Backpacking in Alaska: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Alaska: Two tents set up at a campsite near a scenic lake

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Alaska offers stunning scenic wilderness, abundant wildlife, and challenging yet rewarding terrain for adventurers. Be prepared for unpredictable weather, limited trail infrastructure, and the need for permits.

This post is all about backpacking in Alaska using lightweight gear. We’ll give you some useful tips to get ready for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We will showcase the TOP 5 trails in Alaska, divided into two categories: day hikes covering less than 30 miles and multi-day trips with convenient resupply points every few days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Alaska

  • What to expect: Anticipate challenging terrains like mountains, creek crossings, and muddy trails, requiring route finding through open tundra. With the right gear, careful planning for changing conditions, and respect for the vast landscape, backpacking lets you explore the majestic and remote wilderness.
  • Essential gear: Important items to bring include a bear canister, bear spray, durable waterproof hiking shoes, a water filter, weather-appropriate synthetic clothing, mosquito protection, navigation tools, and a satellite communicator for emergencies.
  • Wildlife: In Alaska’s wild areas, potentially dangerous wildlife such as bears (grizzlies and black bears), moose (especially with calves), wolves, wolverines, polar bears in the far north, bison, and muskox are present. It’s essential to stay alert and cautious at all times.
  • Wild camping: In Alaska’s backcountry, wild camping is allowed in many areas, but there are important rules. National Parks need camping in designated spots. State Parks, National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and some places may allow dispersed camping with limits. For private lands, you need permission.
  • Best time to go: The best time to go backpacking in Alaska is June to early September. There is more daylight, warmer weather, fewer bugs, clear trails, and good views of wildlife. But there are also trade-offs like changing weather, crowds, and seasonal conditions. In June there is constant daylight and active wildlife but more mosquitoes and maybe snow. July-August are warmer but can be crowded. September has fewer bugs, pretty fall colors, and fewer people, but it gets colder with shorter days and possible storms.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

Embark on these stunning day hikes and experience how much your lightweight gear can enhance your journey:

  1. Harding Icefield Trail (8.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Mount Healy Overlook Trail (4.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Savage Alpine Trail (4.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Rabbit Lake Trail (8.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. South Fork Valley Trail (10.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Discover these breathtaking backpacking trails in Alaska, where you’ll find places to restock your supplies every two days:

  1. Resurrection Pass Trail (37.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Kesugi Ridge (Curry Ridge) Trail (30.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Knik Glacier via Jim Creek (40.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Chilkoot Pass Trail (31.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. The Goat Trail (39.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Alaska has diverse weather throughout the year. It usually has cold winters and milder summers due to its subarctic or polar climate. Yet, the weather can be unpredictable:

  • Summer (June to August): Mild temperatures (50°F to 70°F or 10°C to 20°C), longer daylight hours.
  • Spring (April to May): Transitional period, temperatures around 30°F to 50°F (-1°C to 10°C), possible snow in some areas.
  • Fall (September to October): Cooler temperatures (30°F to 50°F or -1°C to 10°C), increasing unpredictability, potential snow.
  • Winter (November to March): Freezing temperatures (-20°F to 20°F or -29°C to -6°C), significant snowfall, challenging for backpacking.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Alaska (Anchorage):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F242836475865676556422924
Low °F131621324351555244311914
Rain/Snow (D*)754457911111078
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Alaska?

You can have campfires while backpacking in Alaska, but there are some restrictions you need to follow. In general, campfires are only allowed below tree line and away from flammable vegetation. You must clear an area around the fire site and have water and tools available to fully extinguish the fire. Campfires are not permitted on Alaska state park lands when the fire danger is high to extreme. On federal lands, campfires may be restricted based on location and fire danger.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Alaska?

The best way to deal with wildlife is to avoid surprising them. Make noise as you hike to alert animals of your presence. Be extremely cautious around bear cubs or moose calves as mothers are protective. Give animals a wide berth and detour around them if possible. Avoid camping and cooking near animal trails. Store food properly by hanging or using bear-resistant containers. Carry bear spray and know how to use it safely. If charged, stand your ground, speak calmly, and deploy bear spray. Report aggressive animals to land managers.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Alaska?

Head into Alaska’s remote wilderness for an exciting backpacking adventure immersed in nature, but take precautions in this rugged landscape. Acquire detailed maps and make others aware of your route before following isolated trails. Pack layers, first-aid supplies, a compass, flashlight, whistle, bear spray and plenty of food in case you become stranded. Watch for loose rock, melting snowfields, and slippery stream crossings. Make noise to avoid surprising bears, moose and other wildlife. With adequate provisions and preventative measures, you can revel in Alaska’s stunning natural beauty while backpacking. Focus on preparation, caution and responsibility so your desire for adventure can be fulfilled smartly when immersed in Alaska’s vast wilderness. Stay alert, be ready for the unexpected, and prioritize safety to maximize your backpacking experience in The Last Frontier.

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