Denali State Park: Views of Mt. McKinley

Last weekend we also spent two days backpacking in Denali State Park which is on the southeast border of the National Park. The park includes over 325,000 acres. We hiked part of the Kesugi Ridge, a 33 mile-long alpine trail. The ridge runs parallel to the Alaskan Range and offers spectacular views of Denali (Mt. McKinley), when it isn’t hiding behind clouds. It was a once in a lifetime kind of weekend.

We started our hike at the Little Coal Creek Trailhead. This 3.3 mile trail follows the valley created by the creek and ascends into the alpine where it connects to the Kesugi Ridge trail. The first mile of the trail gradually climbs through spruce and aspen crossing small streams and marsh areas (moose habitat). Less than a mile up you come to the first view point, a clear sweeping scene of the Alaskan Range including Eldridge Glacier and the Chulitna River valley. We had great visibility and could see almost a 100 miles in each direction. From here the trail gets steeper. It continues to climb through tall alders with switch backs until you get above the treeline. This is where the trail gets grueling. The switchbacks disappear and you pretty much walk straight up hill for the last 2.5 miles. But the views. Wow. During breaks to breathe, you looked out at one of the most impressive mountain ranges I have ever seen. The low alpine landscape is beautiful in and of itself as well: spongy lichen, gray rocks, spots of red and brown grass. As we got closer to the ridge, we had to cross over the Little Coal Creek. The trail crosses at a boulder field that has actually covered the creek. So we scampered across rocks with the river buried beneath us. It was pretty, but tricky to cross with a thirty pound pack and slippery rocks. Once across, we made the final push to the ridge. The ridge is relatively flat and easy to hike. Again, it is all about the views! Breathtaking.

As we hiked on the ridge, we could see dark rain/snow clouds moving in behind us so we decided to set up camp. We camped below the ridge with our tent door facing Denali, hoping for a break in the clouds to catch a glimpse of the illusive mountain. After we set up the tent, we just sat looking at the mountain, and it paid off. The clouds parted and we could see the north summit of the mountain (which is slightly lower than the south summit.) It was exciting, our first good view of the mountain since our arrival in Alaska. Then it started to hail so we jumped in the tent. The hail finally let up but then it snowed. Oh, Alaska. Fortunately, we could open the door of the tent and watch the mountains even while it snowed…so pretty. Sunset over the Alaskan Range.

But our best view came the following morning. As soon as we woke up, we opened the door and got a clear, sunlit view of both summits! Picture me, still tucked in my sleeping bag, telling Lucas, “Get your camera, get your camera!” As he fumbled with the sleeping bag zipper and his gloves trying to get the camera battery back in so he could take a world class picture. It lasted about 20 minutes, and now we can check off one more Alaska goal: Denali has been spotted and documented.

One of the magical things about this trip, and most of our Alaskan experiences, is that we had the whole park, every view and moment, to ourselves. It is amazing to be surrounded by so much beauty without the snap of another camera or the noise of cars or people. I am not sure how we will go back to sharing our wild places someday.


2 Comments on “Denali State Park: Views of Mt. McKinley”

  1. Matthew Theys says:

    I was just thinking you have all this beautiful landscape to yourselves. Then you wrote that! Must really give you a grasp on the sheer size of that state. Unreal shots of those mountains. Keep up the great exploring!


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