Pinnell Mountain National Recreation Trail

History of the Trail

Before the arrival of white explorers, traders, and miners, Athabascan Indians hunted caribou on the ridges where the Pinnell Mountain Trail is now located. The Fairbanks-Circle Trail, which passed through Twelvemile Summit and Eagle Summit, served as an early connection between gold miners of the Circle Mining District, scene of an 1893 gold rush, and the riverboat stop that grew into the frontier town of Fairbanks. Mining continues in the area today. The construction of the Steese Highway in the 1920s improved access to this historically and economically important part of Interior Alaska.

 Hikers on the Pinnell Mountain trail in 1968
 Hikers on the still uncompleted Pinnell Mountain Trail in 1968.
The Pinnell Mountain Trail itself is a relatively recent development. Two four-person Bureau of Land Management trail crews constructed the trail during the summers of 1968 and 1969. Challenges faced by the trail crews included runaway pack horses, fog that reduced visibility to less than 100 feet, and fierce hailstorms.

The official opening of the trail took place at the Eagle Summit Trailhead on July 18, 1970. The following year Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton designated the trail a National Recreation Trail under the National Trails System Act of 1968. It was one of the first 30 trails so designated in the nation, and the first such trail in Alaska. The National Recreation Trail system now includes more than 1,000 trails.

Hikers head to their tents in a snowstorm on the trail.
A BLM trail crew takes shelter from an early August snowstorm during construction of the trail in 1968.
In the 1970s, the two shelter cabins were added. In subsequent years BLM trail crews, assisted by numerous volunteers, have constructed planking, replaced the shelter cabins' floors and roofs, improved trail drainage, and performed many other tasks.

Who Was Pinnell?

According to Donald J. Orth's Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, Lt. Commander R. Darling of the U.S. Coastal and Geodetic Survey named Pinnell Mountain for Robert Pinnell, killed in an accident on July 17, 1952 while climbing nearby Porcupine Dome.