Denali National Park: The Castle via Bison Gulch

Don't be fooled by the low mileage: This challenging trek to a cluster of rock spires climbs nearly 4,000 feet in 3 miles, passing wildlife and breathtaking views across Denali National Park.
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Don't be fooled by the low mileage: This challenging trek to a cluster of rock spires climbs nearly 4,000 feet in 3 miles, passing wildlife and breathtaking views across Denali National Park.

This 6.7-mile out-and-back in Denali National Park leads to the top of the "Castle," a group of four rock spires on Mount Healy's ridgeline. Popular with dayhikers looking for a quick workout or backpackers craving an accessible getaway in the mountains, the route starts 3 miles south of Healy on AK 3. From the parking area next to AK 3, cross the highway and pick up a worn path that climbs to the southwest above Bison Gulch. In less than half a mile, the trail steepens as it cuts through thick brush (watch out for grizzlies).
The trail starts to fade after 1.8 miles. To stay on route, keep the Castle in your sights and follow the ridgeline—and sheep trails—that rise toward these distinct pinnacles. At mile 2.1, the route briefly swings south, traversing snowfields that linger into the warmer months. Roughly half a mile later, head southwest for the final 0.6-mile stretch to the summit. On the approach, stay to the right and ascend the west side of the Castle; look for the "V" formation, which marks the easiest path to the summit. Scramble up loose shale to the summit. Savor the views across Denali National Park before starting the descent back to the trailhead.

MORE PARK INFO: Denali National Park, (907) 683-2294; nps.gov/dena/.
-Mapped by Ryan Kalseth

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 10.8

Waypoints

BIS001

Location: 63.8049721, -148.9539993

From the parking area at mile-marker 244, look both ways before crossing AK 3 (Parks Highway). Look for a worn path running up the ridgeline. Prepare to gain nearly 4,000 feet of elevation over the next 3 miles.

BIS002

Location: 63.8049105, -148.9547503

Follow the worn path to the southwest into Bison Gulch.

BIS003

Location: 63.8022819, -148.959589

The climb steepens as the trail leads west through thick brush. Yell, "Hey bear!" occasionally as you hike; grizzlies have been spotted here.

BIS004

Location: 63.8012872, -148.9838362

Keep a jacket handy after passing this point. Even in summer, there's a constant breeze that blows across this exposed ridgeline.

BIS005

Location: 63.7966023, -149.0030193

Crest a bench above Bison Gulch, then continue climbing southwest to the ridgetop. Ahead, the path starts to disappear in places. Navigation tip: If you lose the trail, keep the summit in sight and follow the ridgeline and sheep paths that lead toward the summit.

BIS006

Location: 63.7952095, -149.0095961

Pick up the ridge that rises to the south. Keep climbing.

BIS007

Location: 63.787614, -149.0048432

It's common for snowfields to linger into the warmer months. The snow may be a few feet deep (gaiters and warm socks are a must). Ahead, the route curves to the southwest following the ridgeline.

BIS008

Location: 63.7811589, -149.0143275

Climb up the west side of the Castle. Caution: Loose rock (shale) makes this scramble a bit tricky. Sturdy hands, feet, and patience are required.

BIS009

Location: 63.7808034, -149.0132654

The Castle: Formed from 4 rock spires on Mount Healy's ridgeline, this rocky perch showcases views south of the Alaska Range. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

The Castle

Location: 63.781339, -149.0138769

Views of the Nenana River Valley

Location: 63.8021398, -148.9743519

Windy Slopes

Location: 63.8013204, -148.9836001

The Castle

Location: 63.7965976, -149.0028691

The view has been obstructed until this point.

Running the Ridges

Location: 63.7929685, -149.007107

Snowfield

Location: 63.7876188, -149.0046823

Land of the Midnight Sun

Location: 63.7862397, -149.0066028

Nineteen hours of daylight make trips at any hour possible.

Morning Snow

Location: 63.7847516, -149.0093708

You may wake up to 25-35 knot winds and snow flurries.

Mountain Mascot

Location: 63.782941, -149.0123749

Unfortunately, he didn't last long in the sun.

Camp

Location: 63.7824102, -149.0132332

Mount Deborah

Location: 63.782031, -149.0136194

Views of 12,339-foot Mount Deborah.

Summit Views

Location: 63.7810119, -149.0139949

Summit Views

Location: 63.7809408, -149.0137589

The Cantwell Range

Location: 63.7808745, -149.0134907