Teklanika Foothills Hike

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Alaska GuideInterior Hiking

Popular ForDayhiking, backpacking
TypeOut-and-back, easily modify walk across tundra to make a loop
DifficultyModerate (navigation skills necessary – no trail, and uneven, steep terrain)
Length5+ miles roundtrip (8 km)
Elevation Gain1470 ft./448m
RegionDenali – near Teklanika rest stop
LocationPark Road – mile 30.3
TransportationCan drive to parking area between spring road opening and summer closure at mile-15. Shuttle or Tek Pass

Our route in red. The majority of this hike is over tundra with sparse spruce. The thin black line is the one described by Ike Waits, but the alders in the valley seemed a bit thick. You can download our GPX track here.

I initially found information on this hike from the Denali National Park: Guide to Hiking Photography and camping book by Ike Waits. It can be a difficult book to find sometimes; it is often carried locally in Fairbanks by Beaver Sports. It’s a great book that I highly recommend.

Overview

True to most hiking in Denali National Park, there is no trail here. So, this is not a great hike for anyone with little experience hiking in the backcountry. I would highly recommend this as a good day hike for an avid hiker that wants to get some experience hiking off-trail, navigating mostly open tundra, and a bit of elevation gain. The terrain is relatively open, so it’s not too tricky route-finding. This is bear country, and the low hills make for lots of places where you could startle wildlife. Look ahead, make noise, and consider carrying bear spray.

Double Mountain in Denali National Park viewed from peak 3992 in the Teklanika foothills.
Double Mountain from Peak 3992

I hiked this in May of 2020 and found the route in Ike Waits’ description a little overgrown with alders and willow. We took a slightly different route in, and another route out because I wanted to get photos at a kettle pond we saw on the way in. The views on this hike are phenomenal. It’s sad to me that so many people ride in through here on the shuttles and tour buses and never get to see such outstanding views that are only a short walk away. It took us just under four hours to do this hike, and that’s taking a lot of photos. If you are in shape and pressed for time, this would be easy to do in around 2 hours.

The Hike

This description starts at the Teklanika Rest Stop (mile 30.3). After the spring road opening, the Park Service typically allows private vehicles to this point. Typically, after memorial day the road closes at the Savage River (mile-15) to general traffic. You can take a shuttle bus, or if you want to take some time to camp in the area, you can get a Tek Pass and stay at the nearby campground.

From the Rest stop, walk south and then east along the road until you come to a 90° turn in the road back south (approximately 0.5 miles). Keep straight here, walking out to the tundra. You will see some large rock outcroppings to the east-south-east. Those are your destination, and you will use some ridges to approach them from the north. Use this opportunity to scan for bears or other wildlife, you may need to make adjustments to your route. The terrain on the tundra is covered in many deep tussocks, so watch your footing.

These rock outcroppings are the destination of this hike. The general approach is from the ridgeline running north-south (left side of photo).

Tundra Walk to the Teklanika Foothills

Hiking east from the road, you will see a good size kettle pond slightly north. It is a pretty spot to take photos. Aim for a small hill, one of the lowest humps on the tundra (63.64872, -149.54278). That’s an excellent point to decide on which way to go. The valley slightly north of this is getting a bit overgrown with alders and willow, but you can take a more southerly route that will have you side-hilling and hiking on very steep terrain, or go north of the alders and trees and follow a more gentle slope to the ridge.

Memorial Day Sale

We hiked in on this southern option, hiking up to just below some of the rock outcroppings on the hillside (staying on the north slope of the hill – not climbing to the top). This wraps around to a small valley that we crossed, hiking slightly more south and then some steep climbing up to another ridge that brought us to the north-south spine of the final climb.

On the North-South Ridge (any route should bring you here)

Hiking south on this ridge, you will come to a large, abrupt rock outcropping facing east. Stay on the right side (west side).  The side-hilling is steep and a bit usntable, but it’s not very dangerous or run-out.

Hike a bit down and to the right of this rock-outcrop, just below the talus

Continue hiking along the spine to the south. Beware, there are some steep sections with real consequences if one were to fall. The view isn’t going to get incredibly better in the last tenth of a mile, definitely no shame in turning around if you aren’t comfortable with the final stretch. The view of Double Mountain is impressive already!

Return the way you came across the ridge. I would use the high ground to route-find a slightly different path back, and of course, scan for wildlife again. There are some cool kettle ponds a bit north on the tundra that offer some great views! We followed a social/animal trail further north along the ridge before turning west. It was definitely a more overgrown route but wasn’t as steep.

View from a nearby kettle pond in the tundra

Longer Trip Potential

There is definitely potential for longer trips and backpacking. Ike Waits describes a hike traversing the foothills north before returning to the road. This would be Unit 5: Upper Teklanika – be sure to check the NPS website for current restrictions and closures.

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