• Winter in the Wrangells

    Wrangell - St Elias

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Hiking & Backpacking

A hiking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve can be an exciting and rewarding wilderness experience if you are prepared for the difficulties and hazards of traveling through rugged, undeveloped land. Here, you will experience solitude, self-reliance, and unaltered nature to an extent seldom found elsewhere.

Learn more about the park's backcountry through our Backcountry Blog.

Learn more about Hiking Trails and Routes in and around Wrangell-St. Elias!

Find out about our Backcountry Public-Use Cabins!

Hiking in the backcountry
Backpacker negotiating glacial moraine near Kennecott
NPS S. Parratt

Because there are very few maintained trails within the park, travel through dense brush, along steep scree slopes, and across fast and cold glacial streams and rivers should be expected. For most routes, map and compass reading skills are essential. Weather in these mountain ranges can vary to extremes in relatively short time periods. Summer snow storms may occur at elevations of 4,500 feet and above. It is best to expect (and prepare for) almost any possibility with a variety of layerable clothing (polypropylene, wool or pile), raingear, and extra food. Be sure to bring Bear Resistant Food Containers for all food.

Trip Planning
A successful hiking trip requires adequate planning. You should be prepared for everything and should not count on aid or rescue from others. Here, you will be on your own. Caution and good judgment are key ingredients for a pleasant expedition. For many hikers, hiring the services of a local guide will make the trip safer and more enjoyable. In general, the areas above tree line (~3,000') afford the easiest hiking and best views. These areas are often accessed by chartering a flight to one of the many possible "bush" landing strips. Note that there are many more places to land than are shown on maps. Air taxis will often land on gravel bars or on the tundra. The routes depicted on the "Trail Illustrated" map are the most popular.

Topographic Maps
Don't Leave Home Without Topo Maps! Be aware that many of the historic trails shown on older U.S.G.S. maps are often non-existent or overgrown. If you prefer not to see others on your trip, ask a ranger or pilot about some of the lesser known areas. A list of licensed air taxi operators is available from the park. Be flexible and prepared for alternative destinations. Your air taxi or the Park Service may know of high water conditions, wildlife hazards or overcrowding in an area and may encourage you to choose an alternative at the last minute. Please note: the park visitor centers may not carry the topographic maps that you need for your trip. You should go to the USGS Store to purchase maps BEFORE you arrive at the park.

There are few actual

Backcountry permits are NOT required, but travelers are encouraged to complete an optional backcountry itinerary available at any park office. Additionally, leave your route and expected time of return with a friend or family member. If you fail to check in from a backcountry trip, rangers will not initiate a search until a specific request from a friend or family member is made. If you are flying in or out of a remote airstrip, your pilot will be your main communication link to safety. Be sure to discuss "what if" scenarios with your pilot before you are dropped off.

Carry food for several extra days in case of unexpected delays. Assistance may be days or miles away, so be extraordinarily careful in this vast region. Ask park rangers or local residents about weather conditions and the reasonableness of trying to reach certain points. Walking across the spruce muskeg with a pack or crossing rivers can take much more time than expected. From a distance the landscape may look like easy hiking, but place a foot in it and you quickly find out the land tests your endurance as you hop from tussock to tussock and try to avoid hidden pools of water.

While planning your trips, remember that there are very few actual "trails" like you may find in other tame national parks in the lower 48. Here you will mainly find rugged, un-maintained routes over which you may only be able to travel a few miles in a day.

Donoho Basin Group Camping
Starting on May 15, 2010, groups of 8 people or more are required to register with the Wrangell-St. Elias. This can be achieved either in person in Kennecott, by phone, or online. For further information about Donoho Basin group camping click here.

High Country Hiking
Wilderness backpacking at it's best.
Bob Stenzel

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