Trek The Granite Tors Trail In Fairbanks, Alaska
The Granite Tors trail is a tough but rewarding 15-mile loop across an alpine ridge populated with gigantic rock formations. Nice views of the surrounding hills in the Chena River Recreation Area make it a scenic trip.
The trailhead is located at mile 39 Chena Hot Springs Road, about 45 miles east of Fairbanks, Alaska.
It can be hiked in a day, but an overnight trip will give you time to really see all the sights. There are several large collections of tors which beg exploration.
The trail begins along the Chena River, and forks at about .3 mile. The East Trail, to the left, is a long and gradual climb.
The West Trail, to the right, is the shortest and steepest way to the tors. I recommend taking the West Trail.
The first section travels through a boggy black spruce forest alongside Rock Creek. A boardwalk keeps travelers’ feet dry.
After about a mile you start climbing more steeply.
Wildfires swept through the area in 2004, leaving charred, blackened stands of trees on much of the route.
After about 4 miles, the trail becomes very steep. Unfortunately, the trail designers must not have heard of switchbacks — you are forced to march straight up the hill.
Take it slow and rest often. If it’s late in the season, fill up on the abundant blueberries which grow along the trail.
About 5 miles in, you reach the first collection of granite tors.
One of the rocks has a hole about 30 feet up called the Lizard’s Eye. You can climb to it, but it’s somewhat challenging — be careful and don’t get too far outside your comfort zone.
From here, you’ll ascend more gradually for another mile or so, then cross a broad marshy plain.
To the southeast, the Plain Of The Monuments dominates the horizon. A side trip to explore these tors is well worth it, if you have the time.
At the 8 mile point, there is a small trail shelter with a wood stove. It’s good for a short rest, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of comfort.
After the shelter, you’ll enter forest again and begin descending. This section of the hike offers nice views of the distant tors across the valley.
A half-mile spur trail at about mile 9.5 leads to the North Tors. I haven’t been up there myself yet, because by this point in the hike I’m usually pretty beat and just want to get home!
The last five miles are a gradual descent through a forest of spruce and birch trees.
There is no water on the ridge, except a small, irregular spring near the North Tors spur trail. I recommend taking plenty of water with you for the trip.
Also, remember that Alaska weather can change drastically with very little warning. Always bring rain gear and warm clothes, even on a sunny day.
The Granite Tors trail is a challenging hike that is well worth the effort. Whether you do it in one day or two, you’ll enjoy the expansive views and the fascinating, awe-inspiring tors.