Grapefruit Rocks is on the short list of favorite spots for local rock climbers, who make frequent weekend trips to these limestone formations and boulders standing 50 miles north of Fairbanks. Grapefruit Rocks is both “off the beaten path” and yet still accessible by road, and offers some of the best rock climbing in the Interior. It makes for a great day hike to watch climbers attempt runs on a variety of limestone facades. Feeling bold? Strap on a harness and try a few for yourself.
To get to the trailhead, drive north from Fairbanks on the Steese Highway and continue straight on the Elliott Highway when it splits from the Steese in Fox. This drive is a treat in itself, taking you alongside the White Mountains National Recreation Area and through the vast wilderness that dwarfs the city of Fairbanks, the most northern outpost of its size in the state. This road is legendary for its tough driving conditions, and is known as the “haul road” because semis use it to transport goods to Prudhoe Bay. The challenges of doing so are well-documented in Ice Road Truckers. In the summer, though, driving this stretch is fairly tame. Just keep an eye out for road debris, pot holes, moose, and oncoming semis that may hug the center line.
It’s easy to miss the trailhead for Upper Grapefruit (the main attraction), because it isn’t maintained or marked. Look for mile marker 39 as you drive. Better yet, keep track of mileage on your odometer. You’ll come to mile 39 while driving up a hill. Look for a guardrail on the right, and a dirt turnoff that immediately follows it. Turn onto this small dirt road and follow it down a slight decline to a slanted parking area. You’ll see an old wooden trail sign. The trail to Grapefruit Rocks starts beside the kiosk at the end of this lot. The short hike is made tough by rapid elevation gain, but spoils with great views from almost the very start. Much of the route you covered in your car will be visible along the way. At the top, you’ll recognize the towering limestone facades that you could also see from the parking lot. The most popular climbing features at Grapefruit Rocks are known as Morning Wall and Falcon Rock, according to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
Want more? If you continue on for another half mile up the Elliott Highway, back at the trailhead, you will come to a second pullout that leads to Lower Grapefruit. This is another collection of rocks and boulders that many climbers and day hikers like to explore.
Virtually all those who visit Grapefruit Rocks are totally self-supported. There are no facilities at the trailhead or staff on hand to show you how it’s done. You should be competent in rock climbing techniques and have the proper gear before taking on this challenge. UAF students can rent rock climbing gear from Outdoor Adventures in the Wood Center or at (907)474-6027. Outdoor Adventures also leads trips to the rocks at least once a year.
For further guidance, stop into the Alaska Public Lands Information Center at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center (101 Dunkel Street) or call them at (907) 459-3730.