Unit 38: Lower Toklat

Quota: 6
USGS Quad Maps: Mt McKinley C1, Healy C6

Description: This unit follows the large, braided Toklat River as it makes its way from the northern flanks of the Wyoming Hills and Outer Range to its junction with the Clearwater Fork. The northern two thirds of this unit are tussock tundra and brushy lowlands. There is only a small area in the Wyoming Hills that is covered with alpine vegetation.

Spruce forest and the lower Toklat River, seen from the north side of the Wyoming Hills
Spruce forest and the lower Toklat River, seen from the north side of the Wyoming Hills

nps photo


Tips/Special Features: The Wyoming Hills provide a remote hiking experience that is within a one day walk of the Park Road. You are unlikely to see other hikers or signs of their use. This can be a very challenging area to reach and will require several major river crossings. It might be more appropriate to visit here after doing other cross-country backpacking trips in Alaska.

Access: No direct access is possible to this unit from the Park Road or other developed areas. All access is via adjacent units (Units 32, 37, 39, 63). Typical access is from the south, either from the Wyoming Hills or down the Toklat River. Access is also possible from the north end of unit 39 by following Stony Creek.

Routes/Hiking Corridors: The large gravel bar of the Toklat River is the best way to hike north or south in unit 38. To reach unit 38 from the Park Road, you must hike about 7 miles north of the Toklat River Bridge. This usually involves multiple crossings of the main branch of the Toklat River (see the description in Unit 32). For this reason, this unit is not recommended as an overnight trip; it should be done as part of a longer trip, preferably for 3-5 nights. After passing Cabin Creek, it is best to be on the west side of the Toklat River until the boundary of Unit 38.

The northern half of the Wyoming Hills has many surprises for visitors, from gravel topped plateaus, to steep, loose rock, to large waterfalls. A route across the top of the Wyoming Hills between units 37 and 38 is possible, but it will require steep climbs and significant elevation gain. You will be required to traverse steep scree slopes, where a wrong step can result in a serious fall. Travel around the north side of the Wyoming Hills is very difficult because of the wet lowland vegetation and brush. Similar vegetation is also present to the west on the low ridges between the Toklat River and Stony Creek (Unit 39). However, the distance required to make a crossing between these two drainages is short enough that it is a realistic route for a hiker who has experience with cross-country travel in Alaska.

Lower Toklat River gravel bar
The lower Toklat River gravel bar

nps photo


Following the Toklat River past the Wyoming Hills leads you down a gravel bar that is a mile wide in some sections. This area is prime habitat for the large mammals of Denali. At the junction of the Clearwater Fork, it is possible to make a route back to the Park Road by following the Kantishna Hills (Unit 40) to the west, or going south up Stony Creek to its headwaters (Unit 39). Both of these long hikes are only for experienced cross-country travelers who are comfortable with large river crossings and navigating in brushy and/or steep terrain. You need at least a week for either of these trips and they should not be attempted alone.

Additional Notes and/or Hazards: At high water levels, the Toklat River can be very dangerous to cross on foot and should be avoided. Check with the Backcountry Information Center when you get your permit on current Toklat River conditions and the latest information on the best place to cross. Black bears as well as grizzly bears may inhabit this area. Mosquitoes are dense in the northern flatlands of this unit in summer.

The northern section of unit 38 in fall
The northern section of unit 38 in fall

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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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