact Creek to campable ground. 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. Here, ascend a marshy bench, pass a lake at mile 30.5, then ford Gorge Creek at mile 31.7. Close the trip on a 653-foot climb on a user trail leading to the Eielson Visitor Center.

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, nps.gov/dena

-Mapped by Ted Alvarez

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 51.2

Waypoints

DNP001

Location: 63.428255, -150.398977

Two miles past the Eielson Visitor Center, hike south across tundra at Grassy Pass and drop down a steep ravine choked with dwarf birch to the Thorofare River basin.

DNP002

Location: 63.427347, -150.399206

Plentiful blueberries coat the tundra. (Watch for bears!)

DNP003

Location: 63.418458, -150.397124

Find a wide, riffled channel to cross the Thorofare River. Toss a rock to test depth.

DNP004

Location: 63.400801, -150.39153

Climb 150 feet southeast to a tundra bench adjoining Mt. Eielson. Watch for bears in the Glacier Creek drainage.

DNP005

Location: 63.395767, -150.388823

Follow a faint game trail up the bench for two miles as it weaves through blueberry patches.

DNP006

Location: 63.380496, -150.381704

Drop down a scree hill to the Glacier Creek basin.

DNP007

Location: 63.376605, -150.375715

Cross Intermittent and Crystal Creeks (clear-water streams: tank up).

DNP008

Location: 63.36792, -150.378108

Ford calf-deep Glacier Creek above its confluence with Crystal Creek at mile 4.8.

DNP009

Location: 63.345818, -150.374144

Follow the Muldrow until the streambed widens into a braided gravel bar at mile 6.6; expect multiple crossings over the next 2.6 miles.

DNP010

Location: 63.328905, -150.349713

Scout for a flat campsite near a tumbling creek at mile 8.1.

DNP011

Location: 63.316743, -150.333696

Stream uphill with clear water.

DNP012

Location: 63.316743, -150.333696

This wide field hosts one of the highest populations of marmots in the park.

DNP013

Location: 63.298172, -150.317011

Look for wide views of the Muldrow Glacier.

DNP014

Location: 63.288938, -150.311205

Dayhike on day two 5.7 miles (one-way) to Anderson Pass. Hug the left Moraine to reach the pass.

DNP015

Location: 63.290308, -150.276976

Look for a creeping glacier to your right.

DNP016

Location: 63.290359, -150.234429

Anderson Pass, hall of the mountain kings!

DNP017

Location: 63.366496, -150.368555

Next day, follow Glacier Creek north to Crystal Creek at mile 22.4. Follow it about a mile until Wolverine Creek veers left of a tundra bench.

DNP018

Location: 63.361136, -150.338622

Follow Wolverine Creek left of tundra bench.

DNP019

Location: 63.376604, -150.292459

Savor the views approaching Contact Pass.

DNP020

Location: 63.376884, -150.285448

Follow Contact Creek to Camp 3.

DNP021

Location: 63.380163, -150.264341

Camp 3, a sheltered spot near the Thorofare River basin.

DNP022

Location: 63.376884, -150.285448

Contact Pass.

DNP023

Location: 63.381246, -150.262276

Follow Thorofare north to Eielson Visitor Center.

DNP024

Location: 63.381246, -150.262276

Cross the Thorofare at braids near here—after sunny days, it gets very swift downstream.

DNP025

Location: 63.408086, -150.287947

Break near a sheltered, hidden lake.

DNP026

Location: 63.4218, -150.310323

Cross Gorge Creek—typically an easy ford.

DNP027

Location: 63.430848, -150.3115

Catch a shuttle bus home at the Eielson Visitor Center.

DNP028

Location: 63.430848, -150.3115

Eielson vis--end!

Contact Pass

Location: 63.376567, -150.2886

Marvel at 11,000-foot-plus peaks like Mt. Mather, Brooks, Ragged, and more.

Anderson Pass

Location: 63.290703, -150.269456

Anderson Pass lies beyond the clouds.

Bears

Location: 63.351134, -150.376558

A mother and two cubs rolled on the Muldrow.

Contact Descent

Location: 63.377178, -150.277775

Descending Contact Pass.

Mt. Eielson

Location: 63.375262, -150.297008

Mt. Eielson looms over the trail.

Tundra Bench

Location: 63.399562, -150.390561

A tundra bench above Glacier Creek is littered with blueberries.

Marmot

Location: 63.295453, -150.315208

A huge field filled with marmots begins here.

McKinley

Location: 63.357248, -150.379401

Look west here for huge McKinley views.

Scott Peak

Location: 63.365643, -150.35691

Look east to see 8,832-foot Scott Peak.

Thorofare Valley

Location: 63.412391, -150.300946

Look south for sweeping panoramas down the Thorofare River Valley.