Party: Eric Troyer
Trip Location: Chena Dome Trail, 29 miles officially, but probably more like 30 or 31. (The official trail guide also shows 8300 feet elevation gain, but my GPS said it was almost 9300)
Access: Two trailheads: Miles 50.5 and 49.4, Chena Hot Springs Road
Trip Date: Saturday, May 30
Trail or route conditions, wildlife sightings and any highlights from the trip: Late May is an excellent time to hike the Chena Dome Trail, which is as much route as actual trail. The weather is sunny but generally cool, with few thunderstorms (which aren’t great for ridge hikes). The hiking trail/route is dry, but several pools of water and snow patches are available. Several varieties of wildflowers are out, as are many species of songbirds. I also saw two caribou, who were as curious about me as I was about them.
I did this in one long push, as did two guys I met on the trail and a couple a few days earlier, who wrote in the trail shelter’s journal. Most people backpack it in 2 to 4 days.
This is not a trail for beginners. It has some steep hills where it drops into and climbs out of saddles, often forested. The trail is often not visible along the ridge tops and the cairns (piles of rocks) are sometimes spaced far apart. Even where there is a trail, it can sometimes be hard to find as it is clogged with brush. The trail shelter is in pretty good shape, but the floor has been chewed by a porcupine.
All that said, this is a gorgeous hike, with almost continuous views of the many domes surrounding the area. It’s similar to the Pinnell Mountain Trail, but it is closer to Fairbanks and is almost a loop. Get the state parks guide here.
Tip: If you have only one car, do the mile of pavement first. Your sore feet and tired body will thank you.