Distance: 2 miles round trip
Elevation gain: very little
Trail type: Gravel bar (off trail)
Considerations: Glaciers can be dangerous. It’s best to stay off the ice unless you know what you’re doing
The mountains along the Richardson Highway south of Delta are awe inspiring, and a bit daunting when it comes to outdoor recreation. There are a few spots along the road though to go for a casual walk and enjoy the spectacular and comparatively little visited mountain range without committing to a bushwhacking off trail adventure. Castner Glacier is a fairly popular starting point for all sorts of backcountry adventures, but a small road on the north side of the creek gives access to some very nice, close in country as well.
From Delta, drive about 50 miles south along the Richardson. Before the bridge over Castner Creek, look for a small, unimproved road on the left. With a low clearance vehicle, park along the highway and walk this road. Once out of site of the highway, there are at least two really good spots for car camping. Drive as far as you’re comfortable and start walking. Eventually, all trace of the road disappears and the way becomes a faint path alongside roaring Castner Creek. Roughly a mile from the highway, the footpath climbs steeply up a small moraine hill. The view from the top makes a good turnaround for a short walk.
Summer Off-Trail Hikes
Distance: 16.4 miles round trip to hut
Elevation gain: 3000 feet
Trail type: Indistinct route on top of a glacier
Considerations: A very challenging route for experienced hikers
A hike up Castner Glacier is honestly a pretty rough experience, but it still offers a brush free and gently ascending highway into the heart of the spectacular glacier clad Delta Mountains, as well as a small mountain hut at the end, in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
The route used to be accessed from the south side of Castner Creek, but glacier recession has left a raging river between this access point and any accessible portion of the glacier. This won’t be a problem for a spring ski trip or maybe a late fall hike, after the water level has dropped. In summer though, it’s best to start on the north side of the creek. Once you reach the rock covered glacier, hike up onto it until it starts to level out (well, level is relative, as it’s all unstable, rolling, rocky terrain). Pick your way, angling south across the glacier to pick up what’s left of the old access path, which ascended up a sort of medial moraine on top of the glacier. Of course, this is a very dynamic and quickly changing landscape, so it’s hard to give exact directions. At the point where a branch of the glacier heads off to the right, drop down onto bare ice on the left and aim for the ridge which separates the other two branches of the glacier. At the base of this ridge, but at the top of an awfully unstable glacier moraine, is a dramatically isolated meadow where the hut is placed.
Moderate Winter Hikes
Distance: 2-2.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trail Type: No Trail
Considerations: Route generally sees heavy use in late winter
Even more so than in summer, the Alaska Range along the Richardson Highway can be very frustrating when it comes to muscle powered recreation. In the southern part of the range, the snow is heavy and relatively little recreational use makes breaking trail through the bottomless powder a chore. In the northern part of the range, frequent winds blow the snow into an alternating succession of drifts and bare ground, which can be endlessly frustrating on skis or snowshoes, or on a snowmachine for that matter. Castner Glacier sits right at the boundary of these two regions, and generally gets the most use of anywhere in the range, making it one of the more reasonable options for a short hike in this beautiful mountain wilderness. Head up either the north or south side of the creek. There’s no particular destination here, unless you’re heading for the ice caves which sometimes form at the toe of the glacier. In this case, the south side of the creek has provided better access in recent years, but this is always changing.