Unit 9: East Branch Toklat River
Tips and Special Features
Common Routes and Hiking Corridors
The gravel bar of the eastern branch of the Toklat River is the main hiking corridor. At times, it is possible to hike entirely on the east side of the river for about 5 miles south of the Park Road, but be prepared to make a river crossing in case the currents have shifted the river, or if you need to avoid a bear. This branch of the Toklat is usually more braided near the base of Divide Mountain and crossing is generally possible in this area most of the summer. The river can grow to dangerous levels if there is a significant rain event or major snow melt-off.
You will need to cross the main body of the river if you want to fully explore the headwaters or to travel west into Unit 10. The eastern branch of the Toklat splits into two large glacier basins at its headwaters, 7 miles south of the Park Road. Crossing in this area of multiple channels is easier than it is farther downstream. The headwaters area is immense and several days can be spent exploring it, finding hidden waterfalls and side canyons. Both branches contain active glaciers that can be easily reached. Simply doing an out-and-back hike into the headwaters is a popular trip that avoids travel on dangerous scree and rock slopes.
It is possible to climb east out of the drainage and over into the Polychrome Glaciers area (Unit 8), but this route is a long, hard climb over steep scree and rotten rock outcrops. See the description of Unit 8 for additional information. The only reasonable exit from the headwaters area is an extremely steep pass that leads west into Unit 10. This crossing is difficult and should only be attempted if you are comfortable with travel on steep scree, snow and unstable rock. There is an easier route into Unit 10 through a low pass immediately south of Divide Mountain. This pass is approximately 3 miles from the park road, so it is a possible overnight trip.
Did You Know?
Warmer average temperatures over several decades have resulted in expansion of woody vegetation. If this warming trend continues, it will change Alaska's ecosystems and drastically alter the physical appearance of Denali's landscape, as treeline marches higher up the mountains.