Alaska Hiking Plus – Wrangell-St. Elias

Trip Length8 Days
Group Size4-8
Activity level
Starting from
$7,599 for REI Members
$8,359 for non-members
DeparturesJun 2024-Aug 2024

Eight days spent in the vast, all-encompassing solitude of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is freedom at its finest.

Stretching across 13,000,000 acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers a humbling reminder of nature’s raw power and overwhelming beauty. It’s the largest national park in the United States and contains some of the highest peaks. This exploration fully immerses us in this magnificent wilderness, with the chance to experience the park on foot, by air and on the water.

The adventure begins with a flight from Anchorage into the small town of McCarthy, located in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias. Strap on a pair of crampons and take a hike on the Root Glacier, marveling at its ice formations, jagged pinnacles, crevasses and deep blue pools. Then take to the skies again, flying deep into the backcountry to set up a comfortable base camp among new friends. Hike to cascading waterfalls, walk alongside massive blue-white glaciers and up to ridgelines offering panoramic views of surrounding mountain peaks. As the long summer days fade into peaceful summer nights, we return to camp, feeling weary but alive with adventure with a new understanding of the true meaning of wilderness.

Wrangell-St. Elias contains nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States.

Trip Highlights

  • Explore the landscapes of Wrangell-St.Elias, America’s largest national park
  • Strap on your crampons and take a hike on massive Root Glacier
  • Spend three days hiking in the spectacular Wrangell-St. Elias backcountry
  • Discover the fun of packrafting on one of the park’s glacier-fed lakes
  • All flights within the trip itself are included as noted on the itinerary below

Activities

This trip is rated as Moderate plus [3-4]. It is not necessary to be an expert hiker to participate but you should feel comfortable spending 4-6 hours hiking on most days and arrive at the beginning of the trip in as good a shape as possible. Much of our hiking takes place off trail on spongy tundra (and glacial ice on Day 2). Daily elevation gains/losses vary but generally won't exceed 1,500'. Hikes may also involve short stretches of exposed, narrow trail, loose scree, and some river crossings. Our glacier hike and packraft excursions are suitable for novices.

To maximize your enjoyment of the trip, we suggest that you engage in a regular exercise regimen beginning at least three months prior to your departure. Most important to your overall enjoyment is your overall fitness level.

  • Hiking
  • Rafting
  • Camping

What's Included

Professional guide leadership; 7 nights lodging/camping accommodations as noted on itinerary; all meals from lunch on Day 1 through lunch on Day 8 except for dinner on Day 6; all ground transfers as noted on the daily itinerary; 3 internal flights as noted on daily itinerary; sleeping bag; crampons for glacier hike; tents and group camping gear, packraft and related gear for Day 7; park entrance/permit fees.

Accommodations

Lodge, 2 nights; private cabins, 2 nights; backcountry camping, 3 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Alaska Hiking Plus – Wrangell-St. Elias
Day 1

Fly from Anchorage to McCarthy, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Our trip begins early this morning at Merrill Field for our scenic two-hour flight over the Chugach Mountains to the small town of McCarthy in Wrangell-St.Elias National Park. After introductions to our guides and a brief orientation, we walk down the road to the historic Kennecott Mill and ghost town and begin our exploration of the site. In Kennecott, we learn about the significant role that copper mining played in the park’s history and gain some insight into the hardy men and women who gravitated here to seek their fortunes. Lunch and dinner included.

Flying time to McCarthy: 1.5 hours.

Day 2

Get out on the ice and take a hike on the Root Glacier

After breakfast, we pick up our crampons in preparation for our day out on the incredible white ice of the Root Glacier. Our adventure begins with a two-mile walk along a dirt trail before we reach the edge of the glacier itself. Strapping on our crampons, we head out on to the ice and begin our exploration of the glacier’s crevasses, canyons, turquoise-blue pools and moulins. As we walk, our guides educate us on the basics of glaciology, giving us an even greater appreciation for the dynamic geological forces at work beneath our feet. After dinner, our guides begin briefing us on packing for the next three nights of camping in the magnificent Alaskan backcountry. We head into the wilderness tomorrow morning! All meals included.

Hiking: 7-9 miles (4 miles on dirt trail, 3-5 miles on ice) with approx. 300’ of elevation gain/loss

Day 3 

Fly into the park backcountry and begin our camping adventure!

Comprised of over 13 million acres of pristine wilderness and containing some of the highest mountain peaks in North America, Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park in the U.S. Larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone and Switzerland combined, the park offers an incredible variety of backcountry destinations and landscapes to discover and explore. A 15-minute drive transports us to the McCarthy airstrip this morning where we board our aircraft for a short, exhilarating flight into the backcountry. We choose our specific destination based on accessibility of the terrain and current weather conditions. After touching down at our backcountry strip, we unload our gear, walk a short distance to a prime location of our choice and set up our basecamp for the next three nights. We take a warm-up hike this afternoon, enjoying the feeling of tranquility and solitude so hard to come by in this day and age. All meals included.

Flying time: 20 - 45 minutes; hiking: 2-4 miles over varied terrain

Days 4-5

Take daily hikes from our basecamp. Explore the surrounding landscape

Waking up in a 13-million-acre wilderness playground affords us many activity options during the next two days. With our guides leading the way, we set out across the tundra and hike across this beautiful, rugged landscape, stopping along the way to search for and identify local flora & fauna and enjoy the scenery. Depending on our location, we may hike along ridgelines with views of towering snow-capped summits, ford some streams en route to a remote backcountry lake, hike alongside one of the many glaciers that flow down from the mountains, or climb small peaks for awe-inspiring panoramas of the Wrangell-St.Elias landscape. No matter the location, it’s hard not to feel humbled by the vast scale of this remarkable park. Back at camp, our guides continue to enlighten us on the ecology and natural history of this unique habitat and prepare delicious meals to keep us fueled throughout our explorations. All meals included.

Hiking: 4-6 miles daily (approx. 6-8 hours) over varied terrain with elevation gains/losses of up to 1,500’

Day 6

Enjoy a final backcountry hike before flying back to McCarthy

We break camp this morning before setting out on a final hike. By now we’ve become accustomed to hiking on tundra and navigating through the Alaskan bush but still relish the feeling of discovery, as though we’re the first hikers to ever walk across this land. Our flight back to McCarthy is scheduled for the early to mid-afternoon (depending on daily schedules and weather conditions) and we carry our gear back to the airstrip in time to greet the arriving aircraft. After landing back in town, we head to our cozy cabins, just a short drive from the airstrip, where we can freshen up and relax before dinner. Dinner tonight is on our own, providing an opportunity to try one of the small local eateries in McCarthy (we have the option to take a 30-minute stroll into town or take advantage of a shuttle provided by our guides). Overnight in private cabins for the next two nights. Breakfast and lunch included.

Flying time: approx. 45 minutes; hiking: 2-4 miles (approx. 2-4 hours) over varied terrain

Day 7

Jump into a packraft and explore a glacial lake

Today’s amphibious adventure is good fun for novice and experienced paddlers alike. With our one-person boats and paddling gear loaded in our packs, we hike for 1 - 2 hours to our put-in spot on the shores of a glacial lake. After inflating our rafts and pulling on our dry suits, our guides teach us the basics of paddling this small, versatile watercraft before we set out to explore more of the lake and environs. During our time on the water, our guides provide additional instruction as we paddle around icebergs, alongside glaciers and through class II rapids (optional). After a full day of hiking and paddling, we return to our cabins invigorated by the day’s activity and ready for a final celebration dinner with our band of wilderness adventurers. All meals included.

Hiking: 3 miles with minimal elevation gain/loss; packrafting: 4-5 hours

Day 8

Say goodbye to Wrangell-St. Elias before driving back to Anchorage

After an early breakfast, we begin the scenic eight-hour drive back to Anchorage, stopping for a picnic lunch and at numerous panoramic viewpoints along the way. On a clear day, four of the park’s giant volcanic peaks, Mount Sanford (16,237’), Mount Wrangell (14,163’), Mount Blackburn (16,390’) and Mount Drum (12,010’) rise up from the surrounding plateau. An enormous still-active shield volcano, Mount Wrangell is twice as massive as Mount Shasta and is one of the largest active volcanos by volume in the world. As the peaks of the Wrangells slowly fade from view, we continue heading west, passing through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and arriving back in Anchorage by approximately 6pm this evening. Please do not schedule departing flights from Anchorage until after 9pm. Breakfast and lunch included.

Driving time: 7-8 hours

Itinerary map for Alaska Hiking Plus – Wrangell-St. Elias

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

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What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.