Unit 7: Upper East Fork River

Quota: 4
USGS Quad Maps: Healy C6, Healy B6

Steep-sided, glacial valleys deep in the Alaska Range define the southern portions of this unit. The East Fork River originates from a large headwater glacier and flows north to the Park Road. Its wide, brush-free gravel river bar is surrounded by open tundra hillsides and small drainages filled with willow. The entire unit is above tree line.

a tree-less hill top in front of tall, snow-dotted mountains under a cloudy sky
Upper East Fork River

NPS Photo


Tips and Special Features
The Upper East Fork River area is all about wide open spaces, with large gravel bars, tundra benches and glaciers at the headwaters. While the views are expansive, that also means you need to hike about 5 miles from the Park Road before getting out of sight of it. Grizzly bears are consistently seen in all habitats of this area. There are two Mount Pendletons on the southern boundary of the unit. Bradford Washburn named the peak labeled on USGS maps as Peak 7810 Mount Pendleton but when the USGS drew up the map they labeled the next summit to the north Mt Pendleton because it is a few feet higher. Both should only be attempted by experienced mountaineering parties.

The northern portion of this unit along the Park Road corridor is in the Sable Pass Wildlife Closure and is closed to all hikers. Access around this closure is possible from the southwest side of Cathedral Mountain (Unit 6) or from the East Fork River Bridge. It is about a 2 hour bus ride to the East Fork Bridge, which is located on the west side of this unit.

Common Routes and Hiking Corridors
From the eastern edge of the Sable Pass Wildlife Closure (in Unit 6) head south into the high tundra ridges and small glacial valleys of the Alaska Range. This access point can be used to reach the East Fork River’s glacial headwaters by traversing south of the Sable Pass Wildlife Closure.

Alternatively, you can reach the upper East Fork River area from the western edge of the Sable Wildlife Closure near the East Fork River Bridge on the Park Road. It is approximately 9 miles from the bridge to the headwaters of the East Fork River. On the east side of the bridge you will immediately encounter a steep bluff with the river at its base. Depending on how the river is flowing, you may need to cross the river or climb over the bank in tall brush in order to continue south, both of which can be difficult. If you start on the west side of the East Fork Bridge, it may be possible to reach the headwaters by crossing only smaller side streams.

Both the Cathedral Mountain approach and the East Fork River bar provide good access to the high valleys and glaciers at the southern end of the unit, or they can be linked together to form a loop hike from one drainage to another. It is your responsibility to stay out of the Sable Pass Wildlife Closure, so mark it accurately on your map.

It is relatively easy to travel west into Unit 8 if you stay in the low tundra hills and gravel bars in the northern part of the unit. Keep in mind the East Fork River may be difficult to cross the nearer you get to the Park Road.

Additional Notes and Hazards
Only mountaineers with proper glacial travel experience and equipment should attempt either of the Mt Pendletons. Always tell the Backcountry Information Center staff if you are planning on mountain climbing during your trip. The East Fork River can be difficult to cross during times of high snow melt or rain. Throughout the unit, expect to hear air traffic on sunny days from flightseeing trips.

a rocky, uneven landscape leading up to a small glacier and steep, snow-dotted mountains
The toe of the East Fork Glacier

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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