My Own Alaska
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Q: Where can I find inexpensive, tourist-free backpacking in Alaska?
— Rosanne Clemente, Bay Shore, New York
A: The general rule with Alaskan wilderness is that you can have it cheap OR tourist-free, but rarely both. There’s a simple reason for this: Only a few of the parks and preserves can be accessed easily by road. For the majority, a pricey boat or plane transport is required, which is just fine for well-financed adventurers but puts us solace-seeking paupers in a pickle.
The good news is that Alaska’s most popular parks, even at their most crowded, will never come close to the tourist density of Yosemite or Yellowstone. In Denali’s six million or so acres, backpackers tend to spread themselves out simply because there aren’t many trails. The best plan is to grab a map and compass and just start walking. For impressive McKinley views, you might consider following one of the rivers that crosses the road to Wonder Lake, or taking the bus from the Visitor Center to Kantishna and setting off into the forest from there.
Prefer to follow trails? Then you might be more comfortable on the Kenai Peninsula, where the Resurrection Pass Trail covers nearly 40 miles and is easy to reach from Anchorage. It’s a relatively high-traffic area that’s popular with cross-country skiers, but the wildlife watching and tundra scenery will make up for any excess of humans.
If the itch for truly remote wilderness gets bad enough to allow you to dig a bit deeper into your pockets, you might consider heading to the rarely visited 13.2 million acres of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. For an in-depth look at the backcountry of this vast park, check out Outside contributing editor Bruce Barcott’s “Infinite Range,” Outside magazine, April 2001