Nikolai - McGrath
This is a fairly easy (but sometimes deceptive) stretch which always seems to be longer than it is, mainly because it is often so boring and there are so many seemingly identical lakes and river bends. The trail cuts cross-country southwest from Nikolai toward McGrath, running along a series of lakes and swamps interspersed with wooded stretches to Big River. It then runs west down Big River for a few miles to the Kuskokwim River, then down the Kuskokwim to McGrath, with several shortcuts across the bigger oxbow bends.
This run normally takes four and a half to seven hours. It is usually a good stretch to do at night when the dogs will go faster. If they are running at night or early in the morning and the weather is clear and calm, they have to dress warmly and think about dog coats - it can get quite cold down on the Kuskokwim River for the last half of the leg.
The trail from Nikolai to McGrath crosses many open lakes and swamps for the first 20 miles. When the wind is blowing, these areas can quickly drift in.