Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in the nation, and it provides Alaska-size adventures to match. This four-day itinerary takes you to the old mining towns of McCarthy and Kennicott, located inside Wrangell-St. Elias, with an optional side trip to Valdez.
Day 1 Anchorage
Rent a car in Anchorage. The drive to the historic mining towns of Kennicott and McCarthy takes a full day, and can be broken into four legs between major communities that serve as good rest and refuel stops: Roughly 45 miles or 45 minutes to Palmer; another 140 miles, or two and a half hours, to Glennallen; 70 miles, or a little under an hour and a half, from Glennallen to Chitina; and then two or three hours to drive the remaining 60 miles on the McCarthy Road from Chitina to McCarthy. Those last 60 miles of roadway are notorious for their narrow, unpaved, tire-popping roughness, so many rental car companies won’t let you drive it in their vehicles. If that’s the case, you can also take a small plane or a shuttle bus from Chitina to McCarthy.
Day 2 Kennicott/McCarthy
The once-booming towns of Kennicott and McCarthy are located deep in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. At 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park in the United States—about the size of six Yellowstones put together. Copper was discovered here in the early 1900s, and the towns of McCarthy and Kennicott quickly sprang up to tend to the needs of workers with the Kennecott Copper Corporation. Modern but simple lodgings, restaurants and services are available in McCarthy today, but the pace of life in this isolated town is slow and unhurried. Most of the area tours start from Kennicott, which is a five-mile shuttle bus ride from McCarthy: Book a guided trek or ice climbing adventure on the gorgeous Root Glacier, or explore the former mine and mill buildings of this former mining town.
Day 3 Kennicott/McCarthy
McCarthy serves as a great base camp for adventures into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. Seize the chance to go flightseeing high over this magnificent landscape, book a fly-in hiking or backpacking trip, or take a guided whitewater rafting trip on the nearby river. You can also take yourself on a self-guided day hike, but make sure you’re “bear aware,” because there is plenty of wildlife in this park.
Day 4 Anchorage or Valdez
Begin your return trip to Anchorage, or consider driving south to Valdez, a friendly fishing community surrounded by towering mountains and the deep-water fjords of Prince William Sound. There, you can easily spend a couple of days taking scenic day cruises to the Columbia or Meares glaciers, kayaking, enjoying a splashy whitewater rafting trip, hiking to old mining ruins, or enjoying Valdez’s world-famous deep-water halibut fishing. Once you exit the McCarthy Road it’s another 120 paved highway miles from Chitina to Valdez, and from Valdez it’s a 300-mile drive back to Anchorage.