When it comes to backpacking, Alaska takes the cake as the United States’ most sought-after destination. As the last frontier, it boasts all the romanticism and danger of an unexplored wilderness paradise, and the journey northward has become akin to a pilgrimage for the most avidly adventurous. If you’re thinking about taking this leap, you’re in for some serious planning — no one wants to end up like Christopher Mccandless from the film Into the Wild. Scroll down to check out our list of the best backpacking and hiking in the state.
Seven Pass Route, Wrangell-St. Elias Park
Despite its breathtaking beauty, even most avid adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts have never heard of Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve. Picture this — it’s over six times larger than Yellowstone National Park but receives about three percent of the visitors. In a beautiful display of iconic Alaskan countryside, it’s jam-packed with massive glaciers, rivers, mountains and countrysides.
The Seven Pass Route in particular is an excellent route for the ambitious hiker. It’s about 40 miles long and can take anywhere from five to nine days, depending on how hard you push it. Wind alongside massive glaciers and watch huge chunks calve into the water, and camp alongside crystal clear alpine lakes. Wildlife in Wrangell-St. Elias includes grizzly bears, black bears, moose, mountain goats and tons of smaller birds and mammals. The hiking throughout the Seven Pass route is extremely varied. The views and the environment change pretty consistently, so it keeps the hike fresh and exciting.
Kesugi Ridge, Denali National Park
At roughly the size of Massachusetts, Denali National Park provides more hiking and backpacking opportunities than most people could experience in a lifetime. One of the clear highlights of Denali is the Kesugi Ridge, a 29-mile trail that offers stunning views of the nearby peaks on clear days. The views are so incredible that it’s widely regarded as the go-to bucket list hike for many Alaskan residents. It’s usually done in three to four days and includes some pretty dicey creek crossings, some dense, bear-infested forests, and expansive tundra terrains.
If you’re not ready to invest four days and 30 miles, consider doing the Mount Eielson Loop, which is a 14-mile loop that packs a big punch in a smaller hike. Try to plan your trip for a day that’s clear, as the views of Mt. Mckinley from the Mount Eielson Loop are truly extraordinary.
The Goat Trail, Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Nothing screams “remote backcountry” like taking a bush plane flight into the Alaskan wilderness to start your adventure. That’s right — beginning the Goat Trail requires a reasonably priced flight to the Skolai Pass, where you’ll begin your journey. Allow at least three days for this point-to-point hike, but more if you would like to take your time and enjoy some of the recommended tangent hikes. There are many outfitters who offer tours of the Goat Trail with experienced guides, but if you elect to do it on your own, just be aware that the trail in many sections is poorly marked and not obvious. Make sure you are comfortable with navigating in the backcountry with a compass and reading topographic maps.
Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
It’s pretty rare that you are able to get up-close-and-personal with a massive glacier, but Exit Glacier in the stunning Kenai Fjords national park provides just the opportunity to do so. The hike we highly recommend is the eight-mile round-trip trail that leads you to the edge of the Harding Icefield, and from there you’ll have excellent views of the glacier. It’s worth noting that even though this hike can be done in a day, it’s not for the faint of heart. 4,000 feet of elevation gain over four miles make this hike almost twice as steep as ascending out of the Grand Canyon. The snow usually clears around mid to late July, so plan your journey for any time between then and late September. Also, be sure to pack layers as the weather here is very erratic and usually changes with little notice.
Lost Lake, Kenai Peninsula
This 14-mile trail is perfect for those who are looking for a challenging day hike or a simple overnight walk with camping near a gorgeous lake. Lost Lake offers dense rainforests, rushing rivers, two glaciers and expansive views. You can start the Lost Lake hike at one of two locations: the Primrose Campground on Kenai Lake, or from mile 5 on the Seward Highway. If you have the luxury of two cars, leave one at the other end to give yourself a ride on the way home. Otherwise, hitchhiking is always an option.