Hiking Curry Ridge Trail at K’esugi Ken Campground – Denali State Park

by Mike Still
Hiking Curry Ridge Trail at K’esugi Ken Campground – Denali State Park

Summer vacation began with a few nights at the Knapp Family cabin before Elizabeth and I met Roz, our friend and coworker, at K’esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park.  Roz arrived ahead of us to find the place eerily empty on a Tuesday afternoon, with Coronavirus keeping tourists out of Alaska.  Elizabeth has hiked the K’esugi Ridge a handful of times before, but despite the names, trails at K’esugi Ken don’t actually connect to the K’esugi Ridge Trail.  Instead we found the Curry Ridge Trailhead and heard trail reports from the weekend saying that it was in good shape, despite the rain.

Denali View from K’esugi Ken Campground

“Base of the ancient one” is written on multiple signs explaining that K’esugi Ken is an Athabascan and Dena’ina name for this stunning ridge with views of Denali.  The Athabascan and Dena’ina lived on and hunted these lands “both long ago and not so long ago.”

Hiking the Curry Ridge Trail

Blue skies tempted us westward and up the Curry Ridge Trail, before setting up camp, just in case the southern rainclouds we drove through came closer.  The Curry Ridge Trail is an out and back trail with slow but steady elevation gain to an incredible plateau with views of Denali and the Alaska range.  It only goes up about 300 meters over roughly 3 miles and took us less than an hour to get to the top.  The trail is well maintained with wide access for most of the way.  There are a few bridges as you climb above the alpine line and we encountered patches of snow and mud in late May.

There’s a flat loop at the top taking another mile or two to immerse yourself with nature.  We took the right fork, which appears to be the longer way to reach the far side and a gorgeous lake rippling a windy reflection of the clouds above.  Near the lake is another fork nearby which we thought about exploring but between the rainclouds and Roz’s pregnancy discomforts we opted to have a picnic here.  That path likely led down to the lake and if you happen to follow in our footsteps please let us know where it goes!

At the top of the trail there’s a rock outcropping, perfect for taking it all in.  Denali tempted us with her full glory, slowly emerging from the clouds!  I couldn’t contain my excitement.  We thought she would be hidden in clouds all day and couldn’t help but feel lucky to have such an incredible view.

I took this chance to fly my drone, exploring the lake by air instead of trail.  Moments like this make me so incredibly grateful that I live in Alaska.  The freedom to escape the city and explore this planet’s natural beauty, in spite of the looming pandemic, liberates my senses.

I deeply love my days in the classroom, yes, even on zoom!  My students bring me joy even on their worst days and this new position allows me the academic freedom to develop lessons that I enjoy delivering almost as much as the gleeful kids. But when summer rolls around I happily put all that on hold giving me the chance to pursue other passions like hiking and blogging.

Hikes like this make me question why anyone wouldn’t want to be a teacher.  Elizabeth and Roz laughed at this absurdity, there are plenty of people who love other professions and likely even more who want nothing to do with children outside of their own family.

Mount Foraker hides in the clouds above Ruth Glacier

We let mother nature’s view of the largest single mountain above sea level distract us from any lingering thoughts about teaching.  The clouds around Denali slowly dissipated while I flew towards that massif, crossing the Parks Highway and the Susitna River.  Deep greens of the spruce mingled with spring blooms in the forest below, the thrill of Alaska came rushing back to me.

I swung past a small lake on the way back.  No, it wasn’t a lake,  but more likely a seasonal marsh that was filled with snow until recently.   Hints of blue sky appeared, while rain clouds clearly showered the forest miles in the distance.  I landed my drone with dark clouds, creeping closer yet so we packed up and headed back down the Curry Ridge Trail.

The walk back down Curry Ridge is at a slight decline and sported an ever changing view of Denali with cloud formations floating all around the mountains.  Rain poured down to the far south, possibly a hundred miles away while we felt small drizzles on the trail.  Blue skies parted above the Ruth Glacier, far beneath the Alaska range with Foraker and Moose’s Tooth looming behind.

Mike & Elizabeth camping at Kesugi Ken – Photo by Rosalind Worcester

Which site should I pick at the Kesugi Ken Campground?

There are three cabins, lots of RV sites and only 8 tent sites at the Kesugi Ken Campground.  Tent sites were first come first served but the website was confusing and we aren’t sure if that’s due to Covid-19.  They are all well equipped, but the Tokosha cabin and tent site, Eagle 4, had the most incredible views!  After great views all day on the hike we decided to go with site 6 because it was more protected from the wind and highway noise.  All of the sites look brand new with bear bins, a fire-pit and picnic table, next to a large, flat grassy tent pad perfect for at least 2 tents.

Other Hikes at K’esugi Ken Campground

K’esugi Ken Campground offers another short loop with an excellent Denali viewpoint, a small pond and even an ‘interpretive center.’  This loop starts near the cabins and ranger station, is mostly flat and takes less than a mile to get to a clearing with a sign explaining the cloud formations you’re likely seeing instead of Denali.  Fortunately for us, Denali continued to show herself.

The interpretive center has a few covered fire-pits with plenty of room to hang out if you get caught in a rainstorm.  You can rent the interpretive center for large gatherings or just walk through and read about the fauna and flora in the region.   

Sunset glows over the Tokosha Mountains in the foothills of Denali

I felt as though Alaska was rewarding us for a successful school year with her best views and made an odd comment about how I thought the clouds actually made this scene even more interesting than if it was pure blue skies.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget this hike. My first time up K’esgui certainly won’t be my last!

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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Peter Levy June 2, 2020 - 8:44 am

You two are in a completely different world than we. We are dealing with pandemic, peaceful demonstrations, and a handful of looters and anarchists. We’re happy if we can walk down the block without a mishap.


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