Alaska: Denali Backpacking
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True Denali Adventure
Glaciers and soaring peaks, wilderness and wildlife, epic backcountry camping
August 22-28, 2022
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7 Days, 6 Nights
Anchorage, Denali National Park, Ruth Glacier, Tokositna Glacier
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An hour from Anchorage, the civilized world simply disappears. Off the grid, into the breach, full of marvel and wonder. You’re backpacking in Denali, in untamed and wild backcountry, surrounded by the tallest peaks on the continent and a maze of towering seracs, glacial-fed rivers, thick tundra. And all without a single established trail. You’re no longer just a hiker—you’re an explorer. This is real wilderness. This is undaunted adventure. This is Alaska like you’ve only imagined.
We’ll spend six days backpacking deep in the heart of Denali National Park, hiking across glacial tundra, up and over majestic mountain passes, reveling in the epic wilderness and boundless backcountry. We’re one of the rare groups granted access to Denali’s backcountry. We’ll work hard, and earn every mile. We’ll eat the finest backcountry cooking you’ve likely ever tasted, we’ll celebrate and explore new heights—and we’ll camp for five nights in one of the most stunning and remote corners of North America.
If you crave adventure in untouched wilderness, this trip is for you. Each day brings new jaw-dropping vistas as we venture forward into the 6-million acre wonderland of Denali. Alaska is calling. You in?
Who It's For
If you want to immerse yourself in remote, raw wilderness, this trip is for you. We'll be deep in rarely visited parts of Denali, accessed only by floatplane. We’ll hike through untouched wilderness, camping along glacial lakes and backpacking in areas rarely seen by hikers.
Activity Level: Hard
We'll cover up to 6 wilderness miles a day, with up to 2,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Our hikes take us off-trail through steep terrain, accessible for those in excellent physical fitness and prepared for the demands of hiking in all types of weather. Previous backpacking experience is recommended.
How We Travel
In style! Our fully supported trek is led by expert Alaskan guides who prepare all meals. We sleep in 1- or 2-person expedition tents (provided) and help set up camp each day. We’ll carry backpacks (30-40lbs) with our individual gear plus a portion of the group gear.
Your Denali Experience
Day by Day
We will spend all of our time hiking the Whale’s Tail between Ruth and Tokositna Glaciers. Our exact route will not be confirmed until we arrive in Denali, and we will make continuous adjustments each day based on weather, terrain, daylight, ability and animal movements. Out here, we roll with what Mother Nature gives us—that’s true Alaska.
Welcome to Anchorage! After arriving in Alaska’s largest city—known for its stunning views, and for being the gateway to interior Alaska’s most remote and pristine wilderness—we’ll meet up in the afternoon at our lakefront hotel for a gear check and orientation. Then we’ll get to know one another the way all true travelers should: over gourmet pizza and craft brews. Let’s toast to a week of wilderness, wildlife and unstoppable adventure.
Our adventure begins! After breakfast at the hotel we’ll head across the lake to Alaska’s busiest seaplane base, and board our float plane. It’s up and away from Anchorage and, just 60 minutes later, we’re deep in the 6-million acre expanse of Denali National Park. Our float plane drops us on a lake at the base of Mount Church and Ruth Glacier. On the horizon, towering before us and barely 15 miles away, is the tallest mountain in North America and one of the most isolated peaks on Earth: Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), rising up 20,310 feet and, because of the convergence of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, literally getting taller by the year.
Denali and the Alaska Range were created by major uplift events and then scoured by glaciers. The result is a dramatic, and young, landscape that transitions from large boulders and moraine debris, to older valleys where vegetation has started to develop. We’ll set up camp lakeside and take a short hike to get acquainted with our new home. The park’s unique mix of deciduous trees and expansive tundra, glaciers and towering rock faces, give the eye a surprise at every turn. We made it. Take a deep breath and embrace the wild Alaskan frontier.
Day 2: 1.5 miles, 2 hours hiking, 600′ gain
Get ready for a glorious day of pristine backcountry hiking. We’ll eat a hearty camp breakfast then head out. Glaciers cover about 16% of the total acreage of Denali and define its rugged terrain; this morning we’ll skirt along the rim of Ruth Glacier, one of Denali’s largest, with views of Tokositna Glacier in the distance. The land in between is called the ‘Whale’s Tail’ because of its shape; we’ll spend our week hiking up, over and through its craggy terrain, carving our own trails over tundra and alongside walls of ice sheering the valleys.
This afternoon we’ll pitch camp at a glacial lake, and have the option to head out and explore the valley or simply to relax in the serenity and raw beauty of our surroundings.
Day 3: Up to 5 miles, 5 hours, 1,000′ gain
It’s our second full hiking day, with views in every direction that are simply incredible. After breakfast we’ll break camp and head out along Ruth Glacier. From where we are in the tundra, following the massive glacial flows, it’s hard to believe other parts of Denali are carpeted in spruce and willow forest. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for arctic ground squirrels, pika, hoary marmots and maybe a rare wolverine—and for the iconic black and brown bears that roam the boulder fields and glacier-fed streams. Keeping tabs on it all from above are the many migratory birds that pass through Denali this time of year: Arctic warblers, ptarmigan, hawks and golden eagles. On days like these, hiking ridge lines high above glacial valleys, it’s pure magic.
Day 4: 4 – 7 miles, 5 – 8 hours, 600′ gain
We’ve spent three days backpacking through pristine wilderness in places few people have set foot. Today we’ll push ourselves hard: it’s our longest hiking day, with the most elevation gain. As we hike, we’ll feel small in the best possible way: forging a path between two mighty, icy walls that have created these pristine, primordial lands through millions of years. We’re blazing a trail through the tundra between Ruth and Tokositna Glaciers, source of the Tokositna River. Our time tonight under the stars will be worth it all. With one final trek ahead of us, there’s a whole lot to savor in every moment.
Day 5: 7 miles, 8 hours, 1,500′ gain
It’s our final day of backpacking. And instead of up, we’re going down. Our descent leads us out of soaring peaks and rocky cliff sides, through glacial tundra and sheer ridgelines, and down to the lake we started from, waters laden with glacial till. The lake has been formed by the retreat of the Backside Glacier; you can sometimes hear the glacier cracking and popping in the tight valley, reminding you that the earth is still being cut and shaped.
We’ll feel as though we’re making our return to Earth from outer space, yet still in the throes of vast wilderness. Tonight, we celebrate a trek completed, challenges bested, laughs had, friendships made, blisters soothed and adventure embraced. Denali is unforgettable, and the experience will stay with us forever.
Day 6: 4 miles, 4 hours, 2,100′ elevation loss
One last tundra breakfast to polish off our time in Denali. Take the morning to wander and prep to return to civilization. Our floatplane arrives early this afternoon. We’ll get one last look at Denali—this time from above, over the Tokosha Mountains, and feeling like we know every twist and turn we see below. Next stop: Anchorage. We’ll transfer to the airport for flights home, and bid a fond farewell, bonded over Alaska’s great wild. Until next time!
Lakefront HotelDay 1: Anchorage
Our first day in Alaska starts in style, set up on the shore of Lake Spenard. As the city’s only lakeside hotel, it has prime real estate and marvelous views of towering pines and the snow-capped Chugach Mountains, as well as the dulcet hum of float planes taking off and landing on the crystal waters out front. Head down to the dock for a fishing or flightseeing excursion to take your vantage to a whole new perspective.
Backcountry CampingDays 2 - 7: Denali National Park
We'll camp for five nights in the remote backcountry of Denali—a rare opportunity to sleep in this wild wonderland. We'll camp fully supported: We provide expedition-quality tents, trekking poles, and group-size tarp shelters to house the best nomadic cooking equipment in the camping world. We’ll eat well along the way, with delicious campsite meals to restore ourselves after a day on the trail.
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Who is this trip for?
Denali National Park is renown for raw natural beauty, with extremely limited access: this is a rare opportunity to explore Denali’s remote backcountry. This trip is for experienced backpackers looking to explore the wilds of Alaska in style. We camp fully supported for five nights with most gear and camp cooking provided. Physical conditioning and consistent exercise prior to this trip is essential. We will be joined for this adventure by up to two expert expedition guides. Each guide is medically certified as a Wilderness First Responder and is highly qualified in all necessary skills to safely travel throughout Alaska’s vast wilderness.
How difficult is this trip?
This trip is considered difficult. Hiking in Denali tends to be steep climbs to gain elevation, and easier walking along tundra benches. In other words, big ups, big downs, with sloping ‘side-hilling’ walks along the spines of mountains. You will be backpacking off-trail, often covering more than 6 miles in a day with up to 2,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. You may encounter short stretches of thick vegetation and may also experience Alaska’s diverse selection of insect species. You will be camping in a very remote wilderness, sleeping in tents, relieving yourself in places with stunning views, and sometimes enjoying all of the above in the rain. You will be expected to load and unload your own gear, carry a portion of the group gear, and manage your own physical comfort and well-being. Pre-trip physical conditioning should begin no later than 2 months before departure and should include walking or hiking, preferably with loaded backpack of 30 to 40 pounds.
How much can the itinerary change?
Although we’ll use the itinerary as a guide, circumstances like weather conditions and safety may cause us to modify our route. We will spend all of our time hiking the Whale’s Tail region between Ruth Glacier and Tokositna Glacier, however our exact route will not be confirmed until we arrive in Denali, and we will make continuous adjustments each day based on weather, terrain, daylight, ability and animal movements. Out here, we roll with what Mother Nature gives us—that’s true Alaska.
What does the price include?
Accommodations for one night in Anchorage; five nights of fully supported camping including most gear and all meals; round-trip flight to/from Anchorage and Denali; ground transportation as a group; all meals and beverages; group supplies—group sized tarp shelters, cooking equipment and utensils, toilet supplies, satellite phones, maps; GPS; medical kit, rescue equipment; trekking poles; entrance fees for national parks; and gratuities for expedition guides. We will be joined for this adventure by up to two expert expedition guides. Each guide is medically certified as a Wilderness First Responder and is highly qualified in all necessary skills to safely travel throughout Alaska’s vast wilderness.
What does the price not include?
Roundtrip airfare to Alaska and the trip’s starting point in Anchorage; travel insurance; activities not included in the trip itinerary; hotel incidentals including room service, laundry service and hotel bar tabs; food and beverage not included in itinerary; gratuity for tour leader.
What are the arrival and departure details?
Our adventure begins in the afternoon at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. The closest airport is Anchorage International Airport (ANC). On the last day of the trip, you can schedule your onward flights from ANC airport to depart at 8pm or later.
Do I need to play a solo traveler supplement?
Prices are based on double occupancy. For solo travelers, there is a $650 single-supplement fee—paid at the time of booking to secure a private lodge room and solo tent accommodations. If you select “Single – Willing to Share,” Modern Adventure will pair you up with a roommate of the same gender. These ‘Single – Willing to Share’ spots are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Single tents when camping may be available by request. Note that if we are unable to pair you with a traveler of the same gender, you will be required to pay the single-supplement fee.
Who is going on this trip?
This Alaska adventure is limited to 7 guests, plus our Modern Adventure team. The trip is recommended for travelers aged 18 and above who are in excellent health and have previous experience with backpacking.
Who is leading this trip?
This trip is led by an expert Modern Adventure Trip Leader. They’re an experienced travel guide, a representative of Modern Adventure and your go-to person for questions or concerns on the trip. We will be joined for this adventure by up to two expert expedition guides. Each guide is medically certified as a Wilderness First Responder and is highly qualified in all necessary skills to safely travel throughout Alaska’s vast wilderness.
What travel documents are needed?
US citizens and residents should check the TSA’s website for requirements and acceptable ID for domestic air travel. Some State issued IDs may no longer meet TSA standards. If you are a Non-US Citizen traveling to Alaska, visit the US Consulate or Embassy for requirements and information about passports and visas.
What is the cancellation policy?
You may cancel on or before April 24, 2022 and receive a full refund minus a $500 per-person service fee. If you cancel on or after April 25, 2022 there is a 50% cancellation fee; on or after June 23, 2022 there is a 100% cancellation fee. We highly recommend purchasing travel insurance as we are not able to make exceptions to this policy in cases of family/medical emergency or of the trip being canceled (see our Terms and Conditions for full details).
Do I need Travel Insurance?
We highly recommend purchasing travel insurance. Travel insurance allows you to seek reimbursement for your trip costs; if your trip plans change for unforeseeable reasons, or if you need to get medical help, emergency transport, and for theft, loss or damage of items while traveling. For best coverage, always insure the full trip cost within two weeks of your initial trip deposit and note that most ‘Cancel For Any Reason’ policies must be purchased on the date of your initial deposit.