McManus Mountain Hike

Alaska GuideInterior Hiking

Popular ForDay-hike
DifficultyEasy to Moderate
Route-findingModerate (route – no trail, but easy to navigate)
Length7.5 Miles Round-trip
Elevation Gain2215 ft (675 m)
RegionWhite Mountain National Recreation Area (Steese)
LocationBegins on Pinnell Mountain Trail Twelvemile Summit milepost 85.5 on Steese Highway

McManus Mountain route (no trail) – map disclaimer

Overview – McManus Mountain

McManus Mountain is an excellent hike through tundra and alpine terrain near the twelve-mile summit off the Steese Highway. It’s a route, not a trail, so you will need to have some navigational skills. But, since it’s completely open and treeless, the summit is not difficult to find. On a clear day, the road may be in view for nearly the entire hike.

The route is quite steep in spots, and may involve a little scrambling over steep talus near the top. I wouldn’t call it dangerous, but with loose footing on steep terrain it’s of course possible to get hurt. As long as you look ahead and take some time to find the safest ways through the talus escarpments near the top, nothing is too daunting on this hike.

Gorgeous and endless views of the White Mountains from the summit | Purchase Print

Looking for a shorter hike nearby? Check out the Table Top Mountain Trail
More adventurous? Look at the nearby Mt. Prindle Hike

Weather and Seasons

The best season to hike is in summer. Snow may persist, especially at higher elevations well into late spring, but should typically be melted by mid-late June. June through August, expect bugs and mosquitoes. It’s frequently windy enough to suppress them, but when the wind dies, they swarm! We had a particularly bad time with the no-see-ums one day in the late afternoon. End of August and September this countryside is beautiful and much less buggy!

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The weather in the White Mountains is unpredictable, so be prepared for anything! I’m often caught in afternoon thunderstorms when the weather in nearby Fairbanks is cloudless. This is an alpine zone, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to get snow in the summer. Water is scarce, so I wouldn’t rely on being able to pump or filter anything on this hike.

Lingering snow on McManus Mountain in late June.
Lingering snow in late June on one of the talus escarpments near the summit

I don’t know anyone that has skied or snowshoed this route or area, although it might be nice. If the summit of McManus in winter or spring is your goal, you must be knowledgeable in safety in avalanche terrain! There are definitely numerous terrain traps in the area and variable, steep slopes. Be aware that the highway may be gated during and after snowstorms.

Getting There

From Fairbanks, head north on the Steese Highway. Note that the Steese turns right in Fox. At mile 85.5 there is a large turnout and parking area for the Pinnell Mountain Trail. This is the parking area. At the time of this writing there is no fee for parking.

McManus Mountain Hike

On a clear day, you will see McManus Mountain from the parking area looking northwest. You’ll see some small tors to the north, a rounded dome west of the tors, and the rockier summit of McManus west of that.

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There are numerous ways to the summit of McManus Mountain; this describes one somewhat familiar route that I picked because it is particularly photogenic. It is similar to Kyle Joly’s description in Outside in the Interior, except I added about a half-mile of hiking to pass some Tors near the Pinnell Mountain Trail in this description.

One of the tors after stepping off the Pinnell Mountain Trail | Purchase Print

Route Description

After crossing the Steese Highway to the north, start out on the marked Pinnell Mountain Trail. Some rickety boardwalks will help keep your feet dry or from rolling an ankle on the tussocked ground. You’ll come to the tors in just under 1 mile, but you could turn northwest after about 0.5 miles to head up the rounded dome or skirt around the south side.

Hike slightly past the tors and turn to head to the rocks right before the willows become about waist high. In late June/July there are wildflowers everywhere! Walk to the top and spend some time exploring the tors. This would be the perfect destination for a more casual walk if you only wanted to spend an hour and see some gorgeous scenery and flowers.

More of the tors | Purchase Print

There’s a small saddle between the tors and the dome to the west. If you want a more scenic walk and don’t mind more elevation gain (and loss), hike to the top of the dome anyway you see fit. I hiked just to the left of some dark talus and a shallow depression filled with snow (June). It’s steep, but was over surprisingly quickly. Otherwise, skirt along the south side of the rounded dome trying to stay slightly below 3800′ elevation to hit the saddle at the right spot.

The first dome on the way up McManus Mountain
The first dome to climb

Continue west of flat terrain at the top of the dome for about 1/4-mile. At the southwest corner is a talus slope. There’s a well-built wind shelter on the southwest side of the talus if you feel like exploring. Otherwise, stay north and start looking for a less rocky path down to the saddle between this dome and McManus Mountain.

McManus Mountain – Final Stretch

Once down in the saddle, look to gain the McManus Mountain ridge on the northeast (closest to you) side. Follow the ridge on relatively flat terrain in open tundra. The rocky talus slopes look more intimidating from a distance than they are.

Looking at the two sizeable talus steps to reach the McManus Mountain Summit
Looking at the two sizeable talus steps to reach the McManus Mountain Summit

Look for a more natural path through the talus by staying to the right (western) side of the talus. If you find the right spot, there is no scrambling necessary. Make a mental note where you emerge from the top; it’s not as easy to spot on the way down.

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There’s a series of rocky summits to explore on the top, each one affords a somewhat unique view, and it’s a fun place to wander and take photos, or eat lunch. Return the way you came, or if you are adventurous, find a different route down.

It is also possible to continue down the ridge southwest until meeting up with an ATV trail that takes you south to Montana Creek. To finish this loop requires a 5-mile hike back along the road unless you bring a second vehicle.

Hiking back down the final stretch of the Pinnell Mountain Trail on the boardwalk
Hiking back down the final stretch of the Pinnell Mountain Trail on the boardwalk

If you have recently hiked McManus Mountain, feel free to leave trail (route) conditions in the comments below! Let us know what route you took and the date, too. Thanks for reading!

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