Backpacking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

backpackers hiking near root glacier
Backpackers hiking near Chitistone Pass and Russell Glacier

NPS

A backpacking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve can be an exciting and rewarding experience if you are prepared for the difficulties of traveling through rugged, undeveloped land. Stay safe on your adventure by reading the park's backcountry safety page. Remember that proper food storage is required.

Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFC), if available, can be borrowed from the park. Check availability at a park visitor center.

As you begin deciding where you want to backpack in the park, consider starting with guidebooks that describe routes in the area. Here are some suggestions:

  • Hiking Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve: From Day Hikes to Backcountry Treks by Greg Fensterman

  • Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park by Danny W. Kost

  • Hiking Alaska by Dean Littlepage

  • 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska by Helen D. Nienhueser

There are countless backpacking routes in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. To get you started, some of the more commonly completed routes are described below. Remember, every route has variations, extensions, and ways to make your trip unique!

Routes that depart from the road system:


Dixie Pass (pdf format 928 KB)
Accessed from the McCarthy Road.
Hike approximately 10 miles (one way) to Dixie Pass, an alpine pass with views of Mt. Blackburn. The first part of the route follows a trail, then off-trail travel is required for the last few miles to the pass. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended to access the trailhead, otherwise, plan to park at the McCarthy Road and walk 4 miles (one way) to the trailhead.

Nugget Creek Trail (pdf format 1 MB)
Accessed from the McCarthy Road.
An ORV trail leads 15 miles (one way) to the Nugget Creek Public Use Cabin and the Kuskulana Glacier. The cabin is very rustic and requires a reservation.

Erie Mine Trail
Accessed from the Kennecott Townsite.
Hike on a primitive trail alongside the Root Glacier for 4 miles (one way). The trail ends where the cables from the Erie Mine descend from the hillside with the Stairway Icefall looming close by. Hikers looking for a longer trip can descend onto the Root Glacier and travel on the glacier another 2 miles to Erie Lake. The extension to Erie Lake requires glacier travel experience and equipment.

Donoho Basin
Accessed from the Kennecott Townsite.
Donoho Basin is a peninsula of land between the Root Glacier and the Kennicott Glacier. The basin is dotted with lakes and there is a primitive trail through the basin. Bear resistent food storage boxes are available at selected locations. This route requires glacier travel experience and equipment.

Soda Lake Trail (pdf format 494 KB)
Accessed from the Nabesna Road.
Hike on an ORV trail that leads 15 miles to a blue lake. You will start at the Lost Creek Trailhead, then after 3 miles turn onto the Platinum Creek Trail, which leads to Soda Lake. Both the Lost Creek and Platinum Creek ORV trails cross the creek multiple times and require minor route-finding to stay on the trail. Prepare to have wet feet from crossing the creek multiple times.

Trail Creek-Lost Creek Loop (pdf format 953 KB)
Accessed from the Nabesna Road.
Hike up the Trail Creek ORV trail until it ends, then navigate your own way up the creek a bit further and over a pass. On the other side of the pass, you’ll descend into Lost Creek. You’ll connect with the Lost Creek ORV trail, then follow it back to the road. Both the Trail Creek and Lost Creek ORV trails cross the creeks many times, so be prepared to have wet feet. The route is 24 miles long and can be completed in either direction.

Routes with a one-way flight:


Nikolai Pass
Charter a flight to Nikolai Pass and hike back to McCarthy. The route is approximately 15 miles long. From Nikolai Pass, follow sheep trails to the ridge south of Nikolai Creek. The ridge leads down to McCarthy Creek. Once at McCarthy Creek, follow an overgrown old roadbed to the town of McCarthy. No trails to follow. Requires extensive trip-planning and advanced backcountry skills.

Fosse to Kennecott
Charter a flight to the Fosse airstrip on the far side of the Kennicott Glacier. Spend a few days exploring the area, then put on your crampons to cross the Kennicott Glacier. You can either follow the Kennicott Glacier all the way around the south end of Donoho Basin or go through Donoho Basin on an unmaintained trail. Requires extensive trip planning and advanced backcountry skills. Glacier travel is required. This route is approximately 14 miles long.

Lakina to Kennecott
Charter a flight to the Lakina airstrip in the center of the scenic Lakina River valley. You will hike upriver and ascend a pass into Hidden Creek. You will find beautiful alpine lakes at the top of the pass. As you travel down Hidden Creek, you will likely need to cross the creek a handful of times. At Hidden Lake, traverse around the north side of the lake and over a cliff band on a small trail. The views from the top of the cliffs overlook the Kennicott Glacier and the Hidden Lake. From there, make your way across the Kennicott Glacier and back to the Kennecott townsite. This route is approximately 25 miles long. This trip requires extensive trip planning, glacier travel, and advanced backcountry skills.

Routes accessed with two-way flights:


The Goat Trail
The Goal Trail is a remote backcountry route that requires chartering an air taxi for a pick-up and drop-off. The route goes from Skolai Pass to Wolverine, and can be done in either direction. Despite this route being called the “Goat Trail”, there are no trails to follow and visitors must be prepared to navigate off-trail the entire route. Sections of the route have significant drop-offs and exposed cliffs and should only be done by those who are not afraid of heights. From Skolai Pass, the route goes over Chitistone Pass, down the upper Chitistone River, then cuts high through the cliffs on river right. Above Chitistone Falls, the route wraps up to the headwaters of Hasen Creek. For those looking for the most direct way to finish the route, another exposed section can be traversed from Hasen Creek to go directly to the Wolverine airstrip. Those looking for a longer trip can traverse from Hasen Creek over a pass into Doubtful Creek, then alongside an unnamed glacier into Grotto Creek and through the headwaters of Contact Gulch to arrive at the Wolverine airstrip. The route is approximately 25-30 miles long, depending on the route variation selected. This route requires extensive trip planning and advanced backcountry skills.

Solo Creek to Chisana
Hike from the historic town of Chisana to the Solo Creek airstrip chartering an air taxi for a pick-up and drop-off. There is an old horse trail for part of the route, but most of the route requires route-finding. Expect views of the glaciated University Range. The route has minor elevation gain/loss, especially in comparison to other, more arduous, routes in Wrangell-St. Elias. When leaving/arriving at Chisana, be advised that there is extensive private property. The route is approximately 26 miles long. This route requires extensive trip planning and advanced backcountry skills.

Iceberg to Bremner
This route is sometimes referred to as the “Seven Pass” route and requires chartering an air taxi for a pick-up and drop-off. This route can be completed from either Iceberg Lake to Bremner or in the other direction. You will need to be prepared for glacier crossings and have crampons. Expect expansive views of glaciers, alpine tundra walking, and one section of thick vegetation just above the Tana Lobe of the Bremner Glacier. It is approximately 30 miles long and visitors must be prepared to navigate off-trail the entire route. This route requires extensive trip planning and advanced backcountry skills.

Horsfeld to Solo Creek
This route is a remote backcountry route that requires chartering an air taxi for both a drop-off and pick-up. The route goes from Horsfeld to Solo Creek, and can be completed in either direction. From Horsfeld, you will hike up an unnamed valley and cross into Ophir Creek. From Ophir Creek, ascend an unnamed valley into Shotgold Creek, then on into the North Fork of the White River, then follow ridges to the Solo Creek airstrip. Expect expansive views of rolling hills with glaciated peaks in the distance. The route is approximately 35 miles long and visitors must be prepared to navigate off-trail the entire route. This route requires extensive trip planning and advanced backcountry skills.

Sanford Uplands
Hike from the Copper Glacier to the Sanford Glacier airstrip, requires chartering an air taxi for both a drop-off and pick-up. You can complete the entire route, or if you’re looking for a shorter trip, you can just do a segment of this route since there are multiple airstrips along the way. The full route is approximately 42 miles long. Most route variations entail glacier and glacial moraine crossings. Expect up-close views of Mt. Sanford as you travel along rolling tundra foothills of the glaciated mountains. Be prepared to navigate off-trail the entire route.

For information to plan a backpacking trip, please email a backcountry ranger at wrst_backcountry@nps.gov

Last updated: August 4, 2022

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

Copper Center , AK 99573

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907 822-5234

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