By: Eric Troyer
Trip Location: Denali State Park, several miles south of the Hurricane Gulch on the Parks Highway
Access: This trail has three access points roughly equidistant from each other: Little Coal Creek Trailhead (Mile 163.9), Ermine Hill Trailhead (Mile 156.5) and Cascade Trail (from Byers Lake Campground at Mile 147).
Trip Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Trail or route conditions, wildlife sightings and any highlights from the trip: Lots of options here. All the trailheads offer good day hiking opportunities as they all climb into alpine country in just a few miles. Long dayhikes or backpacking trips can be formed by connecting the trailheads. Over the years State Parks has improved sections of the trails. Switchbacks have replaced viciously steep sections on Ermine Hill and Cascade trails. Narrow boardwalk (2×6 boards on risers) have made wet sections much more pleasant.
I dayhiked from Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake, a long 30-mile day made even longer by the 17-mile bike ride back to get my car. No big mammals, except the two-legged variety, including a group of about 15 young and enthusiast girls accompanied by friendly if tired-looking adults. Lots of birds, including many golden-crowned sparrows and a few surfbirds. Haze from wildfires obscured the view somewhat.
While this is a bit of a drive from Fairbanks, I love this trail for several reasons:
- Lots of water (a nice change from ridge hikes in the Interior)
- Great up-close views of rugged mountains (even when Denali is covered in clouds)
- Features not typically found in the Interior (such as lots of alpine lakes and the surreal Ermine Hill that almost reminds me of a moonscape)
Note: Much of the trail between Troublesome Creek and Byers Lake is damaged and no longer maintained. Descriptions that include that as a through-hike are outdated.