People travel from all over the world for a backpacking trip within Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve. One common misconception is that the more expensive the bush-plane flight, the more impressive the scenery and terrain. It would be more accurate to say that the more expensive the bush-plane flight, the farther away from the airstrip you're flying. Since the McCarthy airstrip and the 60-mile dirt road to the airstrip are in the wilderness themselves, it's not surprising to find so many opportunities for world-class backpacking within this park that involve no flight at all.
This trailhead is one such opportunity.
Turn to the north off the McCarthy Road at this point (milepost 14.5) and reach the trailheads for both Dixie Pass and Nugget Creek. You will see a sign pointing the way. These are great destinations for overnight hiking and camping, and there's enough beautiful country out this way to entertain you for several days. Trail conditions are best for these trails from June through September . Too early in the season and you're likely to find yourself ankle deep in mud. Too late in the season and it turns into a winter camping trip. Even in September, you should be prepared for snow and cold nights.
The Nugget Creek trail leads you 14.5 miles into the valley where you can get an up-close look at the Kuskulana Glacier, as well as scramble further into an alpine valley to investigate mine ruins and look for wildlife. You only gain 1,000 feet in elevation to get to the cabin and the glacier's moraine , and it typically takes at least five or six hours to hike this entire stretch of trail. The biggest views, and the payoff, come once you've reached the end. Most of the hike is in the forest, the main reason for making it more of an overnight trip than day hike. There is plenty of drinking water along the way.
The Dixie Pass trail gains over 5,000 feet as it leads you into the alpine. The views are world-class, and there's always a good shot at spotting wildlife on this hike. It's best to give yourself 3 or 4 days to fully explore this area, but an overnight is definitely better than not going at all . There are no support facilities here—so bring your own tent, sleeping bag, and supplies—but there are plenty of great camping spots near water sources once you reach the alpine. You can either buy a bear-proof food canister at REI in Anchorage, or sign one out at the NPS headquarters on the Richardson Highway in Copper Center. It's not recommended to camp anywhere in this area without a sure way to keep your food away from bears.