Kesugi Ridge Trail in Denali State Park

Kesugi Ridge Trail in Denali State Park

During our week long trip to Alaska, I was most excited for the Kesugi Ridge Trail in Denali State Park. This 27.5 mile through hike is a relaxing overnight backpacking trip. If you're lucky and get a clear day, you can see Mount McKinley (Denali) without the hassle of Denali National Park's bus system

The entire hike is 27.5 miles and frequently done North to South from Little Coal Creek Trailhead to Byers Lake Trailhead. After reading many online reports, we decided to do a there-and-back from Little Coal Creek to Mile 7, camp there, and then turn around. We did this because:

  • The jungle area after Ermie Hill Trail Junction is supposed to be not fun
  • We were cheap and didn't want to pay for a shuttle
  • We wanted to maximize time on the ridge to hopefully get lucky and see Mount McKinley
Overcast in Denali State Park

Quick Hike Stats

Distance (one way): 7 miles, 2000 feet elevation change
Time (one way): 5 hours
Camp Location: Around mile 6.5 near a creek
Wildlife: A few marmots, no bear sightings
Trail: Well trafficked and marked with cairns

The Hike

We started at Little Coal Creek Trailhead a little after 12PM. The hike starts off below treeline and climbs pretty aggressively. Even though this was early July, we saw a lot of overcast and clouds. I'm sure the views would have been nice but visibility was only about 40 feet so I found this part to be a little boring.

Once we reached the top of Little Coal Creek 3.3 miles in, we saw some medium sized boulders that you have to scramble to. You'll be scrambling to the right where you can see a large stack of cairns marking the trail. From there, the hike got a lot more interesting!

Right when we reached the top of the ridge, the clouds disappeared and the sun finally came out. This was the first time we had seen sun or any type of blue sky in the past 4 days, so we were pretty elated. We crossed many streams once we were on the ridge, so it was all about finding a nice place to camp for the night.

About 6.5 miles in, we found a flat area near a creek and with good vantage points for the mountain ranges in front of us. We set up camp here for the night and stored our bear cans. It was pretty difficult to sleep because of the eternal sun, so we stayed up and watched the mountains ahead of us. It was a great scene and we didn't see another soul near us.

The next day, the clouds had moved in again and our views were completely blocked. We turned around and headed back towards Little Coal Creek Trailhead where the car was parked.

Kesugi Ridge Trail

Bear Safety

A quick note on a bear safety, although we didn't see any bears up close during the 7 days that we were here (I saw 5 bears during my 4 days in Grand Teton!). Make sure you get a bear can and store anything that smells (food scraps, toothpaste, etc.) at least 100 yards away from camp and where you cook. We cooked near the stream, set up camp 100 yards east of the stream, and put our bear can 150 yards north west of the stream. 

Packing List




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