Nome Creek Hills – Backcountry Hiking

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Popular ForDay hiking or Backpack
TypeLoop – Majority off-trail
DifficultyModerate
Length7.7 miles (12.4 km) roundtrip (further routes possible)
Minimum Elevation2464 ft (751 m)
Maximum Elevation4012 ft (1223 m)
Total Elevation Gain2461 ft (750 m)
SeasonLate May – Early October (Road maintained between May 15 – Oct 15)
NavigationEasy
Estimated Time3-5 hours
RegionWhite Mountain National Recreation Area (70 miles outside Fairbanks)
LocationSteese Highway – US Creek Road
ParkingMedium lot

Overview – Nome Creek Hills

This area is the perfect location to practice your backcountry, off-trail hiking skills! Easy navigation across open tundra and alpine ridges, as well as proximity to a popular valley trail, make this a difficult place to get lost and a great place to wander. I have posted some of my GPS tracks here, but I ask you not to follow them exactly to avoid the development of social trails, especially on the vegetated tundra. It doesn’t really matter on the rocky ridges. But, it should be easy enough to find your own way. The main loop here (blue) is easily made in a half-day.

These are great alternatives to the longer hike to Mt. Prindle. I love hiking in the area, but Prindle is tough to do in a day. The Nome Creek Trail is pretty but also very muddy and buggy. These ridges are a great alternative (although they will use the Nome Creek Trail one-way).

The view from the small summit extension. Mt. Prindle is just beyond the tor-dotted ridge on the left
The view from the small summit extension. Mt. Prindle is just beyond the tor-dotted ridge on the left | Purchase Print

Getting There

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 on 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 Hikes

I’ve highlighted two potential routes in the Nome Creek hills. The main loop is easily done in a day or half-day. The extension (green) is better suited for a full day (12 miles). The short summit route added to the full loop will make for about 14-15 miles, with approximately 4000 feet of total elevation gain, so most likely a full day. There are lots of good places to camp along the routes, so making any of them into an overnight could be a great trip. The ridgeline continues all the way to Mt. Prindle if you are looking for a 25-30 mile adventure. That route includes some very steep sections on loose talus.

Gorgeous view on the climb up from the creek drainage
Gorgeous view on the climb up from the creek drainage | Purchase Print
In June/July there are massive fields of cottongrass in the area
In June/July, there are massive fields of cottongrass in the area | Purchase Print

Each loop encircles drainages into Nome Creek that originate along a ridge running north-south. That ridgeline follows the Fairbanks North Star Borough boundary. It’s quite easy to hike back to the Nome Creek Trail by heading west at almost any point. Some of the creek drainages are also very pretty and can be nice walks as well. Just be ready for a bit more vegetation and maybe worse footing. This is a great place to explore and create your own route!

Return to the car along the Nome Creek Trail.

7.7-mile loop

This description is for counter-clockwise rotation. This route follows the hills and ridges around the first creek drainage into Nome Creek. From the Mt. Prindle Campground, follow the small footpath leading down to Nome Creek. Crossing at the shallowest location leads directly to the trail on the other side. It won’t be easy to keep your feet dry most of the year, so be prepared. You’ll only follow the trail for a short bit through the willows before coming to another small creek. Instead of crossing, look for a small social trail leading upstream and uphill. It will disappear quickly once you are out of the brush.

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Rock outcroppings near the junction with the north-south ridge
Rock outcroppings near the junction with the north-south ridge

You can follow this hill up to the ridge or stay on the north side of the hill about 3/4 of the way up. I followed the terrain to avoid the ups and downs of the saddles on the gentle ridge until getting to the north-south ridge before turning north to start the loop around the first valley. Once you’ve reached the north end of this creek drainage, turn west and south along a gently sloping hill back to the Nome Creek Trail. I recommend hitting some high points on this hill to see some nice northern views!

Gorgeous evening light on the endless hills – From a campsite just before the gentle descent | Purchase Print

12-mile loop

Scrambling up the talus on the middle ridge
Scrambling up the talus on the middle ridge (hiking in the opposite direction as described)

This extension includes the next creek drainage to the north. The hike begins the same as the 7.7-mile loop but continues on the north-south ridge to loop around the next drainage. Following the rockier ridgeline here might pay off, as the sidehilling can be difficult on these steeper hills. There is a bit more talus here, but most of it is fairly stable. Once you reach a small summit on the north side of this creek drainage, descend via the lowest angle terrain to the valley and the Nome Creek Trail.

orgeous fall foliage on the return along the Nome Creek Trail
Gorgeous fall foliage on the return along the Nome Creek Trail | Purchase Print

Short Summit Extension

If you continue along the north-south ridge up to the second-highest point in the immediate area, there are some great views. It’s about another mile one-way and includes some steep talus. (Sidenote: It’s possible to continue all the way to Mt. Prindle from here. The next saddle along the ridge and the next tall peak often stay snow-covered until July. Even in mid-July, I have seen deep snow cornices on these ridgelines. Don’t attempt unless you are very comfortable with your route-finding ability. This will be a 25+ mile trip.)

You can return down the western side of this hill, but it has some ridiculously steep sections. That’s why I suggest just returning to the hills to the south. Alternately, you can hike down the creek drainage in between. There are some pretty hidden waterfalls (I didn’t include the route, but you can find the waterfall coordinates on the map above).

Wildlife Considerations

I frequently see caribou and ptarmigan in the area. Dall sheep can frequently be spotted in the black talus. I have seen signs of wolves on these ridges. One time I even found bear scat, but it seems bears are rarely spotted in this area. Still, it’s wise to carry bear spray or a firearm and know how to use them and make some noise while hiking.

Caribou in the tundra of the Nome Creek Hills
Caribou along the 12-mile route

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