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The Best Backpacking Hikes In Alaska


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Miquela Carty



Alaska, often referred to as “The Last Frontier,” is a dream destination for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its vast wilderness, towering mountains, majestic glaciers, and abundant wildlife, it offers endless opportunities for unforgettable backpacking hikes.


Backpacking in Alaska is not for the faint of heart. It requires careful planning, physical fitness, and a sense of adventure. But the rewards are well worth the effort. From the iconic Denali National Park and Preserve to the remote Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska boasts a diverse range of hiking trails that will leave you in awe of its natural wonders.


In this article, we will explore the best backpacking hikes in Alaska, taking you on a virtual journey through its most breathtaking landscapes. Whether you’re seeking challenging mountain peaks, pristine lakes, or lush forests, Alaska has it all. So lace up your boots, pack your gear, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure.


Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve is a true gem of Alaska, renowned for its rugged beauty and impressive wildlife. The crown jewel of the park is Denali, standing at a staggering 20,310 feet, making it the highest peak in North America. Backpackers can embark on the challenging Denali Backcountry Loop, a 95-mile trail that offers breathtaking views of the mountain and takes you deep into the heart of the park.


As you hike through the vast wilderness of Denali, you’ll be surrounded by a diverse range of ecosystems, from tundra-covered valleys to alpine meadows. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep. Be sure to bring your binoculars and camera to capture these incredible creatures in their natural habitat.


One of the highlights of backpacking in Denali National Park is the opportunity to witness the stunning aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a mesmerizing display of swirling colors dancing across the night sky. It’s an experience that will leave you in awe of the wonders of the natural world.


It’s important to note that Denali National Park has strict regulations and permits are required for overnight backpacking trips. Plan ahead and make sure to obtain the necessary permits to ensure a smooth and enjoyable hike. Additionally, be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions and pack appropriate gear for the changing elements.


Denali National Park and Preserve is a true wilderness paradise, offering unparalleled opportunities for adventure and exploration. Whether you choose to tackle the Denali Backcountry Loop or opt for one of the shorter day hikes, you’re guaranteed to be immersed in the raw beauty and grandeur of Alaska’s untamed wilderness.


Chugach State Park

Nestled in the heart of the Chugach Mountains, Chugach State Park is a paradise for backpacking enthusiasts. Just a short drive from Anchorage, this vast wilderness offers a multitude of trails that cater to all skill levels. Whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced mountaineer, there’s something for everyone in Chugach State Park.


The most popular backpacking trail in the park is the Crow Pass Trail. Stretching approximately 24 miles from Girdwood to Eagle River, this trail takes you through alpine meadows, towering peaks, and stunning glaciers. Along the way, you’ll encounter breathtaking vistas, sparkling streams, and abundant wildlife, including moose, eagles, and mountain goats.


For those seeking a shorter backpacking adventure, the Kesugi Ridge Trail is an excellent option. Located in the stunning Matanuska-Susitna Valley, this 27-mile trail offers panoramic views of the Alaska Range and the majestic Denali. With its rolling tundra and vibrant wildflowers, it’s a photographer’s dream.


Chugach State Park is also home to the famous Turnagain Arm Trail, a 5-mile coastal hike that boasts stunning views of the Turnagain Arm, a scenic body of water known for its dramatic tidal changes and wildlife. It’s the perfect day hike for those looking to experience the beauty of Alaska without venturing too far from Anchorage.


As you plan your backpacking trip in Chugach State Park, be sure to check the current trail conditions and weather forecasts. The park is known for its unpredictable weather, so make sure you’re prepared with appropriate clothing and equipment. Additionally, practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the pristine beauty of this remarkable wilderness.


Chugach State Park offers a diverse range of backpacking experiences, from challenging multi-day treks to shorter day hikes. With its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and convenient proximity to Anchorage, it’s no wonder that this park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is a coastal paradise located in south-central Alaska. Known for its dramatic fjords, pristine glaciers, and abundant marine life, this park offers a unique backpacking experience that is unlike any other.


The Harding Icefield Trail is the crown jewel of Kenai Fjords National Park. This challenging 8.2-mile trail takes you through rugged terrain and rewards you with breathtaking views of the massive Harding Icefield, a vast expanse of ice that is the source of many of the park’s glaciers. Along the way, you’ll witness cascading waterfalls, vibrant wildflowers, and perhaps even spot some wildlife, such as black bears or mountain goats.


For those looking for a more leisurely backpacking experience, the Exit Glacier area offers a variety of shorter trails that showcase the park’s natural beauty. The Glacier View Loop Trail is a 3.6-mile loop that takes you to a stunning overlook of the Exit Glacier and surrounding mountains. It’s a great option for hikers of all skill levels and offers incredible photo opportunities.


If you’re looking for a truly unique backpacking adventure, consider exploring the coastline of Kenai Fjords National Park by sea kayak. Paddle through calm waters, marvel at towering cliffs, and watch for seals, sea lions, and even whales. Many outfitters offer guided kayak tours that allow you to spend several days exploring the park’s coastal wonders.


As you plan your backpacking trip in Kenai Fjords National Park, be aware of the park’s bear safety guidelines and take precautions such as carrying bear spray and properly storing food. Additionally, be prepared for wet weather and bring appropriate rain gear to stay dry during your hiking adventures.


Kenai Fjords National Park offers a unique blend of stunning landscapes and incredible wildlife encounters. From hiking to glaciers to paddling through fjords, this park will leave you in awe of the raw power and beauty of Alaska’s coastal wilderness.


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is a sprawling wilderness located in southeastern Alaska. With its vast size, towering mountains, and impressive glaciers, it is the largest national park in the United States. Backpackers who venture into this remote and rugged landscape are rewarded with unparalleled beauty and a true sense of adventure.


The park offers a variety of backpacking options, from gentle valley hikes to challenging mountain treks. One of the most popular trails is the Root Glacier Trail, which takes you through the stunning Kennicott Valley and allows you to explore the enchanting blue ice caves of the Root Glacier. It’s a unique and unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of the park’s glacial wonders.


For experienced backpackers, the Kesugi Ridge Trail offers a challenging multi-day adventure. Stretching over 30 miles, this trail traverses the scenic Tana River Valley and offers breathtaking views of the park’s towering peaks, including Mount Russell and Mount Blackburn. Be prepared for steep climbs, river crossings, and rugged terrain, but rest assured that the rewards are well worth the effort.


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is also home to the historic mining town of Kennicott. Backpackers can combine their hiking adventures with a visit to this fascinating location, where they can explore the abandoned buildings and learn about the park’s rich mining history.


As with any wilderness area, it’s important to be well-prepared when backpacking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The park’s vastness and remoteness require careful planning and self-sufficiency. Make sure to pack all necessary gear, including a map, compass, and ample food and water. Familiarize yourself with the park’s backcountry regulations and practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve this pristine wilderness for future generations.


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve offers a true wilderness experience that is unmatched in its grandeur and beauty. From exploring glaciers to trekking through towering mountains, this park will push you to your limits and reward you with unforgettable memories of Alaska’s untamed wilderness.


Tongass National Forest

Located in southeastern Alaska, Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States and a true paradise for backpacking enthusiasts. Encompassing over 16 million acres of pristine wilderness, it offers a diverse range of landscapes, from lush rainforests to rugged mountains and picturesque coastlines.


One of the highlights of backpacking in Tongass National Forest is the opportunity to explore the famous Misty Fjords National Monument. With its towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and serene fjords, it’s a truly breathtaking destination. The hike to Rugged Mountain offers panoramic views of this stunning landscape, while the Pack Creek bear viewing area allows you to witness the majestic coastal brown bears in their natural habitat.


For those seeking a more immersive rainforest experience, the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness offers a pristine wilderness setting. The trails in this area take you through old-growth forests, where you’ll encounter ancient cedar and spruce trees, moss-covered ground, and a rich diversity of plant and animal life. It’s a paradise for nature enthusiasts and a chance to reconnect with the wild.


Backpacking in Tongass National Forest also provides ample opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife watching. Whether you’re casting your line in one of the many salmon-filled rivers, paddling through tranquil bays, or spotting bald eagles soaring overhead, you’ll be immersed in the natural wonders of this incredible forest.


As you plan your backpacking trip in Tongass National Forest, be prepared for the region’s temperate rainforest climate. Pack rain gear, sturdy hiking boots, and insect repellent to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the regulations and guidelines for backcountry use to help protect the fragile ecosystems of this pristine wilderness.


Tongass National Forest is a magical destination that showcases the raw beauty and biodiversity of Alaska. With its enchanting rainforests, majestic fjords, and abundant wildlife, it’s a backpacker’s paradise that will leave you with lasting memories of the untamed wilderness.


Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Tucked away in the remote wilderness of northern Alaska, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve offers an unparalleled backpacking experience for those looking to truly disconnect and immerse themselves in the wild. As one of the least-visited national parks in the United States, it offers a pristine and untouched landscape that is a true paradise for adventurous backpackers.


The park is named after the Arrigetch Peaks, a stunning mountain range that rises dramatically from the surrounding tundra. Backpackers can tackle the Arrigetch Peaks Circuit, a challenging route that takes you through alpine meadows, steep climbs, and mountain passes. The reward for your efforts are breathtaking views of the rugged peaks and sprawling valleys, where you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.


Another popular backpacking destination in Gates of the Arctic is the Noatak River Valley. This remote and pristine wilderness offers an opportunity to experience true solitude and uninterrupted natural beauty. Backpackers can hike along the river, camp in scenic spots, and spot wildlife such as grizzly bears, caribou, and wolves. It’s an adventure that will awaken your sense of wonder and leave you with a deep appreciation for the untouched wilderness.


When planning your backpacking trip in Gates of the Arctic, it’s crucial to be well-prepared and self-sufficient. The park has no trails or visitor facilities, so you’ll need excellent navigation skills and outdoor experience. Be aware of the hazards of the remote Arctic environment and come prepared with proper gear, including bear-proof containers for food storage and appropriate clothing for the harsh climate.


Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve offers an unparalleled opportunity to truly experience the rugged beauty and solitude of the Alaskan wilderness. As you hike through its pristine landscapes and witness its untouched beauty, you’ll realize why it’s often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the national park system.


Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a remote wilderness located in southern Alaska, renowned for its stunning landscapes and world-famous brown bear viewing opportunities. It offers a unique backpacking experience that combines breathtaking scenery with the chance to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.


The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is one of the park’s most iconic features. This vast volcanic valley was formed by the 1912 eruption of Novarupta, and it offers a unique and otherworldly landscape for backpackers to explore. Hike through ash-covered terrain, marvel at the towering volcanic peaks, and witness the steam rising from the vents – a reminder of the immense power beneath the Earth’s surface.


For those seeking a closer encounter with the park’s famous brown bears, the Brooks River Trail is a must-do. This 1.5-mile trail takes you to the renowned Brooks Falls, where bears gather to feast on salmon during the summer months. Get a front-row seat to observe these magnificent creatures as they fish, play, and roam the riverbanks.


Backpackers in Katmai National Park should come prepared for the park’s variable weather conditions. It’s not uncommon to experience rain, wind, and even snow, even in the summer months. Ensure you have the appropriate clothing and gear to stay comfortable and safe during your adventure. Additionally, familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols and carry bear spray as a precaution.


Backpacking in Katmai National Park and Preserve is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers a rare glimpse into the untamed wilderness of Alaska. From stunning volcanic valleys to close encounters with brown bears, it’s an adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.


Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, located in southeastern Alaska, is a pristine wilderness area renowned for its magnificent glaciers, towering mountains, and rich marine wildlife. Backpacking in Glacier Bay offers a unique opportunity to explore this remote and awe-inspiring landscape while immersing yourself in the wonders of the icy kingdom.


The crown jewel of the park is the Glacier Bay itself, a stunning fjord filled with glaciers that extend from the towering mountains to the sea. While backpacking in the park, you can witness the calving of massive glaciers, hike through glaciers’ moraines, and observe the ever-changing glacial landscape. The scenic vistas and the crackling sound of ice caving into the water create a truly unforgettable experience.


One of the most popular backpacking routes in Glacier Bay is the Bartlett Cove to Haines Glacier Trail. This 40-mile trail takes you through diverse ecosystems, including towering forests, alpine meadows, and stunning glacier valleys. Along the way, you might encounter wildlife such as mountain goats, moose, and black bears.


Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is also an ideal location for sea kayaking. Paddle through the calm waters of Glacier Bay and explore the intricate network of bays, inlets, and islands. Keep an eye out for humpback whales, seals, otters, and porpoises swimming alongside your kayak. It’s a unique perspective to witness the park’s glaciers and marine wildlife up close.


As you plan your backpacking trip in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, be sure to obtain any necessary permits and check the park’s regulations. Prepare for the region’s ever-changing weather conditions, and pack warm layers, rain gear, and sturdy hiking boots.


Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve offers a mesmerizing combination of glacial landscapes, abundant wildlife, and serene wilderness. Exploring this extraordinary park on foot or by kayak is a true adventure that will leave you in awe of the power and beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.


Kodiak Island

Situated off the southern coast of mainland Alaska, Kodiak Island is a rugged and remote destination that offers a unique backpacking experience. Known for its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and rich cultural heritage, Kodiak Island is a true gem of the Alaskan wilderness.


The island is home to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, a vast wilderness that covers nearly two-thirds of the island. Backpackers can explore its diverse ecosystems, from coastal wetlands to towering mountains. The hike up Pillar Mountain is a popular choice, offering panoramic views of Kodiak and its surrounding islands.


One of the highlights of backpacking on Kodiak Island is the opportunity to spot its famous inhabitants, the Kodiak bears. These impressive creatures are the largest brown bears in the world and can often be spotted along the island’s rivers and coastlines. Visitors can embark on guided bear viewing trips or choose backpacking routes that traverse areas with the highest bear activity.


Kodiak Island is also known for its rich cultural heritage. The Alutiiq people have inhabited the island for thousands of years and have a deep connection to the land. Backpackers can learn about their traditions, visit archaeological sites, and explore the Kodiak Maritime Museum to gain a deeper understanding of the island’s history.


When planning your backpacking trip on Kodiak Island, be prepared for the island’s unpredictable weather conditions. Pack layers of clothing, waterproof gear, and sturdy hiking boots to ensure your comfort and safety. Additionally, educate yourself about proper food storage and bear safety protocols to coexist respectfully with the island’s wildlife.


Kodiak Island offers a unique blend of stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re hiking along its rugged coastlines, spotting bears in their natural habitat, or immersing yourself in the island’s rich history, Kodiak Island promises an unforgettable backpacking adventure in the heart of wild Alaska.


Misty Fjords National Monument

Misty Fjords National Monument, located in southeastern Alaska, is a place of unparalleled natural beauty and serenity. As you embark on a backpacking adventure through this breathtaking landscape, you’ll be transported to a world of mist-shrouded fjords, towering granite cliffs, and cascading waterfalls.


The most iconic feature of Misty Fjords is its deep, glacier-carved fjords. These narrow waterways are surrounded by sheer cliffs that rise hundreds of feet above the water. As you hike along the rugged coastline, you’ll be immersed in the tranquility and grandeur of this pristine wilderness.


One of the most popular backpacking routes is the Carlanna Lake Trail. This 10-mile trail takes you through lush rainforests, past crystal-clear streams, and up to the picturesque Carlanna Lake. From there, you can continue along the trail to the stunning Punchbowl Lake, with its turquoise waters nestled amidst towering cliffs.


Another must-see attraction in Misty Fjords is the New Eddystone Rock. This towering volcanic spire rises dramatically from the surrounding water, creating a stunning sight that is truly awe-inspiring. Hiking to an overlook that offers a view of this majestic rock is an experience you won’t soon forget.


As you explore Misty Fjords National Monument, keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that calls this place home. Bald eagles soar overhead, seals bask on rocky shores, and black bears forage for food along the shoreline. It’s a haven for nature lovers and a chance to witness Alaska’s wild inhabitants in their natural habitat.


When planning your backpacking trip to Misty Fjords, make sure to check the weather conditions and pack accordingly. Rain gear, sturdy hiking boots, and bug repellent are essential items to bring along. Additionally, obtain any necessary permits and familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the fragile ecosystem of this remarkable national monument.


A journey through Misty Fjords National Monument is a mesmerizing adventure that allows you to connect with the raw beauty of nature. From its misty fjords to its towering cliffs, this remote wilderness encapsulates the essence of Alaska’s untamed wilderness and offers a truly unforgettable backpacking experience.



Alaska is a haven for backpacking enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of landscapes, from towering mountain peaks to pristine glaciers, lush rainforests to remote fjords. The state’s national parks and preserves provide endless opportunities for adventure and exploration, allowing you to immerse yourself in the untamed wilderness of “The Last Frontier.”


Each destination in Alaska offers its own unique charm and beauty. Whether you choose to hike through the rugged terrain of Denali National Park and Preserve, explore the coastal wonders of Kenai Fjords National Park, or witness the power of volcanic landscapes in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, you’ll be captivated by the raw and awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds you.


From the remote and untouched wilderness of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to the rich cultural heritage of Kodiak Island, Alaska provides a truly immersive and authentic backpacking experience. As you traverse the trails, witness abundant wildlife, and soak in the breathtaking vistas, you’ll feel a deep sense of connection to the natural world.


It’s important to remember that backpacking in Alaska requires careful planning, physical fitness, and respect for the environment. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, wildlife encounters, and the need for self-sufficiency in remote areas. Following Leave No Trace principles and obtaining any necessary permits will help preserve the pristine wilderness for generations to come.


Whether you’re an experienced backpacker seeking a new challenge or a novice looking to embark on your first wilderness adventure, Alaska has something to offer everyone. The vast landscapes, untouched beauty, and incredible wildlife encounters make it a truly unforgettable destination.


So, lace up your boots, pack your gear, and set out on an epic backpacking journey through the wild and untamed lands of Alaska. Discover the magic hidden within its national parks and preserves, and immerse yourself in the thrill of exploring one of the most breathtaking wilderness areas on Earth.