Why Take This Hike?
Sugarloaf offers fun, steep, and challenging ridge hiking above the hotels and restaurants of the commercial area North of Denali National Park. It’s a great place to scramble freely in this region’s semi-arid alpine zone or to enjoy a long midnight sunset. The broad, west facing peak of Sugarloaf Mountain is a rewarding summit, and once you’ve climbed the steepest trail section at the beginning you’ll likely have the rest of trail to yourself, with a million dollar view.
The easiest access to Sugarloaf Mountain is from the back of the parking lot at the Grande Denali Lodge. Follow signs for the lodge up a steep road on the east side of the Parks Highway at Mile 238. No marker exists for the beginning of the trail. Look for a few utility boxes at the northernmost end of the parking lot. From there you’ll begin a sharp ascent that is a sign of things to come. A high level of fitness is required for this roughly four-mile out and back trail.
You’ll pass by a blank billboard after a short climb, the only manmade structure you’ll see along the trail. After the steep start, the trail moderates slightly as you ascend through the last spruce trees and large alders along timberline. Erosion on the trail to this point makes for some steep and difficult hiking on dirt. Care should be taken to avoid hiking this section when wet from rain. Proper footwear and good balance are a must.
It’s also a good idea to pace yourself if you plan to reach the summit. The elevation gained from the parking lot to the summit is 2,700 feet, and the steepness of the hiking is sustained. Much of the route above treeline will be on loose scree or small rocks, making for exciting hiking. You’re at the right elevation to catch a glimpse of Dall Sheep on nearby ridges. Keep your eyes peeled!
Across the Nenana River Valley to the west, Mt. Healy may look similar to the terrain under your feet. That’s because both Sugarloaf and Mount Healy are part of the same geologic feature called a terrane. Approaching the 4,400-foot summit of Sugarloaf, the scenic views you’ve experienced thus far only get better. The neighboring peaks of Mount Fellows to the south and Mount Dora to the northeast punctuate a rugged and majestic skyline. In midsummer, the lush green canopy of willow and alder leaves over the many folds and ravines of this steep country is a feast for the eyes. In autumn, blazing reds and oranges of bearberries and balsam poplars light the same mountains on fire. Whenever you happen to be hiking up the steep, often sunny slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain, you’ll be surrounded by Denali’s natural beauty. All within a short drive or a walk from the area’s many hotels and restaurants.