by Diane Spicer
Wrangell St Elias hiking will blow your mind.
It can also blow your time and money budgets.
So in an effort to avoid misunderstandings, let's distinguish between the levels of time and effort you need to invest in planning your Wrangell St Elias hiking:
Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve in southeast Alaska is huge.
You can always go back for more!
The idea of 10 MILLION acres set aside for outdoor recreation definitely should get you excited.
To put this in context:
While the Grand Canyon receives 4 million visitors a year, this vast national park is visited by less than 70,000 people annually and most of them in the summer time.
And I'm willing to bet that many of those folks are not hikers.
So let's be clear:
The information on this page is targeted to you as a hiker wanting to get your boots dirty here without getting sucked into tourist activities.
The National Park Service (NPS) has many helpful suggestions about how to tap the never ending potential of Wrangell St Elias hiking.
These NPS links cover your biggest challenges: ground transportation, unpredictable and sometimes brutal weather, and big predators.
Now let's look at how to plan three different hiking options for Wrangell St Elias.
Let go of any expectations of well established, marked and easy trails for day hiking.
Instead, think of hiking routes for longer day hikes and multi-day trips.
To get started with some Wrangell St Elias day hiking, you need to get yourself to one of two places, either McCarthy (actually, nearby Kennecott) or the Nabesna Road area.
Full disclosure: There seems to be a bit of dispute about how to spell Kennicott (Kennecott), which is charming but maddening. You'll see what I mean if you skip around on the links I provide :)
This link offers you free pdf downloads of the area hikes.
Some are rated easy, others as strenuous. Take that with a grain of salt.
But regardless of which day hike you pick, always remain aware that you are in bear territory.
I've written more about your Kennecott day hike options and my own recommendations regarding McCarthy here. (coming soon)
What does "front country" mean?
Day hiking (see above) is one way to explore this marvelous park, using a cabin or campground for base camp each evening.
Another approach is to backpack on multiday trips through the front country.
Alaskan backpacking requires a skill set it might be hard to come by elsewhere, including glacier travel and swift water crossings.
Here's an example of a 3 - 5 day backpacking adventure which leaves from the town of McCarthy:
This is a wild, remote area you're planning to explore.
You need to be prepared for losing a lot of front country amenities:
Now that you have a clear idea of just how big of a bite you're chewing on, your options are seemingly endless.
Leaving out of McCarthy, you can put together a short backpacking trip that offers a lot of route finding and fantastic scenery, like the 2 - 4 day Doubtful Creek trip.
Or you can stay out for 8 days, navigating your way along the well named and popular Goat Trail which leaves from the Skolai airstrip.
Along with offering you spectacular sights under vast skies, the terrain will present you with many "interesting" hiking challenges:
And that can be in the first day of hiking!
So be sure you are mentally and physically prepared for working hard for your views.
Nothing comes easy to a lowly hiker in this rugged corner of the world.
You can read my Wrangell St Elias hiking trip report for one approach to back country hiking that worked well for a 12 day trip: bush plane supported base camping with serial day hikes.
McCarthy was chosen as the jumping off point for my hiking trip because of its embarrassment of wilderness riches:
access to the largest collection of 14,000+ feet peaks and highest number of glaciers compared with anywhere else on the North American continent.
This rugged country can be intimidating: deep ravines filled with brush, loose scree to cross on the flank of a mountain, deceptively dry looking mud holes to suck you in, bear sign everywhere, and more.
Here are my top three things to know before you start poring over tempting topographical maps:
Hiring a backcountry hiking guide is a great way to get acquainted with Wrangell St Elias hiking without being stressed out by logistics or choosing destinations.
Strict proper bear protocol is required, including keeping a clean camp and storing food in the proper containers. If this is a new habit for you, rest assured that bear canisters and Ursacks are easy to use but are not easy to acquire once you arrive in the park.
I recommend that you use trekking poles.
Not a lot of hikers opt to head into this national park each summer.
If you're looking for a place that answers to this description, make room on your hiking bucket list for Wrangell St. Elias:
If you'd like more information about what the hiking out of McCarthy was like, I'd be happy to chat.
Contact me with your questions, I love to talk about my experiences with Wrangell St Elias hiking.
Wrangell St Elias Hiking
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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