At 13.2-million acres, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest unit in the National Park Service system, but most of it is remote wilderness. Some of the tallest peaks in Alaska and several active volcanoes are held within its borders, between Fairbanks and Valdez. The main visitor center is located along the Richardson Highway, north of the turnoff for the 92-mile long (mostly dirt) road connecting McCarthy and Kennecott to the rest of the state.
Kennecott Mine buildings, Root Glacier, flightseeing tours
The discovery of the richest copper ore in the world led to the building of the Kennecott mining town and railroads to transport its products across the Copper River in the 1910s. The beautifully preserved and restored town is partially owned privately and publicly by the National Park Service, and it is continually undergoing renovations. You can only enter most of the iconic red buildings on a private guided tour (fee).
Take the Root Glacier Trail from Kennecott with a guide to learn the basics of glacier route-finding. A guide company provides the crampons required for walking and detours around dangerous moulins, which can be hundreds of feet deep.
The deep blue ice of Root Glacier makes for otherworldly photos, especially if you pay for a tour into an ice cave underneath the glacier.
Summer is the only time of year McCarthy is accessible by car instead of snow machine.
The park is free to enter. We paid $110 per person for a full-day guided tour with St. Elias Alpine Guides.
Two dirt roads enter the park and are passable for all vehicles when snow free: the 92-mile long McCarthy Road and the 42-mile long Nabesna Road in the north. A pedestrian bridge is the only access from McCarthy across the Kennicott River, where you can pay for a van ride into Kennecott.
There are private campgrounds on the McCarthy Road, as well as one at Liberty Falls State Park. No permits are required for backpacking, but it is recommended to file a trip plan with the NPS.
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