Tips and Special Features
Excellent views of Mt. McKinley are possible throughout most of this unit and the majority of the hiking is along open river bars or alpine tundra. It is possible to hike along the Muldrow Glacier, the largest glacier on the north side of Denali. This is a wonderful area to hike, but it is a very popular unit. Expect some difficulty in obtaining a permit for this area and the presence of other backpackers once you get there.
All access to this unit requires dropping down about 100-200 ft from the Park Road and traveling south across the Thorofare River Bar. This can be done from the Eielson Visitor Center, or from any number of small ridges or drainages immediately west of the visitor center along the Park Road.
Common Routes and Hiking Corridors
River crossings of the Thorofare River and Glacier Creek are necessary for any travel into the interior of this unit. The Thorofare River west of the Eielson Visitor Center is usually spread out across the wide gravel bar and crossing it is less difficult than in Unit 12. Several crossings of Glacier Creek must be made in order to travel south along it so be aware that heavy rainfall or warm weather can increase water levels significantly. Glacier Creek and its tributaries are the main routes for access into this unit. They are mostly open gravel streambeds and travel is relatively easy along them. Crystal Creek and its headwaters offer many places to camp and explore. To access Unit 18, continue following Glacier Creek up past Green Point.
Good map and compass skills will be needed during poor weather if you are attempting to travel east over the high passes to reach Unit 12. Even without a crossing to the east, the slopes of Mt. Eielson provide many opportunities for exploration and great views.
Traveling west across the Muldrow Glacier to reach Pirate Creek (Unit 19) is possible, but crossing the glacier is strenuous, time-consuming and dangerous. One of the more dependable crossing areas is west of Green Point. This portion of the Muldrow Glacier is covered in some tundra, some brush, loose gravel and sections of glare ice. It should only be attempted by parties with previous glacier crossing experience.
Following the Thorofare River west to the McKinley River Bar (Unit 14) is not recommended for most of the summer due to the high volume of water flowing between the edge of the Muldrow Glacier and the steep, brush covered hillsides to the north.
Additional Notes and Hazards
Grizzly bears are frequently in the area and can make travel up Glacier Creek difficult due to the narrow corridor for both humans and bears. Day hikers and guided groups also regularly use the lower portions of Glacier Creek. There are frequently wildlife closures in this unit; be careful to avoid them while in the backcountry.