For many, backpacking in Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It can also seem a little daunting with its sometimes unpredictable weather. Its abundance of bears and other wildlife is another consideration.
Backpacking trips in “the land of the midnight sun” can take considerable preparation. Many trails are physically taxing. Some take a lot of forward planning, securing permits and planning logistics. Still, others require excellent navigational skills. After all, the state's nickname is The Last Frontier!
Don't let these things put you off, though. Hiking this wilderness will be an experience you'll never forget. That's why we've included trips for all skill levels in this Alaska backpacking round-up. We hope you find the adventure you've been looking for!
Featured Photo: Crow Pass Trail by John M
Glacier Lake Trail
How does a hike around a remote island sound? Although cut off, it's one of the most popular trails at Kachemak Bay State Park. Located near Homer, the trail gains 1,384ft of elevation over 6 miles. It can be lengthened to 10 miles if you want some more miles. Just add on the spurs to Grewingk Tram and the Saddle Trail. This easy to moderate out-and-back trail is surprisingly well-marked. Keep your eyes peeled for black bears and bald eagles. The terrain wanders through a lovely forest with peeks at the lake for most of the journey. Grewingk Glacier at the lake is the highlight, along with icebergs meandering along. The descent down to the beach on the Saddle Trail is a bit steep, so take care. Part of the adventure is getting to and from the island via a water taxi.
Rabbit Lake Trail
This 9-mile out-and-back trail is located near Anchorage. It's rated as moderate, but most of your elevation gain will be at the beginning. In other words, if you can handle that, you're good to go for the rest of the trail! You'll gain 1,200ft of elevation in all. The path levels off within the first hour and the river starts to widen. Peaks Suicide North and South reflected in the tranquil waters of Rabbit Lake is breathtaking...And so is the water if you decide to dip your feet in! Bring your backcountry fishing poles to attempt to catch dinner. Or just waste some time enjoying the beautiful surroundings. For a quieter place to camp, head down the trail to the right of Rabbit Lake to McHugh Lake.
Crow Pass National Historic Trail
Intermediate hikers will enjoy the moderate 22-mile Crow Pass National Historic Trail. This one packs quite a bit more elevation gain at 3,300 feet. But, it's also spread out over a larger area. As its name implies, you'll love this trail if you're into learning history. It follows part of the original Iditarod Trail route. The whole trail is worth the journey, of course, but the first few miles are arguably the most scenic. Glaciers, waterfalls, and mine ruins are a few of the highlights along this stretch. (Make sure to take the lower trail at the junction if you want better views of the falls.) You'll get above treeline quickly too, affording wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. Crystal Lake is another highlight. Keep an eye open for mountain goats that frequent the area. Plenty of campsites are found near Eagle River. (Be prepared for the frigid crossing, though.) The trailhead is located about an hour away from Anchorage in the Chugach Mountains.
Resurrection Pass Trail
Although 38 miles may seem like a lot of mileage for some, this trail may surprise you. It has a reasonable “moderate” rating. And, the trail is easy to follow and campsites that include basic facilities or even cabins you can stay in for the night. You don't even have to worry about stream crossings. All of them have bridges. It's a great trail for transitional hikers looking to add more miles to their trips while having basic amenities to fall back on. The trail is also mostly level despite its 6,000 feet of elevation gain. The Resurrection Pass Trail offers a good mix of the Alaskan wilderness. Wildlife viewing opportunities are plentiful. Other highlights include cascading creeks, lakes to paddle on or fish in, and amazing views from the ridgeline above the pass. This point-to-point trail is located in the south-central area near Hope, AK.
Don't let the lack of miles fool you on this one. This 8.2-mile out-and-back route through the Harding Icefield is strenuous. You gain about 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile (so you're gaining about 4,000 feet on the hike up). It is one of the most popular treks in Alaska, located near Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Start on the verdant valley floor, climbing past wildflower meadows. The views from the top of the trail are the most spectacular around. You'll be able to see the valley below, Exit Glacier, and distant mountain peaks. But, it doesn't take long to get above the treeline from the start of the trail. You'll get plenty of great views on the way up too. Keep an eye out for black bears. They are seen very frequently in this area. Be sure to check trail conditions before you head out too. They can change quickly and it's not unusual for there to be snow lingering into July.
Gold Mint Trail
The Gold Mint Trail is a great place for intrepid explorers to start. This 18-mile out-and-back trek is rated as difficult. You'll gain about 4,000 feet in total elevation gain. The route follows the Little Susitna River to its headwaters, Mint Glacier. Great views up the valley greet you from the start. Soon you're surrounded by towering granite peaks the higher you climb. If you don't feel like roughing it overnight, you can stay in the Mint Hut. But, it can become quite crowded and requires a membership to the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. That said, take some time to explore the area near the glacier and cabin once you arrive. This trail is located about 1½ hours north of Anchorage.
No Alaskan hike round-up would be complete without one that features views of Mt.McKinley/Denali! The K'esugi Ridge Trail (click link for full write-up) is a moderate to difficult 27.5 miles. Another point-to-point trek, you'll gain nearly 6,000 feet of elevation. It's a steep climb to the ridge, but the views are worth it. (You'll walk along the ridgeline for a good portion of your journey.) Lakes of all sizes dot the landscape with growing mountains in the background. The saddle after Ermine Hill, where there is a trail junction, makes a good camping spot. This is especially true if you find yourself in less-than-great weather. Several trailheads are located along the way, so you can shorten your trip or make it even longer. (It's worth noting that the longer version travels through mostly forested land. In other words, not ideal if you're just wanting lots of ridgeline views.) Lots of campsites are along the way and you don't have to worry about securing permits for this trip.
For those looking for a challenge, look no further than the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail (click link for full write-up). This very difficult point-to-point near Skagway gains 6,000ft of elevation. Prepare for limited permits and timeframe to complete the hike safely. The trail traverses a former “Gold Rush Highway” with remnants of its past along the way. Also expect lots of biodiversity, ranging from high alpine country to boreal and coastal forest. Many bridges and boardwalks line the way through the marshy bit at the beginning. Check out old gold mining remnants in Canyon City. Get a good night's sleep before the strenuous crossing of Chilkoot Pass, complete with a few false summits. Enjoy the amazing views of all the scenery on your last few miles. This includes plenty of mountains, lakes, and valleys. Numerous campgrounds are present along the trail and so are bears.
For tips on backpacking in Alaska, be sure to check out this National Parks Service page.
Backpacking Alaska is a rewarding opportunity for any hiker. Have you completed any of the trails on our Alaska backpacking round-up? What is your favorite backpacking route in Alaska? Share with us in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best Backpacking Trips on the West Coast" roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other trails in the western U.S. and Canada.
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.