The drive to McCarthy and Kennicott isn't your run-of-the-mill road trip. It's 7-8 hours from Anchorage, with the last 61 miles-between Chitina and the Kennicott River-on an historic, gravel road. Not all rental vehicles are allowed on the McCarthy road, so check with your rental agency before you travel. Or, rent from Alaska Auto Rental or Alaska 4x4 Rentals, companies that allow their vehicles on the McCarthy Road.
At the end of the McCarthy Road, a footbridge brings you across the river to McCarthy and Kennicott. Once a rowdy pioneer town, McCarthy now makes a great basecamp for adventures into American's largest national park, Wrangell-St.Elias.
Four mountain ranges converge in this remote park the size of six Yellowstones. Kennicott was abandoned during the Depression, and visitors can explore the past on a tour of this historic ghost town. Leave early enough from Anchorage and you can enjoy some of the scenic highlights and activities on your way there.
Visit here to view a map and guide on the McCarthy Road.
Forty minutes from downtown Anchorage lies Eagle River Nature Center, a gateway to Chugach State Park and a glacial river valley as wild and dramatic as any in Alaska. Enjoy an easy, 3-mile nature walk on the Albert Loop or trek up-valley 5 miles to see plunging waterfalls and 3,000-foot cliffs. In winter, traverse the trails on cross-country skis or snowshoes.
Who can say no to a cool waterfall only a half-hour’s drive from town? One of the most popular “first hikes” for families with small children, the one-mile trail to Thunderbird Falls traverses a handsome birch forest along the Eklutna River canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot waterfall. During winter, the falls can freeze, forming fabulous columns of blue ice.
Dating back to 1650, the park is the area's oldest continuously inhabited Athabaskan Indian settlement. Russian Orthodox missionaries came here in the early 1800s, and you can still see St. Nicholas Church, the oldest standing building in greater Anchorage. Snap some pictures of the colorful Spirit Houses build over the graves of the deceased-a custom that came from the melding More...
The campground is pretty open, since bark beetles killed the big, old spruce trees. The campsites attract RVers and campers, and each of the 24 sites has a fire ring and picnic table. There’s potable water at a hand pump.
Experience a scenic float along a glacial river. Just 90 minutes from Anchorage, the Matanuska Glacier is Alaska’s largest road-accessible glacier, and the water running underneath creates a river that’s perfect for rafting. You’ll float downstream for up to 2 hours, taking in the scenery along the way—mountains, river channels, hillsides, moraines—and looking out for wildlife. It’s fun for the whole family—anyone ages 5 and up can do this trip—and you’ll be going with one of Alaska’s most experienced tour companies.
Looking to break up your drive with a jog or bike ride? This little-used, 2-mile section of the former Glenn Highway has little to no traffic. Rocks and shrubs are creeping onto the road surface in places. It's quiet, scenic, and hilly. The roadway is officially closed in the middle but easily-passable.
The Matanuska State Park is the best place for a free view of the Matanuska Glacier. You won’t be able to walk up to the glacier (that’s at Mile 102 and is $30 per person), but this well-developed site (wihch is also connected to the nearby RV Park) offers plenty of parking, public restrooms, and excellent glacier views and photo opportunities. You'll also find:
It’s only a small pull-out on the side of the highway, but this is the closest viewpoint of the Matanuska Glacier. If you don’t have a powerful zoom on your camera, or just want to get a great look at the ice, this is the spot. There’s only room for about six cars and the feel is a bit more rustic than the official state rec site a mile to the west, but you’ll More...
There’s climbing a mountain – and then there’s climbing an ICE mountain. Regardless of your climbing ability or experience, you'll end the day feeling fulfilled and inspired. MICA also offers short, guided hikes and longer treks if you prefer a more leisurely explore of the glacier and its grandeur.
Lion’s Head is famous throughout the state. This rock outcropping is the prominent feature beside the Matanuska Glacier and is featured in magazines and advertisements all over Alaska. And you can hike it! You’ve got to be in good shape and ready for a scrambling, one-hour climb. You’ll be rewarded by great views, looking down a 2,000-foot cliff face to the glacier. More...
For the next three miles, you’ll have a chance to see Dall Sheep. You’ll have to crane your neck and look straight up to the cliffs above on the left. These animals, as well as mountain goats, are protected from hunting in this area, part of the Sheep Mountain Game Protection Area. Dall sheep hang out on these cliffs to avoid predators. They live on grasses and sedges, and More...
People love to pull off here and shoot a photo beside this classic sign. A local theory on the creek name is that the crusty, old sourdough who lived down near the creek used mules for guiding hunts. These mules purportedly escaped a lot, so the asses were always by the creek. Who knows? But it’s a classic photo for the friends back home.
Just south of the Caribou Creek bridge near mile marker 104 on the Glenn Highway in the shadow of the Lion’s Head rock formation, look for the turnoff for the Caribou Creek Recreational Mining Area. You are not going to get fabulously rich here and be the next star of the TV reality show Gold Rush, but you do have the opportunity to carry a gold pan and shovel, hike the steep half-mile-long trail down to the creek, and pan for gold.
Some 15,000 years ago, this glacier reached another 50 miles west to the Palmer area. It now has a four-mile wide towering face that you can walk right up to and touch. Keep an eye out for summertime ice-climbers at this most impressive roadside glacier.
Directions: Head north from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. At mile 102, you can drive down to Glacier Park and pay a day fee (888-253-4480), then hike 15-20 minutes to the face of glacier. Distance: 102 miles north of Anchorage. Drive Time: 3 hours. Explore Time: 1 - 2 hours.
Climb to the summit of Belanger Pass, bike an all-day loop to Caribou Creek or off-road in a four-wheeler or ATV. This public access area is a gateway to adventure in the rolling tundra and alpine ridges of Belanger Pass and Syncline Mountain. The hike to the top of Belanger Pass is 90 minutes, following an old, rutted road. You can also bike this, following the Mining Road Trail for More...
This is one of Alaska's premier recreation meccas. You'll see lots of big-boy toys around Eureka Summit: RVs or big trucks pulling trailers with ATVs or brand new snow machines. This summit receives several feet of snow each winter, and rugged trails open access to the terrain during summer. Eureka Summit is the highest point along the Glenn Highway.
Even though black spruce forests look sickly, they're actually healthy trees. Their shallow roots spread over permafrost, so they grow slowly. Soil above the permafrost melts and freezes, buckling the ground and making the trees tip. This stand might've sprouted around the same time as World War I, or even earlier. Maybe back when there were only ten miles of paved roads in the entire More...
A visit to the small Alaska Wildlife Museum in Glennallen offers a quick break from the road, along with a few surprises. From life-sized moose and bear to mountain goats and the rare wolverine, visitors find more than 50 animals on display. This isn’t your typical museum with creatures staring at you from behind glass, explains Tony, owner and designer of the museum. Instead, he displays the animals within Alaskan nature scenes that help people visualize how they act – and interact – in the wild.
A little less than half of the 127 mile trip from Glennallen to McCarthy involves paved roadways, and the gravel surface of the McCarthy Road makes the trip slow going. However, if you’re prepared for any conditions (stop by the Chitina Ranger Stations, and be sure to bring a spare tire and jack!), the drive from Glennallen to McCarthy is well worth the effort. The drive is one of two access points to Wrangell-St.Elias National Park, and takes you through a number of small towns with a strong sense of history.