Trip Number: 12025A
Staff: Kater Murch
- Backpack in Denali State Park
- Enjoy spectacular ridge top views of the Talkeetna mountains, the Alaska
range, and Mt. McKinley
- Experience superb wildlife viewing
- Train and shuttle transportation
- Gourmet backpack meals
- One night lodging in the historic town of Talkeetna
In late August, the alpine tundra of Kesugi ridge is painted with the bright
red leaves of the shrub birch, the yellow of the few hardy aspens, splashes
of green from low-lying willows, and dots of pale blue from ripe blueberries.
On clear days, 360-degree views encompass the Alaska Range with Mount McKinley
to the west and the Talkeetna Range to the east. Join us as we hike north along
this ancient ridge in a setting of vibrant fall colors, staggering views, and
We will begin by meeting in Anchorage the day before the trip to sort our gear
and get organized. While not part of the trip, we strongly encourage joining
your fellow travelers for a pre-trip meeting and no-host dinner in downtown
Anchorage. On Monday, August 27th, the official start date of the trip, we will
shuttle by van to our trailhead at Byers Lake. After a short hike, we will set
our camp in the boreal forest covering the flanks of Kesugi Ridge. The trail
climbs upwards and by the end of the second day, we will have obtained the crest
of the ridge with its numerous small lakes and tundra habitat. The autumn season
will appear quickly as we rise in elevation, providing us with bright colors,
crisp mornings, and the peak of berry season.
Photo: Becky Bart
We will make our way at a leisurely pace, traveling 4-5 miles a day, leaving
plenty of time for exploring and photography. Our route follows the ridge with
slight ups and downs along the way as we travel north. From our perch high above
the Susitna River, we will see the glaciers of the Alaska Range near Denali
to the west and the snow capped Talkeetna mountains to the east. After our five
nights of camping, we will descend from the ridge at Little Coal Creek and have
a quick shuttle to the Alaska railroad crossing at Hurricane Gulch. Here we
will flag the train as it passes and travel southward along scenic Indian River
and the Susitna River. This four-car train stops frequently at homesteads along
the tracks and river, loading families and equipment. Vistas open as the train
crosses the trestle over the river and follows the shoreline to its terminus
in the quaint town of Talkeetna. Sightings of spawning salmon, mouse and bear
are common along the river bars.
In Talkeetna, we will walk to our riverfront lodge and have a chance to get
clean before walking into town for dinner. The following morning we will have
time for a hike, enjoying the fall colors. Weather permitting, participants
may decide to purchase a flight around Mount McKinley or even land on the glaciers
below. Our train back to Anchorage departs in the late afternoon, bringing us
back to Anchorage at 8 p.m. on September 2.
On Sunday, August 26, we'll gather in downtown Anchorage for pre-trip meeting
and equipment check, followed by no-host dinner at the Glacier brewhouse.
Photo: Becky Bart
Day 1: At 8:00 a.m. we'll depart from Anchorage, with van
support to the trailhead at Beyers Lake.
Days 2-5: We'll hike approximately 4-5 miles a day along the
Day 6: We'll follow the gentle descent of the Kesugi Ridge
on the Little Coal Trail, then go by van and shuttle to the Hurricane train,
which will take us to our lodge in Talkeetna.
Day 7: On our last day, hiking, flight-seeing or fishing are
all possible in the morning before our 4:30 p.m. departure on the Alaska Railroad,
arriving in Anchorage around 8 p.m.
Participants are strongly advised to arrive in Anchorage on Saturday, August
Accommodations and Food
We'll spend five nights camping and one night at a lodge in Talkeetna. All
meals are provided beginning with lunch on the first day and ending with lunch
on the last day.
This is a moderate backpack with mostly cross-country hiking. Weather changes
rapidly at this elevation and time of year. Crystal clear days can be followed
by rain and even snow. Be prepared for cold weather. Participants will need
to make sure their rain gear and equipment are adequate. Pre-trip conditioning
is strongly advised. The leaders will provide suggestions for conditioning and
gear. Our community gear will start at 12-15 pounds per person on the first
Equipment and Clothing
Stoves, fuel, cooking gear, kitchen tarp, repair kit, bear repellent spray,
water purification and first aid kit are furnished. Participants should bring
their own eating utensils, medications, toiletries and supplies such as moleskin,
tape, insect repellent, sunscreen, water bottles, etc. Usual camping gear such
as a tent, sleeping bag and pad, backpack, comfortable and warm non-cotton clothing
will form the basis of your equipment. Full rain gear, jacket and rain pants,
warm hat and gloves will also be needed. Each trip member will receive a detailed
equipment list after acceptance on the outing.
There are many good books and magazines that you might want to read before
the trip. Some suggestions are:
- Muir, John, Travels in Alaska.
- Kent, Rockwell, Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska.
- Bancroft, Hubert H., A Guide to the Birds of Alaska.
- McPhee, John, Coming Into the Country.
- Pratt, Verna, Alaskan Wildflowers.
- Smith, Dave, Bear Basics.
- Hoshino, Michio, Moose.
- Pielou, E.C., A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic.
We will discuss current Alaska conservation issues in general and for the Susitna
area in particular. As a case in point, our hike will be spent in a wilderness
area, but we will be greeted in Talkeetna by access roads, cabins, anglers,
and other tourists. Multiple use issues abound in Alaska’s wild lands.
An extensive discussion is possible to reconcile the differences between preservation,
recreation, and subsistence uses.
We will also discuss the impact of tourism. It wasn't long ago, for example,
that the train through Talkeetna to Denali and beyond had a single dome car.
Now, during the summer, there may be up to 20 dome cars on several trains per
day. Many tour buses also pass through the area. How can the Susitna area cope
with these swarms of visitors and still protect land and animal resources?
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Alaska State Parks.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Kater Murch grew up mountain biking in Marin County and has been backpacking in Alaska with the Sierra Club for nearly fifteen years. Among his many talents are gourmet cooking, route finding, guitar playing, and quantum physics. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley.
Becky Bart is a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley. She grew up hiking and backpacking with her parents and has recently begun leading trips through the Sierra Club.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips