What You Should Know About The Stampede Trail

The Alaskan backcountry can be exceptionally unforgiving. Even minor mistakes can quickly turn into life threatening crises for the unprepared. Pack extra food and water. Bring a compass even if you have a GPS. Hike with a friend; it's more fun that way anyhow! Pack a first aid kit, a good map, warm clothes, etc. Expect to get very wet. Line your pack with a dry bag, or at a bare minimum a trash bag. Put electronics into ziplock bags or use other methods of completely waterproofing them. The Teklanika is very powerful and can take your legs out from under you quicker than you might think.

The most important thing you can bring out there though is common sense. If the river looks too deep and you are concerned that you might get swept away, you're probably right. Trust your instincts, and above all: make it home alive.

hikers consult the map along the Stampede Trail

Photo by Jeremy Egger


View Stampede Trail in a larger map

Navigation

...is probably the first thing you should be concerned about. Finding the Stampede Road is easy. It's a little over two miles North of Healy on the Parks Highway. Turn West on the Stampede Road and drive the eight miles to Eight Mile lake. This is where you'll be parking your vehicle. To continue beyond this point, you need to have a fairly capable four-wheel drive off road vehicle. The soup gets deep right away. From Eight Mile Lake the hike begins. Bring a good set of USGS quad maps even if you have a GPS. You never know what terrible thing could happen to your electronics. Have backup and remember Murphy's law. For you GPS users though (That's everybody now days right?) I've provided the trail in both a .gpx and .kmz file format below. I can guarantee you that these files are much more accurate than many you will find online.

Right Click & 'Save Link As'

Crossing the Teklanika River

...can be a big challenge. Cross in a group and link arms if possible. If you are unable to find someone else to go on the hike with you I would strongly suggest reconsidering. You can try and find someone to go with you using our forum. Unbuckle the waist-strap of your pack in case you are taken off your feet. Use a large sturdy stick to help you keep balance, planting it upstream (not downstream) as you go. Take your time, and remember: at certain points of the year, it can just be too high to cross. There's nothing in that bus worth your life. Try to avoid going in the heat of the summer when the glaciers are melting the most. It is possible to drown in this river so be very careful.

For a more in depth article on crossing the Teklanika River see this article.

Bears

...are another big concern. Setting up a bear bag to keep your food up may not be possible on many parts of the trail. On my trek, I was able to find some spruce trees over-leaning the Teklanika River itself that were high enough I was able to string one up. Another method would be to keep your food in a bear-proof container. Since you're not actually in Denali National Park, you don't have to have one (whereas you do have to by law in the park) but it's still a good idea. Carry either a bear gun, or bear spray while you're out there. You'll definitely want more than your walking stick in the unlikely event that you're getting charged by a grizz. Also consider wearing bells and remember to make plenty of noise as you travel.

The Stampede Trail is 40 miles

...round trip. Much of it is flooded, actually runs right up creek beds, or is covered by beaver ponds. It's a long, long hike and I can personally guarantee that short of wearing hip waders for 40 miles, your feet will get wet. Bring a huge abundance of socks with you. I brought a pair of Teva Sandals that I wore for most of the crossings just to keep my boots dry. Eventually though my plan failed and my hikers were full of water too. I'd still bring some sandals, so you have something to walk around camp in while your boots dry out. Prepare yourself for the distance by doing shorter hikes. Don't come to AK and set out for the magic bus without making some attempt to build a little bit of trail endurance. Do a few hikes ramping up from around five miles to around ten or more miles in a day. Hike with a pack on. Just make sure you're going to be able to hike twenty miles in, and make it twenty miles out with all of your gear. Remember to 'leave no trace'

The Mosquitoes

...out there are vicious. They are likely to pick you up and carry you away if you don't bring some serious bug dope. I have personally found that DEET is the only effective weapon against the hoards of mosquitoes in places like this. That's my opinion though, you're welcome to try whatever works for you, just don't go without anything during the summer months.

Communication

...will be difficult once you get out on the trail. If something happens, you are well outside of cellphone range for most of the trip. Give a trip plan to someone you trust, and have them call authorities if you are overdue. Be aware though that you may be charged for a rescue by State Troopers. Make every effort to be prepared for anything that might occur on the trail. The idea of removing the bus, or relocating it to a position nearer the highway, and safer to hike is always being discussed. In order to prevent that from happening, we need to make every effort to stay safe, and stay out of the newspaper. If State Troopers are having to go out there and rescue under-prepared hikers from peril of their own making, on a regular basis, you can bet that removing the bus will be become a reality.

Hikers move along one of the many streams that braid along and across the Stampede Trail

Photo by Jeremy Egger

Bear Track on the Stampede Trail

Photo by Erik Halfacre

Mosquito attacking a hiker on the Stampede Trail

Photo by Erik Halfacre

Hikers at Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail

Please Respect The Bus

Regardless of your opinion of Christopher McCandless, Bus 142 was where a man spent his final days and where his story ended. Have the respect due such a place. Don't take anything, and leave things in as good or better condition then you found them please. The bus, and the story that go with it, mean an awful lot to a lot of people and it's a shame when people behave destructively and without regard.

In the past, pieces of the bus have been sold on ebay, and in recent photos it has been seen that people have started scrawling messages on the exterior of the bus. Let's all try to keep the bus in good shape so future generations of adventurers will have the opportunity to experience a piece of the McCandless story for themselves; Also, so that the backcountry travelers, mushers, and trappers who the bus was originally intended for will both have the bus for their needs and not think of McCandless fans as a nuisance.

Plaque attached to the inside of Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail in honor of Christopher McCandless

Photo by Erik Halfacre

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