This route is possible in just a few days but really is a great option for a week long trip. One week nicely allows time to explore the Hidden Creek drainage. It’s a real treat to hike through, definitely one of the prettiest little alpine valleys in the park, if not all of Alaska.
We then cross a small ridge and ascend up the valley towards Mt. Blackburn and the ‘the Fosse’, a small depression between the glacier and the mountains next to the lateral moraine.
A day on the glacier is a nice option too. Most folks have never hiked on a glacier before, so this is always fun.
The side canyon up Glacier Creek is a nice walk, and there are some wonderful day hikes in the upper alpine valley region as well.
You’ll have a blast hiking in Oz.
The 5th highest mountain in the country sits a few miles north of our route. Mount Blackburn dominates its surrounding landscape like all big mountains, towering above you as you hike.
16 390’ high.
Blackburn is named after Sen Joe Blackburn, a US senator from Kentucky. The local Ahtna name for the mountain is K’a’si Tl’aadi or “the one at cold headwaters”.
Pouring off the southeastern face of the Mt. Blackburn, Kennicott Glacier is perhaps the best known of the glaciers that take the mountain as their headwaters. Let’s take an extra day, and wander around on this chunk of ice.
Nearly 30 miles in length, we never know exactly what we’ll find on these glaciers. Every hike is something different.
We travel from Anchorage to McCarthy, overnight in McCarthy and then fly in to the backcountry. A week in the backcountry area and we fly back to McCarthy, show and eat and afterward 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.
There’s a link below in the FAQ section to a comprehensive outline of your return travel schedule Anchorage – McCarthy.
Where Are We?
1. What’s a good length of time for this trip?
Varies with your experience, fitness and experience. It’s an easy two day walk for strong experienced hikers. For those folks looking to explore a little more, and not push quite so hard, 4 days of hiking is nice. Six nights gives you more time to spend at Kennicott Glacier and up in the high alpine country. There are plenty of hike-able areas to wander.
2. Will we see the critters?
Maybe. I usually see Dall sheep up here, and some times mountain goats. We’ve also seen grizzly and black bears along the way. Moose do live in the area (Lakina River valley is good moose country) but I haven’t seen any myself.
We’ll also see the usual smaller critters, such as Arctic ground squirrel, marmots and so on.
3. Are the bugs bad?
Not overly so. Earlier in summer they are worse than later. Bring a headnet and repellent.
4. Will we see other people?
Possibly. This trip is becoming a little more popular, partly because of it’s proximity to McCarthy, and also because it’s such a fun walk. But you won’t see many. Two other groups of people hiking on this trip would be a lot.
5. Can we hike on the glacier?
Sure. that’s always fun. You never know quite what you might find out on on the ice.
We’ll want crampons unless you just want a short hour long walk on the ice. If you’re up for it, we’ll bring crampons and add a day to the trip for the glacier. See below.
6. Gear Requirements?
Standard 3 season backpacking gear for Alaska. Crampons an option if you want to do any real glacier travel at the start of the trip. Packrafting gear for that option will be provided, and flown in at the end of the trip. You will not have to carry the gear for the trip.
What do our Guides say about the Adventures to Oz Route?
Trevor, legend from Wyoming, says this
“The Adventure To Oz is one of our most underrated trips. A great one for backpackers who are intimidated by Alaska’s off-trail walking but still want a full-value adventure.
The flight to the starting point is short, and the views are insane. Your jaw drops at Blackburn, a 16,000-foot inactive volcano, 2 massive glaciers (one of which is the second largest staircase glacier in the world), and the famous mines of Kennicott.
On the first day you see a drained glacier-dammed lake. The water that charged under the glacier in the spring has left behind enormous icebergs on the ground through which Hidden Creek charges through.
The Hidden creek drainage is mostly limestone. Enormous gushing springs, some of which are the size of small rivers, pump out of the cliffs.
As you walk along you gaze up drainages that defy reason: gigantic ice fields pop up over the ridge lines, giving you a sensation that the grand valley you are in is small compared to the Wrangell’s peaks and ice above.
The final views at the top of the pass cannot be described. In my opinion, it possesses one of the most beautiful singular views of any of our trips.”
What’s Included – MXY trips?
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, 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.
We do NOT cover the cost of your travel meals, such as meals along the road to/from McCarthy, or in McCarthy pre/post your backpacking trip.
Trip insurance is not included. I strongly urge you to purchase it on your own. Our recommendation is Travelex.
For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page.
What’s our travel schedule – MXY trips?
– We pick you up and drive to McCarthy, overnight there, and fly in to the backcountry the next morning. … hike … – We fly back to McCarthy, overnight there.
– We take you back to Anchorage and drop you at your hotel.
For a much more comprehensive outline and schedule of this, see this page
I Have More Questions
I know you do. I do as well.
I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page
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.
Who's It For?
Those people looking for a shorter hike may have well met their perfect match here at Oz.
The hike doesn’t cover a lot of miles and is a great 3-5 day backcountry trip. Beginner backpackers are fine but you must be able to traverse some steeper sidehill sections. One or two open exposed slopes can cause minor quibbles for those folks uncomfortable with looking down and wondering ‘what if’. Nothing too sketchy but it can challenge some hikers.
Advanced hikers looking for a few more days in backcountry might prefer to include a walk Through Oz as part of the Rugged Hike Home from Nugget Creek to Kennicott. If you’re interested in that trek, let me know. We’ve ran it a few times and it’s always a blast.
River crossings. Unless Hidden Creek is at high water, the crossings are not too bad at all. Get used to the cold water however, as we usually cross 2-3 times on the way up the valley.
Some bushwhacking as noted in the itinerary.
Sidehilling is probably the hardest part of the route.
Steep exposure on a couple of sections.
There are two options for extending this trip. Contact us and inquire about either. Or, if you’re really looking for full on Alaska experience let’s chat about working in both of them.
One option is to start a little further west near the confluence of Nugget Creek and Kuskulana Glacier. Hike east to the Lakina River and complete our Hidden Creek itinerary. If you’re up for it continue on across two glaciers and walk right back to Kennicott. A fun and challenging hike. Not for the meek.
A second option is to packraft the Lakina River. See packraft trips for this info. Or drop me a note.
is a fun hike; not too hard, not too easy, and a little something for everyone. Like all the trips I 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 the Hidden Creek route: for simplicity’s sake, I’ll assume the trip dates are Aug 1 – Aug 8.
Realize everything here is simply an example. I’ve hiked this route, point to point, in under 2 days, and I’ve also spent 9 days doing this route. I feel a 5-day backpacking trip (+ 2 days travel) is about perfect for this route. For a fun additional option, consider packrafting from our pickup location down the Lakina River instead of flying back to McCarthy (experienced paddlers only).
Trip participants should arrive in Anchorage no later than the evening before our scheduled trip departure date. For our example, the Trip would require all participants arrive in Anchorage sometime on July 31. I highly recommend you try to arrive even a day earlier if at all possible, to allow for flight delays resulting from weather. Expeditions Alaska does not provide, but can recommend, accommodation in Anchorage.
Your guide will pick you up, from your accommodations in Anchorage first thing in the morning. The exact time will depend on how many people are on the trip, where everyone is staying, etc. Typically it will be somewhere around 8 am, Alaska time (4 hours behind EST).
We’ll spend the day traveling to McCarthy, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The drive typically takes about 8 hours, depending on stops, etc. We pass along the northern edge of the spectacular Chugach Mountains, following the Matanuska Valley, the open taiga forest of the Glenallen area. For lunch, we try to stop at the Golden Spruce Cabins, near Kenny Lake. The remaining leg of the drive is slow on McCarthy Road, a 60-mile gravel road along what used to be the Rail Line into McCarthy from Chitina. We should get some great views of the Copper and the Chitina Rivers at the start of this leg. If the weather is favorable, we will also get great views of Mount Blackburn, Mount Wrangell, Mount Drum, and Mount Sanford as pass by.
The final leg of the trip is through the boreal spruce forest of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park’s lower elevations, before arriving at McCarthy. We don’t actually arrive at McCarthy, rather we arrive close to McCarthy. The road for public traffic ends at the footbridge over the Kennecott River, about 1/2 mile from McCarthy. We’ll either camp by the river, or we can stay in the rustic Kennicott River Cabins about 100 yards back up the road. For dinner, we have several options in McCarthy, such as the Golden Saloon, or the Glacier Creek Campground BBQ.
The following morning we’ll need an early start. Pack up the gear, shuttle it over the footbridge and into McCarthy, eat breakfast at Ma Johnson lodge, and then walk over the road to Wrangell Mountain Air. At approx 9:30 am we take a short flight (about 30 minutes) with them up to the landing strip. After unloading people and gear, depending on the weather, we’ll most likely set up camp and set off to the north for a day hike to get some views of Mt Blackburn. If the skies are clear, there are very few places, if any, where you’ll have a better view of this 16 000′ high mountain. We can also do some glacier hiking on the Kennicott Glacier here as well.
We’ll break camp, and head off around the nearby knoll to Hidden Lake. This section of the trip is a short walk but runs thru a few challenges. Some steep little climbs, a narrow and exposed trail across the mountainside, and a little bushwhack through some alder; nothing too bad, and some really cool views out across the Kennicott Glacier when we get up a little higher.
Then we descend back down to the drainage, near Hidden Lake. Hidden Lake will likely be drained, as it empties underneath Kennicott Glacier every summer (usually early July). Left in its wake will be an array of mighty icebergs, riddling the lakebed. We’ll aim to cross Hidden Creek, and camp, so we can set off on a dayhike up nearby Glacier Creek. A very cool little drainage.
Start heading up Hidden Creek. Some sidehilling on steep terrain is challenging. We’ll probably have to cross the creek once or twice, so figure on getting your feet wet. A pair of river shoes/sandals/footwear are invaluable. We have a little bushwhacking on the way up the drainage, and we’ll also poke around a great little slot canyon, eroded deep into the rock by years of snowmelt flooding. Camp halfway up the valley.
A nice hike, with some side-hilling, up into the alpine country. We can camp anywhere up here. Look for Dall sheep and mountain goats up high. Lots of dayhiking in this area to enjoy if you’re up for it.
Descend down the west side of the pass, and head downriver toward the landing strip. Mostly easy walking, with nice views of the Wrangell Mountains (if the weather is clear), the Lakina Glacier, and Castle Mountain. It’s mostly all downhill, with some steeper sections, but nothing problematic. Camp near the strip on the edges of the boreal forest.
We eat, break camp, and then meet our bush pilot for the flight back to McCarthy; if your trip involves the packraft option, we’ll run the river down to McCarthy Road. (See Packrafting Trips) So we’ll fly back to McCarthy, enjoy a hot breakfast at the Lodge, grab a shower, and spend the afternoon either lazing around McCarthy, or we can shuttle up to Kennecott, where we can hike up to the old abandoned mines, or hike out to the Root Glacier and do some glacier walking. We can have lunch at the Kennecott Lodge or bring it with us. In the evening we’ll return to McCarthy, have dinner, and again either camp on the river or stay at Kennecott River Cabins.
We’ll get up early, have breakfast in McCarthy, then hit the road for the drive back to Anchorage. Typically we get back to Anchorage around 5 or 6 pm. I’ll drop you and you/r party off at your Anchorage accommodation. I highly suggest you don’t plan on flying out of Anchorage that evening but wait until the following day – we CAN experience weather delays in the backcountry that could easily make it difficult to get back to Anchorage in time for a flight on this day. If you must book your return flight on this day, please (a) speak with us about it well in advance, and (b) schedule a red eye, such as 1:00 am the following morning (Aug 9, 1:00 am, for our example here).
All our trips to the Wrangells, unless we specifically schedule otherwise, will include a day travel to get to McCarthy, a day to return to Anchorage, and we fly out of the backcountry usually in the morning of the 2nd last day. 2 nights accommodation in McCarthy is included and we can eat in town during that time.