Ever want to just eat the icing off a cake? Here’s your chance. The Iceberg Lake valley is one of the premier spots in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, especially for base camp and loop trips. This area offers stunning vistas and lots of room to explore.
We fly out of McCarthy and put in near Iceberg Lake and then spend 5 days exploring this fantastic valley. We have a lot of freedom with this one so we adjust the itinerary to the abilities and interest of the group. But generally we do it as a combination backpack and base camp trek - we backpack for a day then spend a few nights before moving on. This gives us the best of both worlds - the mobility of backpacking and the ease of base camping. From Iceberg Lake we saddle up the packs and hike a bit down the valley where we explore a glacier before heading further up a ridge. From our campsite on the ridge we have a commanding view of the entire valley. From here we do some day hiking and exploring of the ridge crest.
But that’s just one possibility. There are lots of options for places to camp in this amazing valley that features hanging glaciers, lofty ridges, valley glaciers and stunning views all around. We try to vary the route each time we visit the area just to keep it fresh. Last summer we discovered a lofty perch high up on a ridge with a crystal clear melt pond nearby for a water source. We were day hiking then, but next time we'll bring the gear and spend a few days at that incredible high camp.
Black and brown bears are seen throughout the valley and even elusive wolverine have been spotted on occasion. Late summer is a great time to visit and cash in on the abundant supply of blueberries that grow on the slopes.
The Adventure at a Glance:
- 1 night in Anchorage, Alaska
- 2 nights in McCarthy, Alaska
- 5 days/4 nights trekking in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- Days of trip total: 8 days, Anchorage to Anchorage
- Arrival/departure city: Anchorage, Alaska
- Group Size: 4 to 6 participants - cost is higher for groups under 4 people
- Difficulty level: Moderate, at times strenuous
- Style of trek: In McCarthy we will be staying in a 3-star hotel. The wilderness trek will be 5 days of backpacking over rugged terrain with no trails. Participants will carry all of their personal gear as well as a share of group gear and food. This trek falls mostly in the moderate range although there will be some strenuous travel at times. Some prior backpacking experience and good conditioning is required.
- Detailed Itinerary: Iceberg Lake Loop Trek. There is a great variation in the type of terrain that we will travel through, so rather than list mileage for each day, we have listed the amount of time we usually hike for each day of this trek.
Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage, Alaska. Arrive in Anchorage and make taxi arrangements to your hotel or B&B.
Day 2: Van transportation from Anchorage to McCarthy. Overnight McCarthy, hotel. You will be picked up at your lodging in Anchorage for the van ride to McCarthy. It will take about 8 hours for the drive but you won’t get bored. The route passes through some stunning country in the Matanuska valley. When you see Mt. Drum looming straight ahead, then you will know we’re getting close. We arrive in McCarthy around 5 - 6:00 PM. As soon as everyone is checked into the hotel, we meet with our back country guide at their headquarters. The guide does a gear shakedown to make sure everyone has what the need... but nothing that they don’t. We all get a plastic, bear canister chock full of tasty meals and snacks. After cramming all of our newly acquired gear into our packs, we meet up at the New Golden Saloon for some dinner, a few brews and if we’re lucky maybe a bit of local bluegrass entertainment.
Day 3: ( 4-5 hours hiking). Overnight Camping. Our pilot lands the DeHaviland Beaver on a sandy mesa near Iceberg Lake. As the plane disappears over the ridge we shoulder our packs and head up the valley. It’s mostly pretty easy terrain today as we head towards the glacier. The edge of the ice is always a nice spot to stop for lunch and get some instruction from the guide on how to put on crampons and travel safely over the glacier. Most people are surprised to find that the terrain of a glacier can vary from flat ice to jagged ridges with melt holes, streams, crevasses and other features. We take our time with the crossing and explore. Once across we clamber over a bit of rocky moraine and part way up a ridge to find a campsite with great views of the valley as well as the glacier we just crossed. Includes: (L), (D).
Day 4: (3-6 hours hiking, day packs only). Overnight Camping. Today we leave our camp set up and enjoy a day of hiking and exploring with light day loads. There are lots of options up on the ridge so we settle on an itinerary that suits the group. Possibilities include heading up a nearby scramble peak, exploring some nearby lakes or if we’re ambitious we could drop down over the other side of the ridge for a look at the next valley. Our plans for the day will be determined by the interests of the group. The guide will determine what will work best for everyone. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 5: (4-6 hours hiking). Overnight Camping. On the third day we usually pack up and move our camp again. This time we head the other direction down the valley but on the opposite side. Down on the flats we enjoy the easy travel with a few easy stream crossing tossed in just for fun. But eventually we do have to earn our supper and do some uphill hiking to get to our lofty perch that will be our final campsite. The views from here are just stunning especially when the late afternoon light rakes the peaks and ice. This area makes for some great photos. The ridge has also been a good place for spotting bears in the past! Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 6: (3-6 hours hiking, day packs only). Overnight Camping. Another base camp day! Once again we set out for some exploring with day packs. The options are many as we head higher up the ridge and discover hidden places tucked away where you would never expect them. We may head up the ridge crest or check out the large expanse of glacier, not in the valley this time but high up at the source! Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: (3-4 hours hiking). Overnight McCarthy, hotel. Hard to believe that it’s already our last day and time to head back. But the adventure is far from over as we make our way down into the valley for a challenging stream crossing. The stream is made of meltwater from the glacier we crossed on the first day of our trek. It can be a challenging crossing so the guide is careful in the selection of a crossing spot. We learn and practice group crossing techniques before linking up and venturing out into the silty, and very cold water. Once across there’s a bit of hooting and stomping as we celebrate our success and try to get warmed up again. Sometime in the afternoon we hear the powerful engine of the Beaver heading our way. We enjoy a nice flight back to McCarthy with thoughts of hot showers and cold beers dancing in our heads. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 8: Van transportation from McCarthy to Anchorage. We depart after breakfast for the return trip to Anchorage. We should arrive in Anchorage by 6:00 PM. You can make arrangements for a night flight out of Anchorage or stay overnight and depart the following day.
Also see tour packages in:
USA Alaska Outdoor: Land Rambler Hiking & Trekking National Parks