Granite Tors West Side

Granite Tors West Side
One of the Welcome Tors at Granite Tors, about 5 miles in on the west side of the loop

On Sunday, Cat and I hiked the west side of the Granite Tors loop trail in the Chena River State Recreation Area. We covered a little over 11 miles as an out-and-back rather than completing the loop. It was another gorgeous spring day; we seem to be experiencing many of them this year. The weather was warm but not oppressively hot, with just enough breeze near the top to keep the bugs at a tolerable level. Surprisingly, for a weekend, we didn’t encounter another person during our seven-hour trek.

I had hoped for more wildflowers, but they were unexpectedly sparse. While my recent hikes have showcased incredible floral diversity, this trail offered less variety. I observed a handful of common species typical to the area, but I don’t think I discovered anything new for my Alaska Wildflower Guide. That said, I still have at least one unidentified plant, and I haven’t finished editing all the photos yet.

The trail becomes increasingly overgrown each year, especially towards and at the top. I recall the summit being almost entirely open tundra when I first hiked it a decade ago. Now, there are sections so densely vegetated that, were it not for the well-worn path, you’d have no idea you were on a trail at all.

Some of the first views of the valley about four miles in

The trail features two notable hills after reaching the tors. Approaching from the west end of the loop, you encounter the Welcome Tors at approximately mile 4.5. From there, it’s another half to three-quarters of a mile to the summit of the first hill, which served as our turnaround point for the day.

Continuing onward would lead you into a valley and up a higher hill, where some of the most impressive tors are located. However, this route involves traversing a couple of miles of often wet tundra, followed by a long, undulating descent—a challenge we weren’t up for on this particular day.

We took some time to relax at our turnaround point. I spent over ten minutes photographing an extensive and stunning growth of bluff cinquefoil (Potentilla arenosa).

Rare photo of me, of course, taking photos of flowers (bluff cinquefoil) on the trail
Bluff cinquefoil (Potentilla arenosa)
Top-down view of bluff cinquefoil
The sunlight makes the hairs on the bluff cinquefoil glow
The lichen on the tors gives them a black color, and the granite itself is quite light

While Cat found a comfortable spot to rest and close her eyes for a few minutes, I began exploring the area around the tors. As I wandered through a patch abundant with eightpetal mountain avens (Dryas octopetala), I nearly missed a tiny yellow speck. Upon closer inspection, it was a twoflower violet (Viola biflora). This was an exciting find, as my previous encounters with this species yielded only a few blurry photos from a windy day in Denali National Park. I captured several clear shots with my macro lens this time, highlighting the distinctive purple veins on the flower’s lower petal.



Twoflower violet (Viola biflora)

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There were some gorgeous blooms of arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus)

While strolling around the area, we stopped to play on the rocks a bit. I’d really like to bring my climbing shoes and chalk out here sometime. There’s one particular boulder that looks like it would have several fine lines on it, but the texture is really tough. Cat described it as grabbing sharp soap, which is accurate. Even though the granite is very crystalline, cutting into your fingers, the overall texture is quite slick. Someday, I’ll remember to bring some gear up.

Cat starting one of the potential routes

Despite the lack of flowers and the overgrown trail, it was a beautiful and fun trip. In the end, my feet were starting to hurt. I always seem to forget how steadily uphill the trail is, gaining over 3800 feet in those first 5.5 miles. Plus, I always love getting out with Cat; she is such a fun hiking partner.

This was the area we explored for wildflowers
The second Welcome Tor, known as Lizard’s Eye (I assume because of the small cave that runs through the center of it)
View of a beaver-dammed pond in Rock Creek
A slightly inflated spot on Rock Creek from a smaller beaver dam

I mentioned that I haven’t uploaded all the photos yet, but probably will in the next week. The full photo gallery for the day (so far) is here: Gallery – June 16, 2024 (with a few bonus photos of spotted lady’s slippers (Cypripedium guttatum) that I took earlier in the day at Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary in Fairbanks.

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