Backpacking in Alaska isn’t easy: the remote distances and limited road access almost force you to stick to the major tourist routes. It’s hard to go off the beaten track in Alaska without spending lots of money on float planes to unload you in remote regions and pick you up when you are done with your excursions. Such excursions would also require serious amount of planning and gear, which make it less suitable for the casual backpacker.
There are, however, a few ways to avoid (as much as possible) the cruise-ship crowds. I would recommended the following itinerary for a 2-week backpacking trip:
- Juneau; Hike up to the MendenHall glacier; Take the tram up Mt. St. Roberts.
- Go aboard the Alaskan Marine Highway ferry to Skagway.
- Hike the 4-day Chilkoot trail. It’s a difficult yet a highly rewarding hike that traces the Klondike goldrush passage into the Yukon.
- Take a bus from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, and the bus/train from Fairbanks to Denali.
- Spend a couple of days camping in the Denali park. Find your spot amongst the photographers with the 450mm lenses, and observe bears, lynx, moose, mountain sheep, foxes and more. If you are lucky – you may be able to see Mt. Denali in all it’s amazing glory.
- Buy and read the book ‘minus 148‘, an unbelievable account of the first winter ascent of Mt Denali.
- Leave the park, promising yourself that you will come back again at least once more in your lifetime.
- Take the train/bus to Anchorage.
- Not much to do in Anchorage, besides eating at Sacks Cafe & Restaurant. Amazing food!
- Rent a car in anchorage, drive south to Skagway. On your way to Skagway, make a stop in the enchanted town of Hope, that seems frozen in time.
- In Skagway, climb up to Harding Ice field; take a boat tour to Kenai fjords; visit the amazing aquarium; eat superb sea food in Ray’s waterfront restaurant; see a movie in the town’s beautiful old movie theatre.
- Back to Anchorage, and home, knowing that part of you will always stay in Alaska.
Some general tips:
- Guide book: Lonely Planet was an excellent guide book, mapping things to do, where to stay, etc.
- Cost: Plan on an average of $200/day/person. Alaska is expensive. Get the Alaska Tour Saver coupon book – you may end up saving hundreds of dollars.
- Weather: this is the trickiest part. With an average of over 15 days rainy days a month, you are bound to get wet. You need to be ready to spend time outdoors, no matter what the weather is like. Pack good rain gear – you’ll need it!
- Gear: If you plan on hiking the Chilkoot trail and/or spending time in Denali national park – make sure you bring with you full camping gear, a tent, warm sleeping backs, air mattresses, etc. In the Chilkoot trail you would also want to have with you bear spray. There are plenty of bears in the area, and exercising extra caution is advised.