Alaska - Off the beaten track
Gates of the Arctic
The Gates of the Arctic National Park is a vast wilderness area, straddling the Artic Divide in the Brooks Range, 200mi (322km) northwest of Fairbanks. This rugged back country contains no National Park Service facilities, and is recommended only for serious, knowledgable backpackers and paddlers. The park covers 8.4 million acres (3,360,000ha), extends 200mi (322km) from east to west and lies north of the Artic Circle. The Gates themselves - Mt Boreal and Frigid Crags - flank the North Fork of the Koyukuk River where the unobstructed path northward to the Arctic coast was discovered by Robert Marshall in 1929.
Most of the park is vegetated with shrubs or is tundra, and is inhabited by grizzly bears, wolves, dall sheep, moose, caribou and wolverines. The terrain is only intermittently good for hiking, so walking across boggy ground and tussocks is inevitable. Considering the natural obstacle course on the ground, expect to cover about five or six miles (8-10km) a day. It's possible to drive to the Gates but there are a couple of flights from Fairbanks to Bettles - the closest village with food and accommodation - where charter air-taxis are available.
Wrangell-St Elias National Park
If you are intrigued by valleys, canyons, towering mountains, icefields and glaciers but don't feel like battling the crowds of Denali National Park, you'll probably welcome Wrangell-St Elias National Park. An adventure into this preserve requires time and patience rather than money, but it can lead to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Encompassing 13.2 million acres (5,280,000ha), Wrangell-St Elias - located along the Canadian border - is a true wilderness, both diverse and plentiful. Species in the preserve include moose, black and brown bears, dall sheep, mountain goats, wolves, wolverines and beavers; three of Alaska's 11 caribou herds also call the park home. It's possible to hike or paddle to a glacier or float through the vertical-walled Nizina River Canyon. There is limited accommodation at nearby McCarthy or the 'ghost' town of Kennicott. It's possible to drive to the preserve but bus and air companies service McCarthy frequently.