The Goat Trail

Meet the Goat Trail. Prepare for Adventure.


  • An historical classic
  • Stunning Alaska scenery
  • Two nights in historic McCarthy
  • 2 bush flights through the rugged Wrangell Mountains
  • Balanced mix of the easy and the challenging

Glaciers. Grizzly bears. Grand Landscapes.

Hole in the Wall. The Russell Glacier. Mt. Bona. Castle Mountain. Chitistone.

Any one of these features alone make this backpacking trip a worthy effort. Combined? Beyond description.

The largest National Park in Alaska. Largest National Park in all of North America. Part of the largest internationally protected heritage land in the world, Wrangell St. Elias National Park is an adventure unto itself.

Backpacking Trip

This backpacking route guides you alongside wild and majestic mountains. Soaring peaks claw their way skyward. Hiking through the deep jagged valleys carved by rushing rivers and prehistoric glaciers, this trip guides you through the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park wilderness. Second to no other in Alaska.

Your guided hike starts via an Alaskan bush plane flight, taking you deep into the wilderness. Spend the next 5-7 days camping, backpacking and hiking under the open Alaska sky.

The University Ranges provide a stunning backdrop with peaks over 16 000′ high, as we explore the high alpine passes and visit ancient glaciers. You’ll hike over to the adjacent Chitistone Valley, an early miners route into the Yukon territories.

Together we’ll explore the nearby “Hole in the Wall”, Russell Glacier, Chitistone Valley and most of Skolai Pass.

Then we venture west through Chitistone Pass and on down the Chitistone Valley where you’ll cross the Goat Trail. A tricky traverse across a steep scree slope where you’ll be glad you’re hiking with an experienced guide. I’ve guided and backpacked this route more times than anyone I know. This section is one where you’ll appreciate having someone who knows the route lead your trip.

The Hike

Point to point this isn’t a long hike. The magic lies in the side trips. An afternoon at Hole in the Wall or heading north toward the Nizina and Frederica glaciers and the view towards Mt Regal.

The hike south toward Chitistone Pass is varied. We traverse a boulder field, some sidehill, and climb high up Chitistone Pass. We don’t have to deal with much brush up in this area, so there’s no real bushwhacking to speak of. Woo hooooooo!

The Goat Trail is a series of steep scree-covered ravines each with (at least) one small sheep or goat trail winding across the scree. It’s steep with a degree of exposure. Not for the meek. Intimidating yet also very doable.

We’ll take our time and mosey across.

Heading to/from Wolverine instead of taking the traditional route down to Chitistone River and Glacier Creek allows us to avoid the bushwhacking and river crossings involved in that route. I like to stay up high, traverse around behind “The Fin” (the backside of Hole in the Wall) and enjoy the subalpine terrain.

This is a good area to spot the slopes and ridges for Dall sheep.

Soon enough we wind our way out on the ridge known as “Wolverine”, make camp and await our bush flight back to McCarthy.

This hike works well either direction. Skolai -> Wolverine or Wolverine -> Skolai.

Extensions and Options

Backpacking

Flexibility is just one reason I love this hike. I’ve walked Skolai to Wolverine in two days and I’ve done it in ten days. Point to point is great but why limit yourself to that? Spend at least a few extra days en route seeing some of gems along the way.

There are a number of great options for adding a side hike here and there. We can also extend the route via a more circuitous loop around the north side of Wolverine Butte.

Packrafting

For packrafters you can drop down to Doubtful Creek and packraft the Nizina River all the way back to McCarthy. Or drop down to the Chitistone and paddle that river to the Nizina and on to McCarthy.

The packraft options are for intermediate to experienced paddlers only. My recommendation is to hike Doubtful Creek down to Nizina River and begin packrafting.

Who's This trip For?

Everyone.

One more reason I love the Goat Trail. It’s a great hike for just about anyone. For the novice hiker we can take it easy. Do shorter days and have a layover day or two along the trip. More experienced backpackers might go a little harder, venture a little further, and cover more miles in less time.

That’s not to say it’s an easy hike. The Goat Trail comes with it’s share of challenges. And if you’ve never backpacked before you’ll find just hiking all day with 40 pounds on your back to be a bit of a project for sure.

I generally recommend this trip for folks somewhere ‘in the middle’. Have some backpacking experience, be in relatively decent shape, and willing to carry your pack 5-6 mile a day. Expect some hard days and some easy days. Don’t expect it to be like anything you’ve ever done before.

Challenges

The terrain is generally manageable. There is no bushwhacking, very few sections of boulders or moraine to traverse and the sidehilling is kept to a minimum. Much of the hike we take a somewhat followable small game trail. This also helps minimize adversity.

The Goat Trail is a series of steep, scree-covered ravines that we traverse as we hike down Chitistone Canyon. There is some  exposure. They’re also not as sketchy as they sound.

The scree stopes of the Goat Trail do have an intimidating degree of exposure. Take it easy, follow your guide, and it’s really not as hairy as you think it will be. Just remember to lean in toward the hillside. You’ll be fine.

An Easier Option?

Wanna see Skolai Pass and not deal with The Goat Trail? The Goat Trail sounds a little more than you care to bite off? Let’s have a chat about a basecamp trip at Skolai.

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Photo Opps

An Arctic Ground Squirrel at Wolverine Butte, on the Goat Trail, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

This region offers some of the finest landscape photography anywhere and is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife. Bring your binoculars or telephoto lenses and scan the open tundra for grizzly bear, caribou, wolf and Dall sheep, migratory shore birds, ptarmigan, ground squirrels and red fox. Golden eagles are frequently seen here too.

Trip Itinerary

The Skolai to Wolverine backpacking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is also one of our most exciting. Like all the trips we run, the itinerary is somewhat fluid. Weather, hiker experience and many other factors determine the actual trip. But to give the web visitor a basic outline of how this trip might typically unfold, here’s a detailed look at a Skolai to Wolverine route: for simplicity sake, I’ll assume the trip dates are Aug 1 – Aug 8.

Realize everything here is simply an example. I’ve actually completed this trip in 2 days, and I’ve also spent 10 days doing this route. I feel a 9 day trip is about perfect for this route – this gives you 6 complete days in the backcountry. The route here is described one day shorter. I like to use the extra day to explore the area just west and north of Wolverine Butte, some really interesting hiking up in there.

Where Are We?

Trip FAQs

  • Standard backpacking gear. See our check list here. you’ll receive a comprehensive Trip Info Packet upon reservation with all the details you might want about equipment and more.

    Hiking poles strongly recommended (included in trip price if you need them). A sturdy lightweight tent is advised, wind is often a factor when camping in subalpine and alpine areas. Tents are available for rent upon reservation (see outfitting in Backpacking FAQs).

  • By Alaska standards, I rate this trip maybe 2-3 out of 5 for mosquitoes. Really not too bad at all. Skolai-Wolverine seems to be high enough that the bugs aren’t bad.

    Yes you’ll likely see some mosquitoes. No, they’re not heinous like they can be in some areas of the Alaskan backcountry.

  • That’s up to you. The more the better, for sure, but we’ve had complete novices do this trip and they were fine.

    The terrain isn’t terribly difficult, though that will vary enormously person to person. There’s a huge difference between a 55 year old hiker and a 22 year old hiker.

  • Most days come in around 5 miles or so. Don’t let that be a measure for you on the difficulty though. A mile in Alaska can be far more challenging that a mile on a nice maintained trail in the Lower 48.

  • Grizzly bears, caribou, fox, Dall sheep, marmots and Arctic ground Squirrel are the most common. We’ve also seen wolf and mountain goat.

    There are also quite a few species of a birds come through the area. Shorebirds like Semipalmated Plover and Wandering Tattler, as well as species of gull and ducks.

    Willow ptarmigan are common in the area. Golden eagle visit the area and Merlin do as well.

  • That is trip dependent.

    For backpacking trips, a fully outfitted option includes your tent (one or two person tent), stove, all your kitchenware, food and cooking by Expeditions Alaska. A typical trip, up to ten days long, costs an additional $250.00 per person for the fully outfitted option.

    Available “á la carte” options are (per person)

    Tent $50.00/tent
    Food/cooking $225.00

    For personal items such as a backpack, or sleeping pad, talk to me prior to your trip and we’ll see what we can arrange. If you need a pack I recommend you rent a backpack from a reputable local outfitter. They can find and fit a pack to you rather than “making do” with one of mine that may or may not be a good fit for you.

    Items such as BRFC, bear spray, stove, fuel, hiking poles are included gratis with Expeditions Alaska trips. See What’s Included? for more info.

  • There certainly is.

    Avoid the hassles of crying a heavy backpack. Travel to McCarthy, overnight, fly in to the backcountry, camp and explore the area via day hikes and packrafts (* option on some trips), fly back to McCarthy, overnight and return travel to Anchorage. Fully-outfitted or do it yourself. These trips are extremely flexible, wonderfully fun and a whole lot easier on your body than backpacking trip is.

    Looking for something “in-the-middle”? Sure, we can do that too. Fly in and out of the same location, and make a smaller backpacking loop or out and back, combining a few days camping and a few days of backpacking. Contact me via email or call 1-770-952-4549 and we’ll set it up.

  • All multi-day trips (backpacking, basecamping, packrafting, photo tours) out of McCarthy include transport to/from Anchorage/McCarthy, 2 nights accommodations in McCarthy, air taxi flights McCarthy/The Backcountry, group gear such as cook tents, stoves, fuel, BRFCs, bear spray, etc. Hiking poles are included if you don’t have your own.

    We include a satellite phone for emergencies and one backup emergency contact device, such as PLB or Garmin InReach. First aid kits, map and compass included. All guides are Wilderness First Responder Certified.

    Storage of your overnight travel gear is limited but available (keep it small).

    Outfitting of equipment such as tents is available. Expeditions Alaska can either fully outfit your trip (all food, tents, etc) or adjust things a la carte if needed.

    Guide gratuities are not included but most appreciated. Trip insurance is not included but I urge you to purchase it on your own.

    For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page

  • I know you do. I do as well.

    I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page

    More questions? Email me or call me  and we’ll go through them.

    Upon your reservation I’ll also send out a comprehensive trip information packet that covers just about everything and more you might imagine about your trip.

Trip Logistics

We travel from Anchorage to McCarthy, overnight in McCarthy and then fly in to the backcountry. A week in the Skolai Pass area and we fly back to McCarthy, show and eat, and then enjoy the afternoon relaxing in the slow-paced rustic town of McCarthy, or venture up to Kennicott and look at the historic copper mine Mill buildings and leftovers of this ghost town. We spend the night in McCarthy, and travel back to Anchorage on the final day.

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