Ermine Hill Trail to K’esugi Ridge

Alaska Guide | Hiking in the Interior

Popular ForDay hiking or Backpacking
TypeOut-and-back or connection to the Kesugi Ridge Trail
Length7.6 miles (12.3 km) roundtrip (further routes possible)
Minimum Elevation1142 ft (348 m)
Maximum Elevation2363 ft (720 m)
Total Elevation Gain1886 ft (575 m)
SeasonLate May – Early October
Estimated Time3-5 hours
RegionDenali State Park
LocationGeorge Parks Highway
ParkingSmall roadside lot

Ermine Hill Trail Overview

Nestled within Denali State Park, the Ermine Hill Trail is a remarkable 7.6-mile out-and-back trek that offers beautiful panoramic views of the Alaska Range. Notably, it provides an access point to the widely renowned K’esugi Ridge Trail, a challenging 30-mile point-to-point backpacking trail, with a detailed guide forthcoming.

Strategically located about midway between the starting and ending points of the Kesugi Trail, the Ermine Hill Trail presents hikers with an opportunity to shave off nearly half the distance of the K’esugi Trail, thus transforming it into a more manageable single overnight trip.

Hikers should note that the trail is somewhat overgrown and only moderately maintained. Obstacles such as devil’s club and downed trees may require navigation. The trail’s terrain is diverse, ranging from the lush greenery of lowland boreal forest to the rugged beauty of rocky alpine tundra. A series of switchbacks contribute to a moderate climb and descent, making this trail a balanced challenge for seasoned hikers and enthusiastic beginners alike.


Getting There

The starting point for the Ermine Hill Trail is at milepost 157 on the George Parks Highway. It’s situated approximately 53 miles south of Cantwell or 42 miles north of Trapper Creek. The parking lot, though directly accessible from the east side of the road, offers limited parking spaces. Hikers driving large RVs should note that these vehicles may not fit in the available lot.

Trail Details

Looking over Byers Creek from the Ermine Hill Trail
Byers Creek near a crossing about a mile along the trail

Your journey on the Ermine Hill Trail commences in the heart of the parking lot amidst the towering trees of a boreal forest. Not far from the trailhead, you’ll encounter a small outhouse to your left— the sole amenity at this site. The trail then leads you down into the expansive Byer’s Creek valley, featuring several boardwalks that facilitate crossing boggy areas and a small footbridge over the main creek.

Approximately one mile into the hike, the ascent begins. A steady, though not overly steep, incline will guide you to another footbridge crossing the vibrant Giardia Creek. This marks the beginning of five large switchbacks, providing a gradual climb up an otherwise steep and heavily vegetated mountainside. Looking back through the trees as you climb, you may be able to spot the Eldridge Glacier.

Looking out over the Alaska Range from the trail
Looking back along the trail nearing the switchbacks

Upon exiting the switchbacks, you will be greeted by the sight of the rocky slopes of K’esugi Ridge as you emerge from the forest. The trail continues, winding through dense alder thickets and marshy terrain.

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Close to the trail’s apex, you’ll traverse past a stunning, elongated alpine pond. The junction with the K’esugi Ridge Trail lies just beyond the pond, where numerous social and spur trails lead up the neighboring mountains and to the lakes.

Pacific loons in the alpine pond
Pacific loons in the alpine pond

On a clear day, there are stunning views of the Alaska Range from the rocky hillside above the pond.

Looking over the pond - Mt. Mather on the left (back), triangular Mt. Eldridge (front), and Sunset Peak (right)
Looking over the pond – Mt. Mather on the left (back), triangular Mt. Eldridge (front), and Sunset Peak (right)

As with any wilderness adventure in Alaska, remember that this is bear territory. Ensure you are equipped with appropriate protection and familiar with how to use it. Adherence to Leave No Trace principles is crucial to preserve the natural beauty of this trail.

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