Alaska Backcountry Trip Selection Matrix

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By Haley Johnston

Wilderness Guide, writer, backcountry enthusiast

This Trip Selection Matrix includes twelve trips in the Alaskan backcountry. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the trips available in Alaska - you could adventure here for a lifetime and barely scratch the surface. These trips are not necessarily the twelve best trips in Alaska, that is certainly a subjective distinction. But these trips do offer a geographic cross-section of the state, so if you want to adventure anywhere from southeast Alaska to the arctic, there is a trip here for you. There is also a range of trip lengths from 2 days to over a week and from the inexpensive to the pricey. And, there are trips outlined here suitable for a first timer and experienced backcountry adventurers. So whether it is your first trip to Alaska, and you are looking for an overnight in southcentral Alaska, or you are a longtime Alaskan resident looking to expand your skillset with a weeklong trip to the Brooks Range, there is an option here for you. Happy Adventuring!

JUMP TO TRIP: 20 Mile Packtraft | Arrigetch Peaks Basecamp | Chena Dome Backpack | Chilkoot Trail Backpack | Crow Pass Backpack (Packraft Option) | Guilbeau Pass Backpack (Packraft Option) | Kesugi Ridge Backpack | Mint Valley Backpack | Oolah Pass Backpack | Resurrection Pass Backpack | Sanctuary River Packraft | Twin Lakes Packraft | Valley of 10,000 Smokes Backpack | Key

20 Mile Packraft

Why choose this trip?The Winner Creek to 20 Mile River loop is a great first packrafting trip. For those with packrafting skills, this route offers a quick, easy-to-access, multi-sport adventure. The hike up to Berry Pass is seriously underrated and the views of the 20 Mile watershed are not to be missed.
Trip TypePackraft
RegionSouthcentral
Distance(s)11 miles hiking; 15 miles packrafting
# Days2
Backcountry Starting PointWinner Creek Trailhead at Alyeska Resort (Girdwood, AK)
Backcountry Ending Point20 Mile River Bridge on the Seward Highway
LogisticsModerate
Experience Level RequiredNovice backpacker, Beginner packrafter
Hazards of NoteWood hazards in upper 20 mile, tide, bear country, stream crossings
Will you see other parties on this trip?Probably
Land ManagerChugach National Forest; Glacier Ranger District
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Winner Creek Trailhead: 60.97003, -149.09692
Berry Pass: 60.97678, -148.95175
Ending Point - 20 miles river bridge: 60.84454, -148.98732
USGS MapsSeward D-6
Seward D-5
Cost$

Arrigetch Peaks Basecamp

Why Choose This Trip?Camp beneath the iconic Arrigetch Peaks - a great destination for backpackers and hardcore climbers alike.
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionNorthern
Distance(s)24+ (13 miles each way from drop-off/pick-up location to the Arrigetch Peaks)
# Days6+
Backcountry Starting PointCircle Lake
Backcountry Ending PointCircle Lake
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredIntermediate Backpacker
Hazards of NoteStream and river crossings; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Possibly
Land ManagerGates of the Arctic National Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting/Ending Point - Circle Lake: 67.48528, -153.87398
USGS MapsSurvey Pass B-2
Survey Pass B-3
Cost$$$$

Chena Dome Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?One of the best trips near Fairbanks with incredible views, excellent walking and easy logistics.
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionCentral
Distance(s)29 miles
# Days2-4
Backcountry Starting Point50.5 Miles down the Chena Hotsprings Road (NE of Fairbanks)
Backcountry Ending Point49.4 miles down the Chena Hotsprings Road (NE of Fairbanks)
LogisticsSimple
Experience Level RequiredBeginner Backpacker
Hazards of NoteScarce water; weather; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Probably

Land Manager

Chena River State Recreation Area
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Upper Chena Hotsprings Road Trailhead: 65.03514, -146.21500
Chena Dome (highpoint): 65.08318, -146.46738
Trail Shelter: 65.013750, -146.555167
Ending Point - Lower Chena Hotsprings Road Trailhead: 65.01371, -146.22322
USGS MapsCircle A-5
Circle A-6
Cost$

Chilkoot Trail Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?An amazing look at the history of the Alaskan Gold Rush with the added novelty of hiking from Alaska to Canada - two countries, one trip!
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionSoutheast
Distance(s)33 miles
# Days2-4
Backcountry Starting PointDyea (outside of Skagway, AK)
Backcountry Ending PointBennet, BC, Canada
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredNovice Backpacker
Hazards of NoteBear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Definitely
Land ManagerKlondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Chilkoot Trailhead: 59.51185, -135.34663; Chilkoot Pass: 59.69654, -135.23828; Ending Point - Bennett, BC: 59.84527, -134.99562
USGS MapsSkagway C-1
Cost$$$

Crow Pass Backpack (Packraft Option)

Why Choose This Trip?A Chugach Classic with big glacier views, this trail is widely considered one of the best in Alaska!
Trip TypeBackpack or Packraft
RegionSouthcentral
Distance(s)23 miles
# Days2-3
Backcountry Starting PointCrow Creek Trailhead (Girdwood, AK)
Backcountry Ending PointEagle River Nature Center
LogisticsSimple to Moderate (depending on shuttle)
Experience Level RequiredNovice backpacker, Beginner packrafter
Hazards of NoteStream and river crossings; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Probably
Land ManagerChugach National Forest and Chugach State Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Crow Creek Trailhead: 61.02825, -149.11602
Crow Pass: 61.06076, -149.11645
Ending Point - Eagle River Nature Center: 61.23390, -149.27075
USGS MapsAnchorage A-7, Anchorage A-6
Cost$-$$

Guilbeau Pass Backpack (Packraft Option)

Why Choose This Trip?Follow the footsteps of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and test your off-trail travel skills in some of Alaska's best hiking terrain.
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionNorthern
Distance(s)
# Days6+
Backcountry Starting PointAirstrip on the Hulahula River (local name: Grasser's Strip)
Backcountry Ending PointAirstrip on the upper Chandalar
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredIntermediate Backpacker
Hazards of NoteStream and river crossings; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Unlikely
Land ManagerArctic National Wildlife Refuge
GPS Coordinates
USGS MapsMt. Michelson A-2
Mt. Michelson A-1
Arctic D-1
Cost$$$$

Kesugi Ridge Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?Unparalled views of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley)
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionCentral
Distance(s)17.8 to 37 miles
# Days2-4
Backcountry Starting PointLittle Coal Creek Trailhead (other options detailed on Trip Page)
Backcountry Ending PointUpper Troublesome Creek Trailhead (other options detailed on Trip Page)
LogisticsModerate
Experience Level RequiredBeginner Backpacker
Hazards of NoteWeather - exposed on the ridgeline; bear country

Will you see other parties on this trip?

Probably
Land ManagerDenali State Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Little Coal Creek Trailhead: 62.89223, -149.74754
Ermine Hill-K’esugi Ridge Trail Junction: 62.79459, -149.86834
Ermine Hill Trailhead: 62.82752, -149.90431
Ending Point - Byers Lake Campground: 62.74535, -150.11820
Troublesome Creek Trailhead: 62.63013, -150.22572
USGS MapsTalkeetna Mountains D-6, Talkeetna Mountains C-6
Cost$-$$

Mint Valley Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?A straightforward trip with big scenery payoffs - the picturesque Mint Hut and a valley dotted with hanging glaciers!
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionSouthcentral
Distance(s)16 miles (out-and-back up Mint Valley); additional options detailed on trip page
# Days2-4
Backcountry Starting PointGold Mint Trailhead in Hatcher Pass
Backcountry Ending PointGold Mint Trailhead in Hatcher Pass
LogisticsSimple
Experience Level RequiredNovice Backpacker
Hazards of NoteBear Country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Probably
Land ManagerState of Alaska, Department of National Resources
GPS CoordinatesStarting/Ending Point - Gold Mint Trailhead: 61.77799, -149.19880; Mint Hut: 61.856767, -149.079767
USGS MapsAnchorage D-6
Cost$

Oolah Pass Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?Find out why the Brooks Range is known to have the best off-trail hiking in Alaska!
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionNorthern
Distance(s)65 miles (Anaktuvuk Pass to Dalton Highway); shorter options detailed on trip page
# Days6+
Backcountry Starting PointAnaktuvuk Pass or Summit Lake Air Strip
Backcountry Ending PointDalton Highway
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredIntermediate Backpacker
Hazards of NoteStream and river crossings; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Unlikely
Land ManagerGates of the Arctic National Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Anaktuvuk Pass: 68.13796, -151.73479
Ernie Pass: 68.08867, -150.94199
Peregrine Pass: 68.07424, -150.69309
Summit Lake: 68.07210, -150.47226
Oolah Pass: 68.06669, -150.00232
End Point - Dalton Highway: 68.02557, -149.70706
USGS MapsChandler Lake A-3, Chandler Lake A-2, Chandler Lake A-1, Philip Smith Mountains A-5
Cost$$-$$$$

Resurrection Pass Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?All the joy of backpacking, with the optional comfort of staying in cabins if you make reservations in one or more of the cabins along the trail.
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionSouthcentral
Distance(s)38 miles (Hope to Cooper Landing)
# Days3-5
Backcountry Starting PointResurrection Pass Trailhead North (Hope, AK)
Backcountry Ending PointResurrection Pass Trailhead South (Cooper Landing, AK)
LogisticsModerate
Experience Level RequiredNovice Backpacker
Hazards of NoteBear Country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Definitely
Land ManagerChugach National Forest; Seward Ranger District
GPS CoordinatesStarting Point - Resurrection Pass Trailhead North: 60.86873, -149.63045
Caribou Creek Cabin: 60.78314, -149.67751
Fox Creek Cabin: 60.73109, -149.70988
East Creek Cabin: 60.70490, -149.74849
Resurrection Pass (and Summit Creek Trail junction): 60.64055, -149.72265
Devil’s Pass Cabin (and Devil’s Pass Trail junction): 60.62071, -149.75413
Swan Lake Cabin: 60.61248, -149.84008
Juneau Lake Cabin: 60.57525, -149.87179
Ending Point - Resurrection Pass Trailhead South: 60.48376, -149.9531
USGS MapsSeward B-8
Seward C-8
Seward D-8
Cost$-$$

Sanctuary River Packraft

Why Choose This Trip?Experience the backcountry of Denali National Park in a way few others do!
Trip TypePackraft
RegionCentral
Distance(s)13 miles hiking; 17 miles packrafting
# Days2-3
Backcountry Starting PointDenali Park Road just east of Sable Pass
Backcountry Ending PointDenali Park Road at the Sanctuary River Campground
LogisticsModerate
Experience Level RequiredIntermediate Backpacker, Beginner Packrafter
Hazards of NoteStream and river crossings; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Unlikely
Land ManagerDenali National Park

GPS Coordinates

Starting Point - Near Sable Pass: 63.55685, -149.64624
Calico Creek Pass: 63.52482, -149.39790
Ending Point - Sanctuary River Campground: 63.71948, -149.47620
USGS MapsHealy C-6, Healy C-5
Cost$$

Twin Lakes Packraft

Why Choose This Trip?A combination of classic Alaskana - float planes, big mountains, crytal blue lakes and homesteading history!
Trip TypePackraft
RegionSouthwest
Distance(s)Distances vary, detailed on trip page
# Days3-5
Backcountry Starting PointUpper Twin Lakes
Backcountry Ending PointLower Twin Lakes (coordinate a pick-up location with your air taxi)
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredNovice Packrafter
Hazards of NoteHigh winds can create wave hazards on the lakes; bear country
Will you see other parties on this trip?Possibly
Land ManagerLake Clark National Park
GPS CoordinatesProenneke Cabin Coordinates: 60.648511, -153.81311
Hope Creek Campground coordinates: 60.64259, -153.82084
Emerson Creek Trailhead Coordinates: 60.63227, -153.90394
USGS MapsLake Clark C-3, Lake Clark C-2
Cost$$$$

Valley of 10,000 Smokes Backpack

Why Choose This Trip?Experience a landscape literally like no other - a desert-like moonscape ringed by glaciated volcanoes!
Trip TypeBackpacking
RegionSouthwest
Distance(s)25-40 miles
# Days4+
Backcountry Starting PointThree Forks Visitor Center
Backcountry Ending PointThree Forks Visitor Center
LogisticsComplex
Experience Level RequiredIntermediate Backpacker
Hazards of NoteRiver crossings, severe wind, scarce water
Will you see other parties on this trip?Unlikely
Land ManagerKatmai National Park
GPS CoordinatesStarting/Ending Point - Three Forks Visitor Center - 58.368734, -155.383066
Possible Campsite on Windy Creek: 58.355576, -155.382723
West Mageik Lake: 58.238827, -155.282991
East Mageik Lake: 58.238827, -155.239733
USGS MapsKatmai A-4, Katmai B-5, Katmai B-4
Cost$$$-$$$$

Key

Data TypePotential ChoicesDescriptionExamples

Trip Types

BackpackingHiking that requires at least one night in the backcountry. Skills required: tent camping, camp cooking, moderate to advanced routefinding and navigation, (possibly) stream and river crossing technique, Leave No Trace, traveling in bear country
PackraftingPackrafting skills plus: tent camping, camp cooking, moderate to advanced routefinding and navigation, (possibly) stream and river crossing technique, Leave No Trace, traveling in bear country
RegionsNorthern AlaskaThe entire northern third of Alaska, including Gates of the Arctic National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Communities include: Kotzebue, Bettles, Wiseman, Coldfoot, Barrow, Kaktovik and Arctic Village.
CentralIncluding Denali National Park and the White Mountains. Communities include: Cantwell, Healy, Fairbanks & Delta.
SouthcentralIncluding Denali State Park, Hatcher Pass, Chugach State Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park. Communities include: Talkeetna, Wasilla, Palmer, Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward, Homer, Kenai, Valdez, Cordova and Whittier.
SoutheastThe Alaskan panhandle which abutts British Columbia, including Glacier Bay National Park. Communities include: Skagway, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan.
SouthwestSouthwest Alaska Range into the Alaska peninsula, including Lake Clark National Park, Katmai National Park, Bristol Bay and Wood Tickchick State Park. Communities include: Naknek, King Salmon, Port Alsworth.
LogisticsSimpleOnly a single mode of transportation is required to complete this routeStarting and ending at the same trailhead - looping backpacking trip that begins and ends at the Reed Lakes Trailhead, Hatcher Pass.
ModerateA shuttle or multiple forms of transportation may be required to complete this route.Starting and ending at different locations - A-to-B backpacking trip that begins at Glen Alps and ends at Indian.
ComplexMultiple forms of transportation with varying levels of complexity are required to complete this route.A flight from Fairbanks to Anaktuvuk Pass to backpack to the Dalton Highway, with a shuttle pick-up by the Hicker Family of Artic Getaway Log Cabin Bed and Breakfast, followed by a return flight from Coldfoot to Fairbanks.
Experience LevelsNoviceSuitable for a person doing this activity for the first time in AlaskaI like experience levels instead of difficulty levels - a very experienced person who is very out of shape will have a high level of difficulty, but not necessarily be at any higher level of risk due to that difficulty.
BeginnerPrior experience helpful.
IntermediatePrior experience necessary.
AdvancedOnly suitable for a person with extensive experience doing this activity.
ExpertI don't think we need to include any trips that demand this level of experience.
Will you see other parties in the backcountry?UnlikelyFew parties travel this trail/route each year. While you may see other people, don't count on it.Guilbeau Pass
PossiblyOther parties come to this area regularly, but seeing them will depend upon timing.Twin Lakes
ProbablyIt would be surprising not to see other people on these routes.Crow Pass
DefinitelyAlmost no chance you will have have this trail/route to yourself. Enjoy meeting your new trail friends!Chilkoot Trail
Cost$Food, gas to trailhead, permit, etc.
$$$50-200 per personFood, gas to trailhead, shuttle costs from takeout back to vehicle at the put-in
$$$$200-500 per personFood, flight to an access community (ie $200 flight from Anchorage to Port Alsworth)
$$$$$500+ per personFood, custom chartered backcountry flight, remote lodging at beginning and/or end of the route.

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