Backcountry

Turquoise colored, alpine Soda Lake with mountains in the background.

The landscape of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is extreme. River crossings, glacier travel, thick brush, extreme weather (cold and hot), rock fall, mudslides, avalanches and bugs are just some of the hazards to be aware of. In addition, remember that bear safety is an important part of backcountry safety.

Call 911 For All Emergencies


To report a missing or overdue person traveling on national park lands in Alaska, call: 907-683-9555.
DO NOT CALL THIS NUMBER FOR PARK INFORMATION OR TRIP PLANNING QUESTIONS.


For more information or backcountry trip planning questions, please email a backcountry ranger at wrst_backcountry@nps.gov.

Backcountry Safety Videos

Backcountry Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Dynamic Landscape

Glaciers recede, landslides re-arrange mountainsides, and rivers flood. Outside resources, such as guidebooks, are a great starting place to plan your trip, but don’t assume these resources are correct. Guidebooks, blog posts, and maps that are just a few years old may no longer reflect what is actually on the ground. Always pay careful attention when navigating a route and never unquestioningly follow maps, GPS devices, or advice.

Backcountry Accountability

It is recommended that you fill out a “Backcountry Itinerary Form” at any of the contact stations. Leave your route and expected time of return with a friend or family member, along with directions for what to do if you do not return at the expected time. A search will not be initiated until a specific request from a friend or family member is made.

Consider Your Experience

There are no maintained trails in the Wrangell-St. Elias backcountry. To improve your experience, honestly assess the following questions:

  • Can you read a topographic map?
  • Have you hiked off-trail before?
  • Have you camped in difficult weather (such as snow, high winds, and heavy rain)?

After thinking about these questions, you may want to consider hiring a guide to help you experience all that the park has to offer.

Satellite Communication Devices

Satellite phones and satellite messengers are the only way to communicate from the backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias. We recommend bringing a satellite communication device, as it can help you make and maintain contact with family, friends, and if needed, emergency responders. Don’t let a satellite communication device give you a false sense of security. In an emergency, help will not be immediate and will depend on many factors.

River Crossings

Knowing how to cross rivers safely is an essential skill to master for wilderness travel Alaska Parks. Never underestimate the danger associated with stream or river crossings. Alaskan waters are extremely cold, even when the air temperature is warm. Most backcountry routes require numerous creek and river crossings. Bridges and log crossings are virtually non-existent. These crossings can be VERY dangerous without preparation, patience, and planning.

Hikers must be familiar with safe techniques for crossing rivers and streams.Keep these points in mind when crossing water channels:

Choose the safest TIME to cross

  • Cross early in the day whenever possible.
  • Plan extra time into your trip so you can wait until water levels are lower.
  • Be aware of weather conditions in the area, cross before storms whenever possible. Water levels may vary drastically according to season, time of day, temperature and upstream weather conditions.

Choose the safest PLACE and METHOD to cross

  • Cross at the widest and most braided area. This is usually where the water is shallowest. A long, shallow crossing is preferable over a short, deep one.

  • If hiking solo, use a hiking staff, held upstream, to create a more stable, three point stance. Move only one contact point at a time.

  • Two or more hikers should cross parallel to the current with the strongest and heaviest member upstream to lessen the force on the other hikers. Walk across with arms linked, or face upstream and sidestep across.

  • In deep water, the triangle method is safest. Facing each other, three people grip each others shoulders or packs and work their way across one person, one leg, at a time.

Protect your feet

  • NEVER cross in bare feet. Wear boots or bring extra shoes for crossings.

  • Move one foot at a time, sliding it across the bottom.

Prepare to get wet

  • Loosen pack shoulder straps and unbuckle your hip belt to expedite removal in the event of a fall.

  • Have sleeping bag and extra clothing packed tightly in dry bags inside your pack.

  • Be prepared to lose your pack if you fall or trip in the river.

  • Before crossing, place your communications devices and basic survival gear (fire starter, emergency space blanket, etc.) in a waterproof bag and store it on your body during the crossing. If your pack gets away and is lost, your survival may depend on these critical items. If a crossing seems too risky ...it probably is! Turn around, don't drown.

Gear

Make sure you know how to use your gear and have the proper equipment. Even if your trip is in the summer, be prepared for cold temperatures and snow. Use dry bags or garbage bags to keep your sleeping bag dry. Bring 2-3 days of extra food if you are using an air taxi to access the park, in case weather delays your scheduled pick up. Do not count on acquiring or renting gear once you arrive at the park.

The most important food and supplies to consider are:

  • High calorie food—Not only are you hiking, but it's often cold and rainy. That means your body will need more calories than usual.

  • Bug spray—Mosquitoes are typically a nuisance from May to September.

  • Tent—We strongly discourage bivy sacks. It's often raining, and bears are more likely to investigate bivvies than tents.

  • Trekking poles

  • Proper layers—Plan on temps ranging from as warm as 75 F to as cold as 20 F, possibly in the same day!

  • Bear spray—Note that this cannot be carried on planes or trains, nor can you drive through Canada with it. Plan on buying it in Alaska.

Last updated: April 26, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
PO Box 439
Mile 106.8 Richardson Highway

Copper Center , AK 99573

Phone:

907 822-5234

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