Wrangell St Elias National Park is located in the Eastern region of South-central Alaska. The Chugach, Wrangell, and St. Elias mountain ranges converge here in what is often referred to as the “Mountain Kingdom of North America.” It is the largest national park in the United States, six times the size of Yellowstone. Wrangell St Elias encompasses over 20,000 square miles of mountain wilderness – that’s over 50,000 square kilometers, or 25% larger than Switzerland!
ABOUT THE AREA
McCarthy and Kennecott, Alaska are two small communities nestled in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The two towns are 4 miles apart, with intricately intertwined histories and a current population of approximately 50 or so. Today, Kennecott is more of a ghost town and McCarthy a true Alaskan frontier bush community, but it wasn’t always that way…
At the turn of the last century, prospectors flooded Alaska and the Yukon looking for the next big gold strike, or just about any natural resource they could stake a claim on. In the year 1900, the rich copper vein along the edge of the Kennicott Glacier was discovered by prospectors and the mining began right away! The copper mining company created Kennecott, a self-sufficient "work camp"- a small town that housed and employed about 500 miners and workers.
During this “copper boom”, the small town of Shushanna Junction, just 4 miles down the railroad, began expanding to meet the growing needs of Kennecott. This small town eventually changed its name to McCarthy and became the site of the railroad turnaround station. McCarthy was where the young men on the frontier went for entertainment - restaurants, pool halls, hotels, saloons, a dress shop, shoe shop, garage, hardware store, and thriving red-light district all popped up to provide services to more than 800 people in the area.
After Kennecott was abandoned in 1938, most of McCarthy emptied out too as the train that supplied both towns (and was the only way in and out) stopped running. Most of the equipment was left behind due to the high cost of transportation and by the time homesteaders started coming into the area, they found themselves in a perfectly preserved ghost town in the wilderness
Our Guesthouse is actually a historic building from the time of the boom-town and decorated with authentic antiques found on site. We know you'll love exploring the rich history of our area!
HOW TO GET HERE
There are several options for getting to McCarthy-Kennecott. We are off the beaten path and it’s going to take you some time and effort but we promise it will be worth it! We have some of the most raw, majestic scenery you will find anywhere in the state, and without any crowds!
You can drive your own car or rental all the way to McCarthy, but be advised that the last 60 mi of the drive is a gravel road and usually takes +2 hours to drive.
We recommend driving if you are traveling between other areas of the State or want full independence in your travels. Most rental car companies will not cover you to drive this road. We recommend local rental car companies like Go North Rentals in Anchorage.
The McCarthy Road ends at the Kennicott River and outside vehicles are not allowed (and would not fit) across the Footbridge that leads you to town. There is a large campground and parking lot at the very end of the road, right at the Footbridge, called Basecamp Kennecott Campground - you can park your vehicle here during your stay. They usually charge ~$10/night to park. You can call us to let us know that you've arrived or check in at the Visitor Center there and we'll come pick you and your luggage up on the McCarthy/Kennecott side (East) of the Footbridge. We will provide transportation for check-in and check-out, but note that you won't be able to drive up to the guesthouse and will be about a 20min walk away from your vehicle.
Driving from Anchorage or Fairbanks takes about 7-9hrs and it's about 4-5hrs to Valdez.
Wrangell Mountain Air offers three daily flights from Chitina, at the edge of the park. Chitina is a 5 hour drive from Anchorage, 2.5 hours from Valdez and about 6 hours from Fairbanks. You can leave your car parked at the airport there and avoid the gravel altogether.
Wrangell Mountain Air also offers charter flights on whatever schedule works for you from Anchorage and other destinations within Alaska. We work very closely with them and highly recommend them for any bush flying needs.
The flight from Chitina takes ~35 minutes and the flight from Anchorage takes ~2 hours.
Mike Reeve at Reeve Air Alaska offers air charters between Anchorage, McCarthy as well as other Alaskan destinations with his twin-engine aircraft. His bigger planes are best suitable for groups of 6-8.
On Mondays and Thursdays, he works with Copper Valley Air Service to deliver mail to McCarthy. The “Mail Plane” makes a short stop and plane change in Gulkana and is usually the cheapest way to fly in. They also work together to offer other van shuttle-flight combos on other days of the week too! Reach out to them directly for more details.
Let us know if you are flying in and when and we will pick you up at the airstrip when you arrive to take you to the Guesthouse!
The Kennicott Shuttle offers daily van service from Glennallen to McCarthy in the morning and back in the late afternoon. Their site also has information about connecting service to and from Anchorage and other destinations.
Copper Spike Transport offers prompt and reliable service between Anchorage, McCarthy, and Valdez during the summer. This is a great option especially if you’re spending more than a few days in the area and don’t want to leave a rental vehicle sitting. Jamie, the proprietor, is a long-time local and will deliver you right to your lodging accommodations in McCarthy, unlike other services which can only drop you off at the Footbridge.
Reeve Alaska Adventures offers van shuttle service between Anchorage and Gulkana on Mon, Wed, Thurs and Sat and can be used for connections with Copper Valley Air Service.
Let us know if you are taking a shuttle in and when to expect you and we will pick you up at the footbridge (end of the road) to take you to the Guesthouse!
PACKING & PLANNING
The upstairs Spruce Moose apartment has a fully-stocked kitchen with a refrigerator and freezer. Shopping of any kind is scarce in McCarthy so we recomend bringing most of your food with you if you plan to cook in the unit.
There is no kitchen (nor microwave, hot plate, kettle nor friedge) in the downstairs Bear's Den apartment.
There is small mercantile near the Guesthouse where you can find a limited and rotating selection of fresh produce, dried goods and frozen foods.
The Guesthouse is within short walking distance of the local eateries - the Potato, the Golden Saloon, Salmon & Bear Fine Dining and Mountain Arts Coffee Shop.
We live in a remote area and the entire town, including the Guesthouse is off-the-grid. This means that we generate all our own utilities. The Guesthouse is modern and comfortable, but we do ask for your help in conserving water, power and propane. Detailed guidelines will be provided upon arrival, but for your packing purposes, please note that you will not be able to plug in any of your own heat-producing devices such as hair dryers, curlers, tea kettles, coffee makers, etc.
A low-wattage hairdryer is available at the Guesthouse for your use in either unit.
Because there is no kettle in the Bear's Den, a hot water thermos can be requested in the mornings - please ask the Guesthouse Attendant upon check in.
Alaska weather is unpredictable, and you can expect any combination of sun, clouds and rain, often all in the same day! We recommend that you have a rain jacket readily available, as well as warm and sun hats, sunglasses and warm layers that you can easily take on and off. If you’re planning on doing many outdoor activities such as hiking or water sports, we recommend primarily non-cotton clothing (cotton is quite cold when wet) such as synthetic long underwear, nylon “quick-dry” pants and fleece jackets, as well as a good pair of rain-pants and sturdy, waterproof shoes or boots.
There is a ton to do in the area for every age and ability level! Whether you're interested in learning about our unique history or you're coming for the glaciers, there are fun and educational guided activities and lots of opportunities for independent hiking and exploration too! Let us know if you have any questions about what to do in the area - we are always happy to make a recomendation.
Whether you're here for the history or the wilderness, no one knows either better than local St. Elias Alpine Guides.
Check out their Two-Day Adventure Package for all the "must-dos" of the area!
The 2-hour Tour of Kennecott is a great introduction to the area the only way to get inside the impressive 14-story concentration mill.
The Root Glacier is one of the best and easiest to access in Alaska so put a Glacier Hike or Ice Climbing at the top of your list- no experience necessary and crampons and gear are provided!
A Rafting Trip is the perfect way to rest the legs but still see a lot - SEAG's day rafting trip ends in the wilderness and you get picked up by bush plane and flown back to McCarthy!
We are in the middle of an enormously vast wilderness and the best way to really get a sense of it is to get up in a bush plane for an aerial view! Wrangell Mountain Air has some of the best pilots in the state and they love to show of our big, beautiful "backyard". We highly recommend a Flightseeing Tour with them while you're here. Wrangell Mountain Air also offers flights in from Chitina and charters throughout the state.
Pangaea Adventure's sea kayking trips are too great to leave off this list! After leaving McCarthy, head back out to the Richardson Highway and then turn south to Valdez - the drive through Thompson Pass one of the most scenic in the state. We highly recommend either the Shoup Glacier or Columbia Glacier trips.
From Valdez, you can always hop on a ferry (the Alaska Marine Highway) for the trip to Whittier and then back to Anchorage from there (yes, you can take your rental car!).