Unit 17: Foggy and Easy Pass

Quota: 8
USGS Quad Maps: Healy B5, Healy B6

The steep sided mountain valleys at the headwaters of the Bull River and Cantwell Creek make up the majority of the terrain in this unit. The high peaks and passes are covered in permanent snowfields and glaciers. The lower reaches of these streams cross into lowland areas of large gravel bars, dense vegetation and bogs.

tree-less hills in front of tall mountains
Looking down the Denali Fault line, the low point between various ridges in the distance

NPS Photo


Tips/Special Features: The Denali Fault provides a natural travel corridor through the high peaks and valleys of the unit from Foggy Pass in the eastern side to Easy Pass at the western end. Large and scenic glaciers are accessible at the headwaters of the drainages in the area. This unit is full of remote mountain scenery with little chance of running into other hikers or their traces. Wildflowers can be abundant in the alpine passes of this area in June.

Access: There is no nearby road access to Unit 17 and all approaches take over a day of cross-country travel to reach it. The typical access points for this unit are from Cantwell and Foggy Pass on the east end (Unit 16) or from Anderson Pass and Easy Pass to the west (Unit 23). It is possible to access the midpoint of the unit with some difficulty from the Parks Highway by following Cantwell Creek up to the Denali Wilderness boundary (Unit 70) or from the terminus of the Dunkle Mine Road in the Costello Creek area (Unit 70). Both of these routes involve at least one major river crossing that may be impossible during times of snow melt and heavy rain. Please contact the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) for more information.

Routes/Hiking Corridors: Trips in this area are only recommended for hikers who have extensive experience with multiday cross-country hiking trips in rugged terrain. Large river crossings are required to move into and around this unit.

The major travel route is along the Denali Fault, an east-west system of low passes on the south side of the Alaska Range. A hike along the Denali Fault requires a commitment to a long trip (7-10 days) with heavy loads. There is no “easy out” along the route like in many units along the Park Road corridor. Neither the Bull River nor Cantwell Creek intersects the Parks Highway.

Information on access from Cantwell to Foggy Pass is provided in the Unit 16 description. Similarly, access to the west end of this route is provided in the Unit 23 description. The pass between Cantwell Creek and the Bull River can be snowbound until mid-summer and it is very brushy on the Cantwell Creek side.

brushy plain in front of a wide gravel bar, narrow river, and rocky mountains
Upper Cantwell Creek and the Cantwell Glacier

nps photo


Both the Bull River and Cantwell Creek are major drainages, and the farther downriver you go from the headwaters, the deeper and swifter the channels become. These rivers become especially large in late June and early July when the heavy snow from the south side of the Alaska Range is melting. They can become un-crossable by foot during times of heavy rain.

Easy Pass is at least true to its name. It is a wide, flat valley with low tundra vegetation rather than a steep mountain pass. The glaciers at the headwaters of any of the rivers in the area can be reached by traveling up the gravel bars that lead to them. There are endless exploring opportunities in this unit of ridges, glaciers and valleys.

Additional Notes and/or Hazards: If you are considering a hike along the Denali Fault, please contact the BIC for more detailed information. Crossing depths for the Cantwell and Bull Rivers at their headwaters can be 2-2 ½ feet even under the best of conditions. Experience with crossing large glacial streams is advised before you attempt a trip in this area.

The gravel bar of the Bull River, seen from Easy Pass
The gravel bar of the Bull River, seen from Easy Pass

nps photo

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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