Denali National Park: Mount Eielson Loop

This 14.6-mile hike in Denali National Park circles Mount Eielson and features scenic creek crossings and jaw-dropping views of the Alaska Range.
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This 14.6-mile hike in Denali National Park circles Mount Eielson and features scenic creek crossings and jaw-dropping views of the Alaska Range.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 23.5

Waypoints

EIE001

Location: 63.426235, -150.374439

This backcountry route starts at a small pull-out on Grassy Pass. Head northwest to pick up the social trail that winds across the grassy slopes above the Thorofare River. Make sure to yell, "Hey Bear" throughout your trip.

EIE002

Location: 63.426551, -150.375946

Follow the social trail that winds southwest. Views of the Alaska Range dominate the southern horizon.

EIE003

Location: 63.423815, -150.379443

This vantage point offers sweet views of the Thorofare, a river with braided channels that runs across the broad gravel bar below. Next, descend the chute to reach the gravel bar.

EIE004

Location: 63.42226, -150.378671

The pace quickens as the route travels southwest across the gravel bar, passing brilliant pink wildflowers.

EIE005

Location: 63.413243, -150.384872

Prepare to get your feet wet as the terrain becomes more marshy and the route crosses ankle-deep channels of the Thorofare.

EIE006

Location: 63.404427, -150.398476

Pass the Glacier Creek drainage on the left. Hike west, then northwest to ascend bushy slopes with dramatic views of the Alaska Range. Shortcut: To decrease mileage and bypass the hillier terrain, head south up the Glacier Creek drainage to connect with Waypoint 9.

EIE007

Location: 63.40604, -150.40427

Bear left, heading southwest.

EIE008

Location: 63.405503, -150.407588

Crest the top of a small ridge and bushwhack south, then southeast toward the Glacier Creek drainage.

EIE009

Location: 63.397614, -150.395311

Reconnect with the Glacier Creek drainage at mile 3.2. This flat spot is a good place to grab a snack. Next, turn right and hike into the drainage.

EIE010

Location: 63.392185, -150.393541

The route parallels Glacier Creek for the next mile.

EIE011

Location: 63.383576, -150.384666

Hike past boulders along the creekbed. Rugged, glacier-covered mountains tower above the landscape to the south.

EIE012

Location: 63.377542, -150.379218

This flat spot above the river is a scenic place to set up camp.

EIE013

Location: 63.374852, -150.374937

Cross the many channels of Glacier Creek en route to the Intermittent Creek drainage.

EIE014

Location: 63.374059, -150.373285

You have 2 options at this point: 1. Turn left and hike into the Intermittent Creek drainage; 2. Continue straight to briefly explore the hill that borders the Intermittent Creek drainage.

EIE015

Location: 63.37389, -150.367051

The route climbs up the stark drainage, tracing Intermittent Creek, a gurgling (and clear) stream that runs down the rocky slopes.

EIE016

Location: 63.373706, -150.337759

Scree covers the slopes along this stretch.

EIE017

Location: 63.373645, -150.333577

Bear left at the foot of the ridge and stay in the Intermittent Creek drainage.

EIE018

Location: 63.374511, -150.32993

Intermittent creek disappears below ground.

EIE019

Location: 63.374602, -150.32817

Leave the drainage and hike up the grassy slopes on the right.

EIE020

Location: 63.374325, -150.327827

Crest the grassy ridgetop (a great place to set up camp) and take in the sweeping views west toward the Muldrow Glacier and small glacial lakes. Next, continue to climb northeast.

EIE021

Location: 63.37564, -150.320145

On cloudless days, views of Mount Denali start to appear at this point.

EIE022

Location: 63.376117, -150.308021

Drop your packs on the saddle perched above Intermittent Creek and Wolverine Creek for a short, 0.6-mile side trip to a nearby ridgetop.

EIE023

Location: 63.373756, -150.314341

Soak up spectacular views of the Alaska Range from this grassy ridge. Look high in the sky for the summit of Mount Denali.

EIE024

Location: 63.376981, -150.303073

Yell "Hey Bear" to hear your voice echo off the rock walls.

EIE025

Location: 63.377198, -150.299277

Cross Wolverine Creek and follow the animal trails that hug the side of the mountain.

EIE026

Location: 63.376428, -150.292848

Begin the mile-long descent into the Contact Creek drainage.

EIE027

Location: 63.380006, -150.266125

Cross Contact Creek and bear left, heading north along the gravel bar.

EIE028

Location: 63.395443, -150.278034

The return trip to Eielson Visitor Center features numerous stream crossings. Use caution when picking your route through the channels. (Note: The water temperature is roughly 36ºF. Hikers that fall into the water have a high risk of getting hypothermia.) For water crossing tips, go to nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/crossings.htm.

EIE029

Location: 63.40531, -150.292239

Be careful crossing this thigh-high and fast-moving stretch of water, which runs around the base of two headlands.

EIE029

Location: 63.42307, -150.317411

A cairn marks an overgrown trail that climbs up to the Eielson Visitor Center. Make a lot of noise: Tall bushes flank both sides of the path.

EIE030

Location: 63.431148, -150.311176

The route ends at Eielson Visitor Center. Take a shuttle bus back to the Riley Creek Campground overflow parking area.

Glacier Creek

Location: 63.378194, -150.380781

Grassy Pass

Location: 63.426435, -150.376188

The Thorofare

Location: 63.426072, -150.37681

Wildflowers

Location: 63.423844, -150.379633

Alaska Range

Location: 63.4237, -150.379143

Rocky Chute

Location: 63.423815, -150.379325

Scenic Viewpoint

Location: 63.423837, -150.379665

Views of the Alaska Range

Location: 63.420905, -150.379394

Wildflowers

Location: 63.414594, -150.383896

Alaska Range

Location: 63.414476, -150.384182

Gravel Bar

Location: 63.404687, -150.397007

Grassy Ridge

Location: 63.405415, -150.40766

Glaciers

Location: 63.405363, -150.407714

Views of the Glacier Creek Drainage

Location: 63.399, -150.404388

Trail Views

Location: 63.397665, -150.400023

Glacier Creek

Location: 63.390051, -150.391975

Land of the Midnight Sun

Location: 63.383729, -150.384461

Campsite near Glacier Creek

Location: 63.37764, -150.379271

Glacier Creek

Location: 63.377698, -150.379454

Views above Glacier Creek

Location: 63.373454, -150.373232

Intermittent Creek Drainage

Location: 63.373454, -150.373232

Views of the Muldrow Glacier

Location: 63.374391, -150.327895

Caribou

Location: 63.374828, -150.32603

Grassy Perch

Location: 63.373765, -150.314062

Views of Castle Rock

Location: 63.376157, -150.308691

Castle Rock and the Wolverine Creek Drainage

Location: 63.377045, -150.302889

Path above Wolverine Creek Drainage

Location: 63.377131, -150.29887

Contact Creek Drainage

Location: 63.376506, -150.292411

Hoary Marmot

Location: 63.379352, -150.268099

Gravel Bar

Location: 63.380015, -150.265868

Gravel Bar

Location: 63.387582, -150.270417

Thorofare River

Location: 63.393576, -150.275976

Thorofare River

Location: 63.393576, -150.275976

Gravel Bar

Location: 63.393929, -150.276574

Mount Eielson

Location: 63.393929, -150.276574

Stream Crossing

Location: 63.394057, -150.27671

Thorofare River Gravel Bar

Location: 63.396158, -150.278292