|Popular For||Backpacking 2-3 days or very difficult day hike|
|Type||Out-and-back (Optional loop with ridge or Quartz Creek Trail) – This is a route – only a trail for 4 miles|
|Length||16+ Miles Round-trip|
|Elevation Gain||4,300 ft (1310 m)|
|Region||White Mountain National Recreation Area (Steese)|
|Trailhead Location||Mt. Prindle Campground (BLM)|
|Season||May 15 – Oct 15 (Road unmaintained in winter)|
Mt. Prindle hike via Nome Creek (Red) and more difficult ridge route (blue). Map Disclaimer
Considered one of the more difficult “trails” in the interior, Mt. Prindle offers a lot in the way of scenery. Nome Creek is undoubtedly the most straightforward approach, with a steady, gradual climb for 5 miles before turning steep. The nearby Quartz Creek Trail can alternately be used to access Mt. Prindle, although it adds some miles, and it follows a heavily used ATV trail. That’s described in Outside in the Interior by Kyle Joly if you want more info.
There are a couple of stream crossings that aren’t dangerous under normal conditions, but can potentially flood. It’s doubtful that you can keep your feet or knees dry for them. The two more significant crossings are immediate after starting the trail, so I usually start in a pair of sandals and change into my boots after the second crossing (0.2 miles). There’s a chance of moose or bear encounters here as well, so be prepared and be familiar with safety around wildlife.
The creek hike is a slog, often muddy, often buggy. It’s possible to wander up the hills to the east and follow a ridgeline (blue on map) out there, often providing respite from the bugs from wind, but it will lengthen the trip, the route finding can be challenging, and the terrain steep and dangerous in places. I’ve seen large 20 ft deep snow cornices that would ultimately prevent safe travel on the ridge in early June, although there are often places you could hike back down to the creek of you needed to.
Weather and Seasons
The weather in the White Mountains tends to be different than Fairbanks. There are frequently afternoon thunderstorms and its easy to end up in white-out conditions on the ridges and summits. Snow falls sometimes early in the fall (August/September) and persists until sometimes late June or July. US Creek road is unmaintained Oct. 15 – May 15, so you would need to snowmachine, fat-bike, or ski and extra 6 miles to the trailhead.
From Fairbanks, head north on the Steese Highway. Note that the Steese turns right in Fox. At mile 57, turn left onto US Creek Road. There is a small pullout and rest area at the road. Follow US Creek Road to a junction past a small bridge after 4 miles. Turn right (there should be a sign pointing to the Mt. Prindle Campground). Park at the campground at a large lot by an outhouse (not at a campsite). As of this writing there is no fee for leaving your car here, only staying overnight at the campground.
The Hike – Mt. Prindle via Nome Creek
There is a small trail leading down to the creek from the main parking area. Cross the creek here, looking for a gravel embankment and a gravelly trail leading into the woods on the other side. It’s typically about knee deep and not too powerful, but pay attention to the conditions. This trail winds through the woods a bit before coming to a smaller stream. This is usually the last stream that you can’t easily step over.
The first four to five miles are easy to follow. There’s a couple of stretches of bushwacking through alders, but it’s easy to re-find the trail after popping out the other side. The trail is often muddy, and if its not, consider yourself lucky. Even luckier if it’s still dry on your way out.
After about 5 miles, the trail fizzles away. Some social trails pop in and out of existence. Route-finding experience will help here, as the valley is often very boggy. Ahead in the valley is a large mountain, and if it’s clear, you’ll see a ridge with some tors to the right (east of it). That ridge is your destination. If you are not experienced at backcountry travel, I do not recommend going beyond this point.
Tor Ridges to Prindle
Once you gain the ridge, the route-finding becomes slightly more relaxed. Follow social, and animal trails along the tors traveling east toward a peak. The summit of this smaller mountain is where the ridge route (blue on map) joins this route. It could be a good route back if you are feeling more adventurous and don’t see any sizeable overhanging snow cornices.
At the top, you will get a stunning view of more tors and Mt. Prindle. This ridge of large tors is affectionately known as the Wind Chimes. The terrain is fairly steep on either side of the ridge for almost the entire remaining route, except its never knife-edge. There are a few steep descents and scrambles over big talus blocks that can be quite loose.
Beyond the Wind Chimes, the trail steepens, and the drop-off is much sharper on either side as you climb the boulder-strewn ridge up to Mt. Prindle. It never feels particularly dangerous, but a medium mistake could have huge consequences. Watch your footing as the rock can be really slick when wet. Return the way you came, or take the ridge route out for a loop (very experienced backcountry hikers only).
I have a lot of photos from the area if you are looking for inspiration. This is a beautiful area to explore! I keep going back to check out a different ridge or valley I haven’t been to before. There are some gorgeous hidden waterfalls and cascades in some of the side valleys. I highly encourage anyone into photography to just go wander out here! Here’s the link: Nome Creek/Mt. Prindle photo gallery.
If you have recently hiked Mt. Prindle, feel free to leave trail (route) conditions in the comments below! Let us know what route you took, too. Thanks for reading!