Camp Denali Day Hikes, Denali Nat’l Park, AK

Camp Denali offers guests a choice of day hikes for each full day of your stay. The guided hikes, either from camp or in Denali National Park, are a fabulous way to explore the park as there are very few groomed trails in the park to explore on your own. The guides are well versed in the geology, plants and wildlife of the park and enthusiastically share their love of the wilderness. 

Hiking Levels

There are 3 levels of hikes – a gentle foray, a moderate hike and a strenuous hike. As hikes are often off trail walking is on uneven ground. There may be wet crossings and steep climbs, especially on the strenuous hikes. That said, for those who hike regularly these are not difficult hikes as the guides take frequent breaks to discuss the geology, flora and fauna.

We chose the strenuous hike both days.  

First Hike

On our first day the more strenuous hike went to the top of the ridge behind the camp with sweeping views of the valley in front of the Alaska Range as well as the hills behind the ridge. The moderate hike went up the same ridge to a viewpoint, but not all the way to the top. The foray hike, a nature stroll, drove guests back out the main road to begin the walk near the Eielson Visitor Center.

The ridge walk was a semi-strenuous uphill climb, first through spongy tundra and boreal forest and then climbing above the timber line to the ridge. While the trail was steep, our guide, Scott, stopped frequently to discuss various plants, animals and their scat and the history of the region. He answered questions with patience and humor and made sure we all knew proper bear safety protocol.

At this time of year, the first week in June, many different kinds of wildflowers were blooming and most plants were leafed out. There were frequent views of the Alaska Range across the valley, although the higher peaks including Denali remained behind clouds most of the day. Mosquitos were bothersome when we stopped moving, but head nets easily did the trick and made hiking pleasant.

At the top of the ridge the wind picked up and the mosquitos were less of a problem. Most of us took off our head nets and put on a wind breaker or rain jacket. It was pleasant walking on the less bouncy rolling tundra. Scott encouraged us to walk off trail and spread out because there were fewer bears and moose on the ridge, greater visibility and less chance you would surprise a bear. Although mostly overcast the sun came out from time to time. The views were far and sweeping.

Nearing lunch time, Scott had a surprise for us. There is a cabin along the ridge where we could eat inside and have hot drinks – hot chocolate, coffee, tea or cider. A well-equipped rustic cabin with expansive views of the Alaska Range was built for the staff to enjoy on their day off.

On the way back down we backtracked a ways on the Eagles Nest Trail before heading down on the more exposed ridge face. The trail was steep but not as steep as the one on the way up. We entered the forest again and then crossed back over towards camp on a narrow boardwalk avoiding having to stomp through deep tundra and shrubs. All in all an enjoyable day, the kind of open sky hiking I like. About 7 miles with a 1200ft change in elevation.

Second Hike

Today the foray hike would be in the vicinity of the cabins and the strenuous and moderate ones were out near the Eielson Visitor Center. The moderate hike would be about 3 miles with a 500ft elevation gain. The strenuous 4 mile hike would gain 2000ft in elevation with likely snow and stream crossings therefore gaiters were strongly recommended. The Camp lends gaiters, trekking poles and day packs. You also have the option to put a bike on the bus to Eielson and ride back to camp. Scott, our guide from the previous day, highly recommended this mostly downhill ride.

We left camp at just after 9 for the bus ride to the start of the hikes. It was a beautiful morning with puffy clouds above the mountains, clear air and a threat of thunder showers. Denali was particularly clear with beautiful views along the way.

Drew, our guide, stopped for the refection of Denali in Wonder Lake. We also had two bear sightings – one wandering just past the road at a pretty good clip and the other lounging on a rock just off the road. The second sighting was due to an excellent spotting job by one of the guests. We also saw a moose at a fair distance but more than a dot on the horizon.

We then stopped at Muldrow Glacier to view the surge. A surging glacier is a somewhat rare occurrence when a glacier starts moving much more quickly for no apparent reason. This is evidenced by the dirty ice that now has fresh clean crevasses and large chunks lifted skyward creating a jagged river of dirty and clean ice.

We dropped the group of moderate hikers just before where Drew parked the bus for the strenuous hike. We were just 4 this morning including the guest speaker for the week, Pat Drukenmiller, a dinosaur paleontologist from Fairbanks who does field research in the park. Turns out Denali National Park is a prime spot for dinosaur tracks. The other hikers were Jim, who also has an avid interest in geology, and Don and me.

The trek began with a steep hike up a drainage channel to a ridge the first part of which was along a rock slide. Although rocky, the way was fairly stable. The channel then turned up a gully that was still under snow at the upper reaches. Drew stopped frequently to talk about geological features and plants. I think he stopped more often than usual because Jim was wheezing most of the way up.

As we reached the top of the ridge the way became even steeper. Once at the top there were amazing views of the valley on the other side and the valley we drove up. The way down was much easier, walking on tundra rather than rock. Although it was steep it was not too difficult.

Drew tells us we are running short of time and we don’t have time to dally because we need to pick up the folks on the moderate hike. I’m disappointed in being rushed as the photography just got good with expansive views and dark stormy clouds all around.

It rained on us a little near the top of the ridge, but the clouds threatened more than they actually produced.

Near the bottom of the tundra slope the way got significantly steeper and involved more difficult bush whacking through low shrubs until we hit the river. To get to the bus we had several crossings of the bands of braided river.

A beautiful day and interesting hike, especially if you are interested in geology. For me the geological aspect was not so exciting, but I loved the views and the adventure of the hike. For this type of hike you should be comfortable with bush whacking and walking on snow and rocks. Our route ended up 3.8 miles with a 1500ft gain in elevation.

We stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center on the way back. The guides had hot beverages for us in the back of the bus, with a choice of hot chocolate, coffee, tea or hot cider. Our beautiful day continued with puffy clouds and rain showers in the far distance. On the way back to camp we spotted a moose not far from the bus as well as a family of geese with two goslings.

We were back at camp just after 5:30.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Alaska page.

June 11-14, 2021