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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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
- Distance: 10.8
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.
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Follow the worn path to the southwest into Bison Gulch.
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The climb steepens as the trail leads west through thick brush. Yell, “Hey bear!” occasionally as you hike; grizzlies have been spotted here.
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Keep a jacket handy after passing this point. Even in summer, there’s a constant breeze that blows across this exposed ridgeline.
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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.
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Pick up the ridge that rises to the south. Keep climbing.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Views of the Nenana River Valley
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The view has been obstructed until this point.
Running the Ridges
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Land of the Midnight Sun
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Nineteen hours of daylight make trips at any hour possible.
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You may wake up to 25-35 knot winds and snow flurries.
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Unfortunately, he didn’t last long in the sun.
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Views of 12,339-foot Mount Deborah.
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The Cantwell Range
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