Sanford Plateau

The Northern Wrangell Mountains. Know magnificence.


  • Fantastic backpacking and hiking
  • Alpine camping
  • Glorious views of some truly epic mountains
  • Glacial travel
  • Return travel from Anchorage to Wrangell - St. Elias National Park
  • 2 bush flights in the park
  • Packrafting option available (Dadina River)

The awesome Sanford Plateau in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a relatively short hiking trip.

A small landing strip on the Upper Sanford River affords us access to the Sanford Plateau, a high alpine ridge that sits between Mt Sanford (16 237′), Mt Wrangell (14 163′) and Mt Drum (12 010′). Weather permitting of course, we should also have great views of Mt Blackburn. At 16 390′ high Mount Blackburn is the highest peak in the Wrangell Mountains and the 5th highest mountain in the US.

Hopefully we get some sunny days and you’ll see some huge views of this impressive range of mountains.

After ascending on the Plateau we’ll have a number of days to explore the alpine country up there.

Your Trip

This trip will combine a basecamp with a  backpacking and hiking adventure. We may spend a day or 2 in the lower forested areas, probably at the Dadina River side of the plateau. Wildlife possibilities include bison, moose and both grizzlies and black bears in the lower area. Caribou and Dall sheep are more likely up in the high country.

There are also some amazing rock formations over on the Dadina side of the plateau from the ancient volcanic activity up there. These are old volcano mountains, some of the largest shield volcanoes anywhere.

We have a couple of stream crossings and a little bushwhacking on this trip so it would be a good option for adventure seekers with some experience hiking. This isn’t a requisite but know ahead of time it’s not all easy walking.

Not more than maybe 10-20 people hike this trip each year so solitude reigns supreme up here. A great opportunity for someone with some experience and a sense of adventure to get out and do a rarely hiked backcountry hike through some remote and rugged country.

Unlike most Wrangell St. Elias backpacking trips we do this trip will leave out of Gulkana, not McCarthy. This means we have a lot shorter drive and less travel time to and from the “trailhead” from Anchorage = more backcountry time! See “Trip Logistics” for that info.

Your Hike

Generally, this trip works great for those folks looking for some big mountain views without too much strenuous effort. It’s a bit of a chore to clamber up on to the Plateau, but only a fairly short walk. Once on the Plateau, we can basecamp, with some killer views right from camp, and day hike, or continue on south and explore the high country here. The hiking on the Plateau is fairly easy, wide open tundra, no brush, no moraine, etc. The descent off the Plateau isn’t too bad, though it’s steep in parts; slow and easy wins that race.

The walk down the Dadina river is a mixture of boreal forest, as we go through the spruce forest and stands of Cottonwood. Expect to encounter some bushwhacking as well.

If the river level isn’t too high we can venture out of the forest onto the broad riverbed and hike over the gravel bars, avoiding the forest all together. At times we’ll find old bison trails through that forest that make travel easy.

The bison here are Plains bison, imported into Alaska half a century ago or more. There are only 2 herds of them in the park. Wood bison lived here centuries ago but were driven into extinction several hundred years back.

Overall, a great hike that few people ever make. It offers various possibilities to make it compatible with beginning to advanced hiking levels.

Packrafting Extension

Not for the meek. This trip offers intermediate to advanced boaters an awesome extension. We’ll hike from Sanford River up over the plateau, and down to the headwaters of the Dadina River, as scripted above, then down our drysuits and packraft down the Dadina River to it’s confluence with the mighty Copper River, and run 30 more miles down the Copper to our planned takeout at Chitina. A total of 60 additional miles travel.

Water levels vary a lot with glacier-fed rivers like this one, so this is contingent on a few factors. Firstly, the requirements for packrafters on this river are:

• a) You must be able to swim. Confidently.

• b) Some prior whitewater packrafting and/or kayaking experience.

The Place

Wrangell Mountains

Almost entirely volcanic mountains, the Wrangells include both the second the third highest volcanoes in the US. Mount Wrangell, lying immediately south of our trek, is still active, and is often seen venting during the winter. In fact, it’s venting out my window as I write this. Pretty neat.

The Wrangells are contagious with three other major mountain ranges in Alaska, the St. Elias range (to the southeast), the Chugach (to the south and west) and the Alaska Range to the north and east. This melting pot of mountains provides some simply astonishing views.

To give you a small idea of the scale of these mountains. Mt. Zanetti is approximately the same height and mass as Mt. St. Helens in Oregon. See image below.

River Names

Both the Sanford and the Dadina River both drain from the Wrangell Mountains into the well known Copper River (also called the Ahtna River, after the native people of the region). “Na” is the Ahtna word for River (Aht-Na translates as River People or People of the River. The Copper River has long been a critical lifeblood to these people.

Many of the official river names in the area end in “Na”: Dadina, Nizina, Lakina, Kuskulana, Chitina, and so on. It’s a little bit absurd that we call these waterways Dadina River, for example, when the “na” in Dadina already stands for “river”.

Chiti is the Ahtna’s word for Copper, so “Chitina River” actually translates as “CopperRiver River”.

Trip Logistics

We’ll pick you up at your hotel in Anchorage and drive to the park. We fly in to the Sanford River from the Glennallen area, which is a few hours drive from Anchorage.

You can leave personal items and an overnight bag in the van.

At the end of our hike we’ll fly back to Glennallen where we can grab some lunch and hit the road for Anchorage. You should be back in Anchorage at your hotel by approximately 6pm at the latest.

As with all logistics and itineraries involving Alaska backcountry trips, the overarching caveat is “this is the plan – we’ll see how it goes”. Weather is always a factor for fly-in/fly-out backcountry trips.

Where Are We?

Trip Itinerary

The hiking itinerary is flexible. The backpacking trip is a relatively short hike, and even doable in a day for strong hikers.

We’ve found doing it over 4-5 days works well. By the time we drive to Glennallen, fly in and get landed at the strip it’s time to camp.

Trip FAQs

  • This trip can be a little buggier than some of the hikes we do in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. The lower forested areas the Dadina River for example are better mosquito habitat. Particularly earlier in the summer like late June through July.

    Bring a headnet and repellent. They’re not heinous like they can be in the Arctic, but they can be uncomfortable.

  • Depends. Possibly. I’ve seen grizzly bear here, black bear, bison, moose, caribou, Dall sheep.

    We don’t usually see lots of wildlife but they’re definitely around.

  • For a full list of what is included please see download the eBook available on this page. General “What’s Included?” info is available here.

  • Oh yeah. Right here

    Upon your reservation I’ll also send out a detailed Trip Information Packet with more than enough information on gear to keep you busy. Until then the above check list is a good outline of what you need.

  • I put trip itineraries online here to give visitors a more detailed look at some of our trips and what options they include.

    I can’t over-emphasize that each is simply an example.

    What I work hardest on is tailoring trips to the specific interests and abilities and experience of the people who hike with us. No 2 trips are the same. Where possible we don’t use the same campsites when we do a route and we often even vary the route when appropriate to do so.

    I try to be flexible with how far we hike each day and how many days we spend in the backcountry. What time we get up in the morning, for example, is largely up to the trip participants (unless for some reason I feel we need to be up and on the trail by a particular time – this rarely happens).

    Itineraries are somewhat fluid. As they should be. Weather, hiker experience and many other factors determine the actual trip.

    So don’t expect the itinerary for a trip to match an outline of Day 1 we hike abc, Day 2 we hike xyz, etc, etc. It doesn’t (and in my opinion shouldn’t) work that way. The itineraries listed on this site are

    a) to outline the travel time and logistics for you, and

    b) attempt to help give you some sense of the route and how it goes.

    But with wilderness trail-less backpacking routes, these kinds of structured itineraries are really not very useful.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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