Unit 16: Windy Creek

Quota: 8
USGS Quad Maps: Healy B4, Healy B5


Windy Creek and its tributaries create a network of steep sided interconnected valleys throughout the unit. The valley bottoms and hillsides up to 3000 feet are covered with spruce forest, willow and alder. Above this band of vegetation are steep slopes and hanging valleys covered with talus, snowfields and alpine tundra.

a vast, rock filled plain, distant mountains and puffy white clouds
A hiker in the high ridges of Upper Windy

NPS Photo


Tips and Special Features
This unit contains some spectacular and rugged alpine terrain in its headwaters. There are also small cirque lake basins which are more typical of the Chugach Mountains than the south side of the Alaska Range. You should have good map and compass skills to navigate the maze of tributaries in this unit.

This is the easiest unit to access on the south side of the Alaska Range without flying; however, you cannot use the bus system to immediately access it. Cross-country travel in this area can be very difficult. The vegetation on the south side of the Alaska Range is thick and the Windy Creek drainages have fewer braids so river crossings can be challenging.

The major access point for this unit is through the town of Cantwell located approximately 25 miles south of the park entrance. To access the park from Cantwell, you must follow a public easement trail that is marked with orange posts. Please respect the rights of private property owners in the area by following the specific directions for parking and travel that are provided for you at the Backcountry Information Center. If you leave the public easement trail you may be fined for trespassing.

Common Routes and Hiking Corridors
Windy Creek and its tributaries define the major travel routes through this unit. The best way to access Windy Creek from Cantwell is to follow a marked public easement trail that starts at the northwest corner of town and traverses a low ridge for about 3 miles until it intersects Windy Creek. From this point, it is possible to hike upstream along Windy Creek to Foggy Pass (Unit 17), or north toward a three-way pass system that links up the headwaters of both Riley Creek (Unit 2) and Sanctuary River (Unit 5). Travel along Windy Creek can be slow going due to the heavy brush in many areas. While Windy Creek is more a river than a small creek, it is still generally crossable except during major rain storms or spring runoff.

spruce trees and thick brush along either side of a river
Thick brush alongside lower sections of Windy Creek

NPS Photo


Foggy Pass is a low divide between Cantwell Creek (Unit 17) and Windy Creek. Travel across it is not technically difficult, but it will be slow due to areas of wet, tussock tundra and patches of thick brush. Better routes can be found following animal trails on the hillsides at the southern edge of the pass rather than right through the middle. The route into Riley Creek (Unit 2) is across a wide divide that feels more like a valley than a pass. The pass itself offers great camping, but its north side is very brushy. The pass system into the Sanctuary River (Unit 5) is much steeper and more difficult. It is a longer climb and there are sections of steep scree on the Windy Creek side, but it is mostly tundra on the slopes leading into the Sanctuary River drainage.

Windy Creek can be either the beginning or the end of a long trip along the Denali Fault on the south side of the Alaska Range. For a full traverse, it is best to have 8 or more days. For more information on this north-side traverse read the descriptions in Unit 17 and 23.

Additional Notes and Hazards
To camp in Unit 16, you need a Backcountry Permit from the Backcountry Information Center (BIC). When you get your Permit, do not leave the BIC without proper directions on how to access Windy Creek without trespassing. This side of the Alaska Range receives more snow in the winter and precipitation in the summer, so expect snow in the passes until July or even August. There have been both black and grizzly bears seen along the animal trails in the brush - be sure to make lots of noise to warn animals of your approach.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


(907) 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am—4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

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