Any avid hiker or backpacker then has probably dreamed of one day going on an Alaska hiking adventure. Alaska is a big, big place and trying to narrow down your options for hiking and backpacking adventure can be daunting.
On or Off the Trail
A good place to start is to define what sort of a trip is best. Looking for a classic backpacking trek in a remote and little traveled region? Or is something a little less off the beaten path more reasonable. Hiking opportunities are in part determined by ease and cost of access.
There aren't a lot of roads in Alaska which means that hiking trails are also limited. Backpacking on an established trail only will limit your choices to certain areas such as Chugach State Park in Anchorage vicinity or the Kenai Peninsula where there are many great trails for hiking and backpacking.
If you are eager to do some off trail hiking and trekking then the possibilities are unlimited. But before booking a bush flight into the backcountry assess your skills and experience for such a trip. Some people find that for their first Alaska hiking trek they prefer to travel with a group or with a backcountry guide. There are many excellent guides and outfitters who can provide anintroduction to the excitement of off trail wilderness travel. A guided approach can also ease the logistical burden of planning a trip.
Understand the challenges of backcountry hiking. There are no bridges or logs to cross on when you encountering a river or stream. And the desire to see bears may diminish a bit when there's one sniffing outside the tent. Backpacking in Alaska is very rewarding but be sure to have the skills in route finding, navigation, stream crossing, bear avoidance and other abilities that you might not have relied on so heavily when hiking on established trails in the lower forty eight.
Set a Budget
Options will be constrained by your budget, so before planning a 12 day hiking and backpacking epic in the remote reaches of the Brooks range, decide how much you are willing to spend for a trip. One of the biggest expenses involved in an Alaska backpacking trip is transportation. Just getting to the starting point of your adventure can be one of the biggest cost factor.
A budget may determine whether a fly-in trip is feasalble or if a hiking trip will work best. Lake Clark for example, has some classic hiking and trekking possibilities but there are no roads to get there. Access into Port Allsworth is by plane only and then a bush flight from there is required into the backcountry.
The cost of a bush flight will be dependent on how remote the spot is and therefore how long it takes to get there. But for a backcountry fly-in the cost will run somewhere in the range of $250 to $350 per person.
If you decide to do a flaying trip you will want to go with an established and reputable Alaskan air taxi service with lots of experience in the area.
One's budget will determine in part what regions of the state will be best for a hiking adventure. A backpacking trek in the Gates of the Arctic or ANWR may sound like the ideal trek, but this is a remote part of the state and it can take three days to get from ones home city in the lower forty eight to a backcountry drop off airstrip in the middle of the Brooks range. If you fly into Fairbanks it may still take two more flights to get to the backcountry. So the remoteness adds not only to the cost of transportation but to the time needed for the trip.
Settle on a Region
Learn about the different areas of Alaska and try to narrow it down to one. Even this will be hard and you'll still have too many choices. But it's a good next step.
There are five regions commonly referenced in Alaska: Southeast, Southcentral, Southwestern, Interior and Northern or Arctic. Unfortunately the boundaries of these areas are somewhat arbitrary at times but it's good to understand the differences between them as they relate to hiking and backpacking possibilities.
The map on the destinations page show a rough approximation of these five regions. The Kenai Peninsula really deserves to be a separate region as it is actually removed physically and economical from what is usually referred to as Southcentral. There are great hiking and backpacking options in all of these areas of Alaska so the selection of one area over another may be determined a lot by time and budget.
There are many great national parks in Alaska, most of which are little known, not because they are small, but because they are remote and little visited. Focusing on the national parks is a great way to organize one's research into hiking and backpacking destinations. Denali is the first that comes to most people's mind but though it deserves its reputation it is by no means the only hiking destination that should be considered. A few parks worth looking into for hiking treks include:
This is by no means the full list of parks in the state but these are some of the best parks for hiking and backpacking. Other parks offer better rafting, kayaking or other activities.
One thing to remember when feeling overwhelmed by the hiking and backpacking options in Alaska... there really are no bad choices.