Unit 31: Polychrome Mountain

Quota: 6
USGS Quad Maps: Healy C6


This unit is bound on the south by the high and rugged ridge system of Polychrome Mountain. The Wyoming Hills form the equally jagged northern boundary. In between these two mountainous areas are a series of east to west passes on the north and south sides of Cabin Peak that provide travel corridors. The East Fork River marks the eastern boundary of the unit as it runs through a variety of terrain and geology in the Outer Range.

looking downhill from a rocky mountainside dotted with snow
Scree slopes on the south side of Polychrome Mountain

NPS Photo


Tips/Special Features

This is a diverse unit that offers opportunities for both interesting loop hikes as well as short overnight adventures. There are no major rivers in this unit if you stay away from the East Fork River. The Wyoming Hills and Cabin Peak are high alpine areas to explore where you will see few signs of people. While Polychrome Mountain and its colorful rocks are the dominant features in this area, the summit itself is not a safe destination. The mountain’s high country is made of very loose rock outcrops and broken ridgelines. Due to a high potential for a serious fall, this is an extremely dangerous area for hiking.


The East Fork River Bridge is the primary access route into the eastern side of the unit (see description in unit 30). It is also possible to intersect the East Fork farther down-stream by descending north-flowing drainages that start near Polychrome Overlook on the road. The small creeks that flow south off of Polychrome Mountain and intersect the Park Road provide access to the southern flank of the unit. It is about a 3 hour bus ride to the western tip of this unit on the Toklat River.

Routes/Hiking Corridors

It is possible to hike north into the unit on either the East Fork River bar or among the rolling hills before and after the Polychrome Overlook (Mile 46). Hiking is generally good along the upper slopes. Read the description in Unit 30 for more information on following the East Fork toward the Wyoming Hills.

brown, brushy hills with snowy mountains in the distance
Rolling hills and drainages on the north side of Polychrome Mountain

NPS Photo


You can hike north on any one of the drainages or ridge systems in the area of Polychrome Overlook. Any northern route in this area will eventually intersect the East Fork River, allowing travel farther downstream along the west bank of the river. Unlike near the Park Road, multiple crossings of the East Fork are generally not required in the section of the river near Cabin Peak. The passes located on the north and south sides of Cabin Peak are gentle, vegetated divides. Either provides a good connection to the Toklat River (Unit 32). These are low elevation passes that have significant brush along the creeks, but often you can get above the brush and hike on tundra or rock.

Any of the small creek beds that lead up to the southern flanks of Polychrome Mountain are good options for a quick overnight hike into alpine terrain. These drainages are mostly brush-free, but you can’t travel more than a mile up most of them due to the steep ridge system which blocks further travel. Another approach possibility is a steep pass on the eastern flank of Polychrome Mountain that allows access through this rugged ridge system. This pass may involve travel on steep, icy snowfields and rocks.

The East Fork River gravel bar near Cabin Peak can be an excellent place for a base camp for a multi-night trip. A camp here allows you time to explore the southern end of the Wyoming Hills and/or Cabin Peak as day-hikes.

Additional Notes and/or Hazards

The East Fork River can be swift and dangerous. It is generally well-braided for approximately 8 miles north of the bridge, but after that it enters into a narrow canyon with no potential to cross. During summer rainstorms, the river can swell quickly, making a crossing by foot impossible without being swept downstream.

If you are camping in the drainages on the south side of Polychrome Mountain, be sure to have your tent out of view of the Park Road. Check with the Backcountry Information Center when you get your permit on current Toklat River conditions if you are planning to access this unit from the west side (Unit 32).

person laying on a tundra-covered hillside, looking downhill at a creek flowing down a mountain
Taking a break on the south side of the Wyoming Hills

NPS Photo

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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