The iconic behemoth, Denali, is a beacon of adventure and mystery that rises to a height of 20,320 feet above sea level and proudly assumes the title of the tallest mountain in North America. Formerly known as Mount McKinley, the Alaskan Native Athabaskan people, the Koyukon people, have known the peak as Denali for centuries. In August 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior finally restored the official government-recognized name to the original. Full of mystery, adventure, and an icon of Alaskan history, Denali is one of the most difficult mountains to access in the world, and this hike serves up breathtaking views of its eastern slopes.
Meander along a switchbacked incline through a temperate forest of ferns, white spruce, and birch to begin this hike before reaching one of what will be many glacially fed, placid lakes you’ll encounter (this one is home to a behemoth beaver dam). After a mile, the trail climbs above tree line, and expansive, rolling tundra stretches for miles over gentle hills and adjacent rugged peaks. The trail serves up some relatively substantial elevation gain and requires a bit of care and attention when it comes to route finding, but it’s nothing that a seasoned hiker or backpacker will find unreasonable.
The broad ridge known as K’esugi translates to “the ancient one” in native dialect, and offers a stellar vantage point for catching a peek of Denali and the distant Talkeetna mountains though the misty clouds. Though outlined here as an out-and-back, many choose to forge onward instead of turning back, converting this adventure to a thru-hike—clocking a total of 27 miles—and ending up at Byers Lake Campground, where a ferried car awaits. Truly, you can’t go wrong either way. Regardless, be sure to pitch your tent at least a half mile off of the trail. This is bear country: Always keep bear spray close by, and it’s imperative to bring along a bear-proof food storage solution.