Cottonwood Trail

Keep the rugged ridgelines of the Dalton Range constantly in your sights as you wind through spruce and poplar groves, cross phenomenal mountain passes, and wander through alpine meadows.

Trip Photos

  • Alpine meadows are full of colorful wildflowers, especially in mid-summer Alpine meadows are full of colorful wildflowers, especially in mid-summer
  • The trail is a relative moderate hike gaining only about 1000' in elevation over about 50 miles The trail is a relative moderate hike gaining only about 1000' in elevation over about 50 miles
  • There are several streams and creeks to cross along the route, often the crux of the route depending on rain and snowmelt There are several streams and creeks to cross along the route, often the crux of the route depending on rain and snowmelt
  • Abundant wildlife such as sheep, mountain goats, moose and bear can be spotting throughout this trip Abundant wildlife such as sheep, mountain goats, moose and bear can be spotting throughout this trip
  • Day 1 of the trip as we depart Kathleen Lake and the trailhead Day 1 of the trip as we depart Kathleen Lake and the trailhead

Trip Notes

Location: Alaska/Yukon
Meeting Point: Haines, AK
Destination: Kluane National Park and Preserve
Duration: 7 days
Price: $1750 (+ tax, in USD)
Activity Type: Backpacking
Season: June, July, August, September
Guide to Guest Ratio: 1 to 6
Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5
Paperwork Required: Registration, Health Form, Risk Acknowledgment

Related Trips:

Trip Description

The Cottonwood Trail is a moderate 83 km ¾ loop that can be started at either Kathleen Lake or the Mush Lake Road in the Yukon’s Kluane National Park. The trail varies from 4-wheel drive road to single track; it passes through stands of spruce and poplar; crosses two mountain passes, and follows through open meadows. For the adrenaline thirsty, the highlight of this trail may be the adventurous creek crossings.

There are few bridges on this trail so hikers must be prepared to wade creeks in order to cross. We hike the Cottonwood from June to early September, and with the variable snow melt and highwater, there may be quite a few exciting creek crossings!

A variety of wildlife including Dall sheep, mountain goat, grizzly and black bear, ptarmigan, owl, moose and others inhabit the area. This area is known for having the highest concentration of Dall sheep in the world, and is also well known as the “bear highway”!

HAINES: Haines, Alaska is the starting/finishing place for this trip. Haines is a small community located along the fjords at the top of the Inside Passage. The natural beauty and wilderness access found here are responsible for Haines’ reputation as a center for wilderness adventure in Alaska.

GETTING TO THE MOUNTAINS: As Haines is conveniently located just 40 miles from the Canadian border, we are privy to a wealth of wilderness just beyond our doors. Enjoy the easy access to incredible scenery and off-trail hiking, just a van ride away. Passports are required for entrance into Canada.

THE MOUNTAINS: It’s no wonder that media such as National Geographic has prominently featured the photogenic landscapes located within the Kluane National Park and Preserve. The park and the adjacent 27 million acres, including Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, comprise the largest protected wilderness area on the planet. It is an extremely jagged, glaciated, and mountainous landscape surrounding by open valleys of alpine meadows and tundra. The trekking here is truly world class!

OUR GUIDES: Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School Inc. instructors and guides are professionals. They have a wealth of experience from guiding throughout Alaska and the world and they genuinely enjoy sharing their knowledge. Their skill and positive attitudes help our guests to have the best possible experience during their trip. Your safety and enjoyment are their primary goals.

Trip Itinerary (in a printable PDF format)

Day 0: Meet in Haines for a pre-trip orientation. Lodging and meals on your own.

Day 1: We’ll leave from Haines and stop by the Kluane Visitor center. After registering with the park, we’ll head to Kathleen Lake. We’ll camp at the trailhead so that we get an early start the following day.

Day 2: Kathleen Lake to Unnamed Creek. – 12km.
The trail varies considerable as it goes from old mining roads to a narrow trail overlooking Kathleen Lake. We’ll cross Goat Creek before arriving at our campsite on the alluvial fan of Unnamed Creek.

Day 3: Unnamed Creek to Victoria Creek – 4.5km
This is a short day. Victoria Creek is the largest crossing on the Cottonwood. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day and explore the surrounding area.

Day 4: Victoria Creek to Cottonwood Meadows – 18km
We’ll get up early in the morning to cross the creek before its level rises with the heat of the day. After crossing the creek, the trail now turns south and wanders through a spruce and willow forest as it climbs and crosses the upper reaches of Cottonwood Creek.

Day 5: Cottonwood Meadows to Upper Victoria Creek – 10km
From the meadows, the trail continues upward and crosses the upper reaches of Victoria Creek.

Day 6: Upper Victoria Creek to Dalton Pass and Mush Lake – 15km
The trail traces the west side of Dalton Creek, crossing many smaller creeks along the way. In spring this area is very wet and not suitable for camping. Grizzly bear, moose and ptarmigan are common to the area, however other wildlife sightings may include fox, coyote, wolves, wolverines, sheep, goats, marmots, pika, ground squirrels, golden eagles, and smaller birds. If desired, we may explore the area around the pass and go for a short day hike. We’ll then head downhill a few miles to Mush Lake. This area has significant bear sign.

Day 7: Mush Lake to Mush Lake Trailhead – 20km
On the last day, we’ll finish up at the Mush Lake trailhead. We’ll get picked up in the afternoon and drive back to Haines.

How many miles do we hike each day?
Typically we hike about 6-10 miles per day, variant upon weather and the day’s activities.

What would my pack weight be on average?
Typically, you can expect your pack to weight 30-45 lbs. This would be about 20 – 30 lbs of your personal gear, plus about 15 pounds of group gear (tent and food).

Are Passports required?
Yes, we will be hiking in the Yukon and will cross through both Canadian and American customs.

When is the best time to hike?
The season on the trails generally goes from mid-June through the end of September. The earlier dates tend to have a bit more snow at the higher elevations. Once you get into September, typically there is a bit more precipitation and colder temperatures up on passes.

What does AMG do for water treatment on the trail?
AMG carries steri-pens for water treatment. Additionally, we also have iodine tablets as a back-up, and boil water.

When do I meet my guide?
We arrange for a pre-trip meeting in Haines the evening before the hike begins. You will meet your guide, and go over all of your clothing and equipment to make sure you have everything that you need.

What are the tent arrangements?
We are happy to offer single tents for all of our guests. Keep in mind that this will likely increase pack weight. Most guests utilize a 2 person tent. If you are a group of 3, we can easily accommodate you with 3 person tents as well.

What is the food like during the trip?
Our meals are planned with bases such as rice, pasta, and other grains on a nightly basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be had most days, and canned and smoked meats and fish add a great source of protein. Meals will be very similar to what you would cook at home, and we definitely aim to please with interesting and varied menus and good presentation.

Breakfast – breakfast is typically hot cereal, with some additional dried fruit. Occasionally we’ll have a longer breakfast such as pancakes or eggs on the shorter hiking days. Hot drinks such as tea, coffee, hot cocoa and cider are always appreciated on cool mornings.

Lunch – depending on the day, we may enjoy a bagel lunch with smoked salmon and cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or we may stop for a hot grilled cheese sandwich and some soup at a warming hut. We always have a variety of travel snacks to keep our energy up on the trail.

Dinner – Pesto Spaghetti, Thai rice noodles, Burritos, or Thanksgiving with mashed potatoes, cranberries and chicken are a few examples. We strive to have a nutritious, tasty meal that also balances some of the weight considerations and perishability of foods.

Trip Documents:
  • Trip Itinerary – Printable detailed trip itinerary.
  • Equipment List – Overview of personal clothing and equipment that you’ll need for this trip.
  • Rental Gear List – List of backpacking gear, and personal items available for rent
  • Registration Form  – Outlines policies, and essential information.  One required per participant.
  • Health Form – This form enables our guides to have accurate health information in the event of an emergency.
  • Land Based Activity Waiver  – One required per participant. Guests under the age of 18 may go on one form.
  • Travel Info – Helpful information on how to get to/from Haines, Alaska.

Price: $1750 (+ tax, in USD)
2020 Dates: Jun - Sept
2021 Dates: Jun - Sept

What is included in the trip price:
  • Camping gear – group camping equipment, tents, stoves, etc…
  • Expedition food – all food while out in the field.
  • Transportation during trip – travel to the trailhead, and back to Haines after.
  • Professional guides – Our guides have extensive knowledge of the area and a passion for backpacking in wild places.
Guests are responsible for the following:
  • Personal clothing & equipment – review the equipment list included under “Documents”
  • Food & Lodging in town – We can happily recommend lodging around Haines!
  • Trip insurance – we highly recommend trip insurance for all of our programs.
  • Airfare – review the “Travel Information” under “Documents” for more details.
  • Reviewing trip policies – please reference our policies page for policies regarding payment, cancellations, refunds and guest responsibilities.
  • Gratuities
To Book your adventure, follow the steps below:
  1. Please call to confirm availability at 1-800-766-3396 or fill out an online form to request more information via this link:
  2. Place a $250 deposit to reserve your spot: this can be place over the phone by credit card, check in the mail, or through our payment gateway.
  3. Once you’ve reserved your spot, you’ll receive a welcome packet with all the necessary registration forms and trip information.
  4. We kindly ask that you submit all of the necessary trip registration information at least 45 days prior to your trip.

Feel free to call or email anytime if you have questions about your upcoming trip. Our team is excited to help you prepare for your adventure!

Guest Comments:

Hi Guys – I found the trip fantastic and greatly enjoyed the time we all spent together. You are all very lucky to be doing what you enjoy. Scott, Keith and I will keep plugging away at this amazing sport and hope to be able to see you guys again next year.
- Paolo