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Root Glacier Trail: The Stunning Hike in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The Root Glacier Trail winds down a mountainside toward a white glacier below a triangle-shaped peak

Did you know that Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the largest in the nation? It stands at a whopping 13.2-million acres, and like its Alaskan counterparts, most of that is rugged wilderness.

There aren’t many trails, but the ones that do exist are all beautiful. My favorite is perhaps one of the less scenic, but you get to walk on a glacier at the end, and that’s pretty freaking awesome in my book. That’s why the Root Glacier Trail is one of my favorites in the national park system.

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Land Acknowledgment: This post promotes travel to native lands for the following nations: Dënéndeh and Ahtna Nenn. We honor all Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.

Root Glacier Trail Overview

A hiker on the Root Glacier appreciates the view of Donoho Peak

Length: 4 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain: 388 feet / 118 meters

Type of Trail: Out and back

Time: Allow 2 hours to do the trail, then add more time to spend on Root Glacier

Start/end: The trail begins past the Kennecott Mine.

Parking: You cannot drive into Kennecott or nearby McCarthy unless you’re a resident. You’ll need to park before the footbridge, then walk across the bridge. From here, take the shuttle, walk, or ride a bike the remaining 4.5 miles to Kennecott.

Noteworthy: Walking on glaciers is dangerous. I would not advise doing so without proper gear, such as spikes or crampons.

Root Glacier Trail Map

Hiking Root Glacier Trail

A smiling hiker walking on Root Glacier

Every year, the trail changes a bit based on the movement of Root Glacier. Therefore, some of the information below may have changed.

You’ll start by walking through the forest on a dirt path. This part isn’t very exciting, but Root Glacier Trail is more about the destination than the journey.

Look out for wildlife as you walk through the forest. One of the times I hiked this trail, we encountered a flustered cow moose with her calf. Thankfully, she was pretty scared of us. However, you should be prepared to encounter all types of wildlife on the trail, including bears.

That being said, you’ll eventually come across a few creek crossings. There are strategically placed rocks and wooden planks to guide you across. One of the crossings is at a lovely little waterfall.

Brown, blue, and white lines throughout Root Glacier below the Stairway Icefall in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Eventually, the trail will spur toward the mines above the mill. This is clearly marked. Continue following the Root Glacier Trail to reach the glacier.

Along the way, you’ll also encounter a few campsites. These are free and first-come, first-served. It’s a great way to have a base as you explore the Kennecott area.

After you take the spur trail, you’ll be out in the open for the rest of the way. If it’s sunny or windy, prepare accordingly with sunscreen and a windbreaker. When on a glacier, you should be especially concerned about the sun. It’s imperative that you bring sunscreen or layers to cover your skin, a hat, and sunglasses.

The ascent when you make your way back to Kennecott can be strenuous. You’ll want to prepare yourself and not wear yourself out by trekking on the glacier.

On a clear day, you’ll get amazing views of Donoho Peak, the triangular-shaped mountain between the Kennecott and Root Glaciers, as well as the Stairway Icefall cascading down to Root Glacier.

Hiking on Root Glacier

A brown, rocky glacial moraine meets a white glacier at a crevasse

After descending from the woods, you’ll meet with the Root Glacier. Remember, attempting to walk on the glacier without crampons or spikes is dangerous. In 2019, the last time I hiked this trail, getting to the top of the glacier involved a pretty steep climb on the ice. Without crampons, it would’ve been extremely treacherous.

But if you can secure the proper footwear and make the long trek to Kennecott, it is so worth it. Check out my blog post on what to wear in Alaska for more essential items to pack.

The glacier is also known for having few crevasses, but you should still be on the lookout for them. If you see any signs of a crevasse, stay as far away as possible and change your route immediately.

Root Glacier is great for further adventures if you’re up for the challenge. Ice climbing and mountaineering are popular in addition to mountaineers and hikers training for future endeavors. Tours are offered by two local companies, St. Elias Alpine Guides and Kennecott Wilderness Guides.

What to Pack for the Root Glacier Trail

A bridge leads to the Kennecott Mill. You can see two glaciers in the background as well as the Stairway Icefall.

For Hiking: The 10 Essentials

A collection of the ten essential items for hiking: shelter, water, food, matches, tools, a light, insulating layers, navigation, sun protection, and first-aid
  1. Navigation systems: map, compass, and/or GPS
  2. Sun protection: sunscreen and/or ballcap
  3. Insulating layers: synthetic or down jacket, rain jacket, hat, gloves, and leggings
  4. Illumination (flashlight or headlamp)
  5. First-aid kit
  6. Something to light a fire: lighter, waterproof matches, and/or fire starter
  7. Repair kits and tools: pocket knife, duct tape, screwdriver, and/or scissors
  8. Emergency shelter: tent, bivy, tarp, and/or space blanket
  9. Nutrition: food for both meals and snacks
  10. Hydration: water bottle, water treatment (LifeStraw or SteriPen), and water

Pin the Root Glacier Trail in Wrangell-St. Elias

Hike the Root Glacier Trail in America's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, for a unique glacier trek in Alaska. Written by a local, check out this complete guide to a truly unique trail. | Root Glacier Trail | Root Glacier Hike | Hike Wrangell-St. Elias | #rootglacier #wrangellstelias #nationalparks #alaska
Hike the Root Glacier Trail in America's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, for a unique glacier trek in Alaska. Written by a local, check out this complete guide to a truly unique trail. | Root Glacier Trail | Root Glacier Hike | Hike Wrangell-St. Elias | #rootglacier #wrangellstelias #nationalparks #alaska
Hike the Root Glacier Trail in America's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, for a unique glacier trek in Alaska. Written by a local, check out this complete guide to a truly unique trail. | Root Glacier Trail | Root Glacier Hike | Hike Wrangell-St. Elias | #rootglacier #wrangellstelias #nationalparks #alaska

My Favorite Outdoor Adventures in 2019 • Riley's Roves

Thursday 2nd of January 2020

[…] are two hikes on this list that I had completed before 2019, and this is one of them. The Root Glacier Trail in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is very special to me. It was here in 2013 that I stepped on a glacier for the very first time and […]

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