“Where is the best place to see Denali?”
is a question about Alaska I get all the time. It’s probably one of the most asked questions in the Alaska tourism industry. And it is an important one for sure! There are many places where you can see the peak of Denali and the whole Alaska Range, including Denali National Park. But if you ask what’s my favorite, my answer is from Denali State Park.
Before I came to Alaska I didn’t know about Denali State Park. When someone mentioned it, I thought they made a mistake, calling the National Park a State Park. Of course, I was wrong. And years later… who knew, the Denali State Park area became one of my favorite places to explore!
There are many sections of the State Park I love, but let’s talk about one of the most accessible trails with the biggest reward: Curry Ridge Trail.
About Curry Ridge Trail
Curry Ridge Trail is a newer trail of the State Park. It’s a 6.5 mile (10.5 kilometers) out and back trail located north of Talkeetna Spur Road junction. The trailhead is within the K’esugi Ken Campground, at mile 135.4 Parks Highway. It’s easy to locate. When you’re driving on the Parks Highway and the sky is clear, it’s worthwhile to pull in for a hike.
The trail is well managed and starts off easy. It’s lined with gravel and wide enough to navigate busy foot traffic, although it was never crowded when I was there. It’s a really pretty boreal forest with lots of beautiful flora along the trail. I was there when plants were blooming, which made everything 100 different shades of green. The trail continues with switchbacks, which is helpful for hikers of all levels. Just a short uphill later the mountains started to come in the views. We’re approaching the treeline. Trees are getting shorter and it’s becoming more of an alpine tundra environment, which is my favorite place to be.
The views of Alaska Range and Denali
The reward is great. If the goal is to see the view of the Alaska Range and Denali, you can achieve that in less than a third of the hike. But if you are up for the adventure, keep going! The switchback continues. Enjoy wildflowers and enjoy wildlife, like moose. And keep looking left, to enjoy the unobstructed views of the Alaska Range and its dynamic weather system.
You’ll know if you reach the end when you see the sign for Rocky Knob. You can go left (1 mile) or right (2 miles) and both end at the same place. The top of Rocky Knob marks the end of the Curry Ridge Trail. Enjoy your reward! From here, feels like you’re standing on the tallest peak of the area, with 360-degree views of the mountain peaks, alpine tundra, Alaska Range, and Denali. There’s also Lake 1787, about 0.5 miles from Rocky Knob. Often times there are dynamic weather systems rolling in and out, it’s always a fascinating place to be.
We sat on the Rocky Knob and ate our sandwich while listening to the rumbling sky. Clouds were moving fast, some rain showers afar, and the peak of Denali was coming in and out as always. We hurried our way back after seeing a dark cloud moving in. We met a short rain shower and safely made it back to the trailhead.
The whole hike took less than 3 hours. It’s an easy hike that’s suitable for hikers of all levels and ages. And it comes with the biggest reward in the shortest amount of time.
Curry Ridge Trail specifications
- Trail Length: 3.0 miles to Rocky Knob one-way, 3.5 miles to Lake 1787 one-way
- Elevation Gain: 1100 feet
- Trail Class: 3
- Designed Use: Hiking
- Allowed Uses: Hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing
- Prohibited Uses: Motorized, bicycles, pack animals
What to bring
- Bear spray (always bring one in Alaska)
- Rain gear (did I mention the dynamic weather system?)
- Sun protection
Know where you are
It’s important to acknowledge the people who’ve been traditionally using the land for thousands of years. K’esugi Ken may sound like a person’s name to English speakers, but it’s a Dena’ina Athabascan placename for Curry Ridge. K’esugi Ken literally means “Base of the Ancient One.” The place-name refers to the southern lobe of K’esugi Ridge that lies between the Chulitna and Susitna rivers. Now you know why this place is called K’esugi Ken, right?