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The Stampede Trail in Alaska was a mining trail blazed in the 1930s by Alaska miner Earl Pilgrim to access his antimony claims on Stampede Creek, above the Clearwater Fork of the Toklat River. Located in Denali Borough; what is now known as Stampede Road begins near the Nenana River at the Alaska Railroad's Anchorage-Fairbanks route in the village of Lignite.
In 1961, Yutan Construction won a contract from the new state of Alaska to upgrade the trail as part of Alaska's Pioneer Road Program, building a road on which trucks could haul ore from the mines year-round to the railroad. The project was halted in 1963 after some fifty miles of roads were built, but no bridges were ever constructed over the several rivers it crossed, and the route was shortly rendered impassable by thawing permafrost and floods. The trail has since been used by backcountry travelers on foot, bicycle, snowmachine, and motorcycle.
The trail's main obstacle is the crossing of the Teklanika River. The river's fluctuating depth can hinder attempts to ford it. In August of 2010, flooding resulted in the drowning death of Claire Ackermann, a hiker from Switzerland.
(Read more about Chris McCandless from the book, "Into The Wild")
The trail gained notoriety in 1992 when Outside Magazine published an article written by Jon Krakauer titled "Death of an Innocent" describing the death of Christopher McCandless, who had lived in a bus parked on an overgrown section of the trail near Denali National Park. The old bus had been left behind by the Yutan Construction Company during the road building to serve as a backcountry shelter for hunters, trappers and ranger patrols. The bus can be seen clearly on Google Earth (63°52′06.23″N 149°46′09.49″W / 63.8683972°N 149.7693028°W / 63.8683972; -149.7693028) and Google Maps.
In recent years, the trail has seen a pilgrimage of visitors seeking where McCandless perished. The September 2007 release of the film version of Jon Krakauer's 1996 book about McCandless, Into the Wild, has revived interest in the trail.
As author of this website I have read the aforementioned book and give it a high review! I tried to see the bus using Google Earth, but it wouldn't show up for me.
Unit 61, 62, 63: Stampede
UNIT 61, 62, 63
Description: Units 62 and 63 make up the lowland valley between the Outer Range to the south and another east to west ridge system to the north in Unit 61. This large flat lowland between the two ridge systems is covered in tussock tundra, brush and bog. The historic “Stampede Trail” goes through this area to the Toklat River, but it is very overgrown and difficult to follow after the Sushana River. The crest of the ridge to the north in Unit 61 is open with dry tundra, but the hillsides, spur ridges or drainages on its sides are very brushy. .
Tips/Special Features: These areas are remote and rarely visited during the summer because they are difficult to reach and travel across, particularly Unit 62 and 63. There are some surprisingly good views of Mount McKinley from the ridge system in Unit 61. Expect to see heavy off-road vehicle (ORV) use along access routes outside the park, particularly in late August and September during hunting season.
Access: Stampede Road is a few miles north of the town of Healy on Hwy 3, and it is the major access route for any trip into these units. Stampede is paved to mile 4 and then it is drivable in most cars to about Mile 5. High clearance and/or four wheel drive is necessary to go farther. Stampede Road appears on many maps to go all the way to the Toklat River, but its utility as a vehicle access route is limited. It was constructed nearly 50 years ago and it is boggy or overgrown in many areas. There are no bridges across the river or creek crossings. There is also another major ORV trail outside Denali that runs along the north side of Unit 61. This trail begins at Mile 262 on Hwy 3.
Routes/Hiking Corridors: Routes into the southern side of Unit 61 start on the Stampede Road. After the pavement ends (Mile 4), you can leave your car in any pullout, as long as it is not a driveway or posted property. Much of this is Alaska State land and more information about the rules and regulations can be found by contacting the Denali Chamber of Commerce in Healy, Alaska. The Stampede Road and trail passes by many pieces of private property, cabins and hunting camps - never trespass. .
ORV trails can be difficult to find until you are immediately on them
One option for reaching the higher hills in Unit 61 is to hike north along the ORV trails that are on the east side of 8 Mile Lake (Mile 8 on the Stampede Road) until they intersect with spur ridges that lead to the drier ground of the main ridge system. Another approach is to walk down the Stampede Road toward the Savage River. The road approaches the base of the hills in Unit 61 near Fish Creek. At this point it is possible to climb spur ridges to the top of the of the main ridge system to the north. A traverse of the high ridge in Unit 61 could be made by crossing over to the ORV trail on the north side of the unit and then following it back east to Hwy 3.
Hiking further west along the Stampede Road toward Units 62 and 63 requires a crossing of the Savage and Teklanika Rivers. The Teklanika crossing cannot be made dependably on foot. A pack raft is recommended for mid-summer. The trail beyond the Teklanika to the Sushana River is generally passable except for some navigating around beaver ponds immediately west of the Teklanika. The road becomes nearly impossible to follow due to brush and swampy ground beyond the Sushana River.
While Unit 61 offers some hiking possibilities on the upper ridges, travel across Unit 62 and 63 will be extremely difficult due to the tussock tundra, brush and river crossings.
Additional Notes and/or Hazards: There is heavy ORV use along the portions of the roadbed outside the National Park, especially during moose hunting season (August to September). Wear bright colors during this time and never enter a private cabin or camp without prior permission. .
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63° 52′ 6.23″ N, 149° 46′ 9.49″