Unit 19: Pirate Creek

Quota: 4
USGS Quad Maps: Mt McKinley B1, Mt McKinley B2, Mt McKinley A2

The many tributaries in the headwaters of Clearwater Creek create a series of valleys that terminate at the high ridge system on the southern edge of the unit. This high ridge overlooks the Muldrow Glacier to the south. While there are a few hillside willow patches and some thick brush down in the creek bottom, the majority of the area is alpine tundra. The large Muldrow Glacier makes both the eastern and southern boundary of the unit.

rock-covered glacier and distant, snowy mountains
On the Muldrow Glacier, looking toward Pirate Creek

NPS Photo


Tips and Special Features
This unit gives you up close and personal views of the Muldrow Glacier, the largest glacier coming off the north side of Denali. Not many people travel here because it is difficult to reach. Traveling to this unit requires at least one full day of challenging cross-country hiking, so most people spend a night in either Unit 13 or Unit 20 on the way in or out. Mosquitoes can be bad in this area from mid June to mid August.

There is no road access to this unit. You must cross either the Muldrow Glacier (Unit 13 or 18) or the McKinley River (Unit 14) to get into this area and both are challenging. It is about a 4.5 hour bus ride to reach the access point to start a hike into this area, but you still would not enter the unit until after many strenuous hours of hiking,

Common Routes and Hiking Corridors
This area is best for people who are doing hikes of 3 nights or longer and want to feel like they are in a remote area. Due to the challenges of getting into Unit 19, it is not recommended for backpacking trips of 2 nights or less.

During early and late summer, this area can be accessed by crossing the McKinley River from Unit 14. Crossing the McKinley River should only be attempted by backpackers with previous major river crossing experience. This is a large, glacier-fed river and it is extremely difficult to cross for most of the summer, even in sections where it is heavily braided. Once you are across the river, you can work your way east by following the low ridges east of Turtle Hill, or the McKinley River Bar, or traveling up the stream bed of the Clearwater River.

In mid-summer, when the McKinley River is flowing high, most people enter Unit 19 by traversing the Muldrow Glacier from Green Point (Unit 13) over to Point 4420 above Pirate Creek. The first part of this route involves travel along Glacier Creek to the Green Point/Crystal Creek area (about 5 miles from the Park Road). The 2-3 mile hike across the debris-covered glacier (well-below the firn line) is long, rigorous and dangerous. It requires walking up and down steep icy slopes covered with talus. At the bottom of these slopes there are often holes in the glacier that lead to lakes or rivers under the ice. Like the McKinley River, you must use extreme caution when crossing and do not underestimate the dangers of this glacier.

Additional Notes and Hazards
More detailed route descriptions for crossing the McKinley River and the Muldrow Glacier are available by talking to the staff of the Backcountry Information Center. Crossing the Muldrow Glacier near Green Point is only recommended for those visitors with previous glacier travel experience although you do not need to be roped up. It is best to cross the McKinley River early in the morning, meaning it is ideal to spend your first night in Unit 14 or 15 and cross the next day.

a brushy, rough landscape leading up to tall mountains
Tundra benches in an upper tributary of Clearwater Creek

NPS Photo

Last updated: April 14, 2015

Contact the Park

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.

Contact Us