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|Popular For||Day hiking|
|Season||Mid May – September or early October|
|Type||Loop + Out-and-back|
|Difficulty||Easy (Steep sections and rocky)|
|Length||3.6-mile loop with additional 1-mile out-and-back to summit|
|Elevation Gain||1230 ft (375 m)|
|Estimated Time||2-3 hours|
|Location||White Mountain National Recreation Area|
Located approximately 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, Table Top Mountain Trail is a 3.6-mile loop. A 1-mile out-and-back extension to the top of Table Top Mountain makes for a 4.6-mile hike. The mountain is a mesa-like hill in the Nome Creek region of the White Mountain National Recreation Area.
The loop is an easy day-hike that can be done in 1-2 hours. The extension to the top is also easy but does involve a little bit of steep terrain with loose footing. Overall, the entire hike should be suitable for anyone, including families with children and dogs. The summit is treeless and has great views of the surrounding mountains, a great display of the vastness of the state of Alaska.
The hiking season here is late-may through late October (see note about road closure in winter below). The trail is typically a bit wet and may have some snow in May and early June. The mosquitoes are at their worst May – July. August typically brings a bit nicer weather and by September the bugs are gone. It is possible to hike, snowshoe, or ski in the winter, but you will need to start from the Steese Highway, adding almost 15-miles one-way. It is possible to snowmachine in to the trailhead.
Directions and Logistics
Drive north on the Steese Highway out of Fairbanks. Be aware that the Steese turns right in Fox heading toward Circle (Alaska 6). This drive takes you through the beautiful, forested Chatanika Valley. At mile 57.4, turn left on US Creek Road turning left after crossing the creek (6.7 miles) onto Nome Creek Road. After 8.5 miles there is a sharp bend in the road at a small drainage where there are some roadside parking spots for the trailhead. There are two different locations on either side of the bend that the trail enters the road. There are signs marking the trailhead.
Note that this road is only seasonally maintained! At the time of this writing, the road is unmaintained from October 1 – May 15. Usually, once the snow falls, the road is not possible. US Creek Road can be fairly rough at any time of the year, but 4-wheel drive isn’t necessary. Be prepared for the washer boards!
Table Top Mountain Trail
I typically start this hike on the west end, hiking clockwise, so that’s what I describe here. The view in front of you is just slightly better at the top going this direction. The trail is gradual uphill from the start, meandering through regenerating spruce trees in an area that was nearly left barren by a wildfire in 2004. Expect the trail to be quite muddy and boggy in the spring or after significant rain. There are often many wildflowers and berries here and the forest is not yet very dense, leading to good views of the surrounding landscape.
Summit and Descent
Nearing the top you come out of the trees, where all the largest trees are dead spruce from the fire. You’ll see the Table Top plateau in front of you. To hike to the top, follow one of a couple of social trails through the tundra. Make note of where you left the trail so you can find your way back. Careful, on the talus, there are definitely some loose sections, but it’s not difficult to find a safe way to the top. If you are into taking photos I definitely recommend a hike around the perimeter of the top for a variety of vistas.
After heading back to the loop, continue on the main trail heading southeast. The trail descends slowly through the same type of terrain and landscape you had on the way up. If you are lucky, the trail might be a bit drier. Of course, the trail drops you on to the road just east of where you entered, so you’ll have a short walk back to the car.