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Denali & the Alaska Range
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Denali & the Alaska Range


George Parks Highway (AK3) -- Wasilla to Fairbanks


Denali State Park

Denali National Park and Preserve

McKinley Park (the town)


Denali Highway (AK8)

National Wild and Scenic Rivers: Delta and Gulkana

Central Richardson Highway (AK4) -- Glenallen to Delta Junction

Denali State Park

Location/Size: On either side of George Parks Highway (AK 3) north of Talkeetna, southeast of Denali National Park and Preserve. 325, 460 acres.

Main Activities: Fishing, hunting, backpacking, hiking, camping.

Gateway Towns/Getting There: Trapper Creek/vehicle access via Parks Highway (AK 3), small-plane air access. Park access by vehicle via George Parks Highway (AK 3); foot access via roadside trailheads.

Facilities, Camping, Lodging: Veterans Memorial, viewpoint. Three roadside campgrounds, primitive camping elsewhere.

Headquarters and Information: MatSu Area Office, HC 32 Box 6706, Wasilla, AK 99687, 745-3975, www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/denali1.htm.

The views of Denali and the Alaska Range are of particular interest to travelers in Denali State Park. The long, low Kesugi Ridge separates the Parks Highway and the Chulitna valley to the west from the Susitna valley—path of the Alaska Railroad—to the east. A ridgetop trail is accessible from four trailheads along the road. There is also access to the old observation tower on Curry Ridge—once a popular train stop. The trail is about 42 miles long, a good four- to six-day backpack route.

The portion of the park west of the Chulitna is essentially a lowland extension of Denali National Park. Much of the area is boggy, cut by several streams and rivers, and is difficult to access directly. Beyond the flats, an arm of the park reaches westward into the Peters Hills, a good destination for ridge walking, foothills access, and splendid views of the Denali massif. The hills are reached via Petersville Road (see above), though the road doesn’t enter the park.

The Parks Highway follows the east bank of the Chulitna River through most of the state park, affording drivers and cyclists marvelous westward views of the Alaska Range and Denali. The best road viewpoint is near Mary Carey’s McKinley View Lodge at Mile 135.2. If you opt to hike up to Kesugi Ridge, you’ll earn the best view in the park.

Trails in Denali State Park

The following trails are all interconnected. It is best to think of them as one long route with two cutoffs in the middle:

Byers Lake Trail (5-mile loop, no gain; 7 miles to ridge, 1,500' gain)—From the campground, the lake loop trail provides access to fishing spots. A spur climbs from the northeast end of the lake to a junction with the Kesugi Ridge Trail. Loop trail—3 hrs; RT to ridge—all day.

Ermine Hill Trail (about 5 miles, 1,000' gain)—This brand new trail will allow access to the ridge trail and to small Ermine Lake. Inquire for details. RT—unknown.

Kesugi Ridge Trail (23 miles, 1,200' drop and gain in gap)—This includes the length of trail from the north end of the ridge to the Byers Lake Trail junction. It links the top of the Coal Creek Trail with the Troublesome Creek Trail. Kesugi Ridge is largely tundra-covered, with a few easy summits and a broad, gentle crest. Outstanding views! Through trail—2–3 days (4–6 days for entire route).

Little Coal Creek Trail (4 miles to the ridge, 1,800' gain)—The trail climbs quickly to the crest of Kesugi Ridge and the Kesugi Ridge Trail above the north bank of Little Coal Creek. RT to ridge—5–7 hours.

Troublesome Creek Trail (15 miles, 2,000')—Named for the habits of the black bears along its length, this trail follows the stream closely for several miles before cutting up to the open, pond-dotted ridge top. At the junction with the Byers Lake Trail, the route becomes the Kesugi Ridge Trail. RT—2–3 days; through trail to Byers Lake trailhead—2 days; through trail to Little Coal Creek trailhead—4–6 days.