Exploring McCarthy with Explore McCarthy

Yasent Oliver 38 A0937

By Yasent Oliver

Cinematographer at Channel Films

After an 8-hour drive from Anchorage, we arrived at the Kennecott River Lodge on the outskirts of McCarthy, our basecamp for the next two nights. We had booked a room and activities through Explore McCarthy, which offers accommodations, adventures, and even on-site places to eat, making for a super-convenient getaway to this gorgeous, historic area.

Kennecott River Lodge

Tucked away off the McCarthy Road, the lodge features an impressive main building and five private, dry (no running water) cabins that sleep 3–6 people.

View of the Stairway Icefall from the Suite at the Kennecott River Lodge

View of the Stairway Icefall from the suite at the Kennecott River Lodge

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The main lodge building serves up several shared spaces, including a communal kitchen and a seating area with comfy chairs and couches as well as board games and books. There are also shared bathrooms and showers, plus a firepit/gathering area outside. We had booked the one suite on the second floor, which had two beds, coffee and dining tables, and a wraparound balcony with incredible views of the Stairway Icefall as well as the Kennicott and Root glaciers.

Glacier View Grill

After checking in around 5:30 p.m., we headed out to grab dinner at the Glacier View Grill—an outdoor cafe that’s part of the Glacier View Campground. Their signature is the Glacier Burger (with white cheddar and jack cheeses); we opted for a Texas Burger (jack cheese, bacon, onion, and BBQ sauce) and a Mexican Burger (jack cheese, jalapenos, and salsa). Fully sated, we retired to our suite to prepare for a full day of adventure, taking on the thrilling activities of glacier trekking and rafting.

Root Glacier Trek

At 7 a.m the next morning we met Jake, our guide from Explore McCarthy, for the glacier hike. From the McCarthy Road, there’s no public vehicle access to the town of McCarthy or the ghost mining town of Kennicott, but the guides have access to a private bridge, and Jake drove us over to Kennicott. We started the hike by walking through the old mining town of Kennicott, taking a nice leisurely pace over 90 minutes on the way to the glacier. Jake shared information on the area’s history, where we learned just how significant the Kennecott Mine was before its closure in 1938: The copper mined here was key in helping to electrify America.

View of the historic Kennecott Mine

View of the historic Kennecott Mine

Blue water on the Root Glacier

Impossibly blue water on the Root Glacier

Then we came to a break in the trees where the gravel-covered ice began. Jake gave us instructions on how to attach the provided crampons and walk on the ice with trekking poles. The edge of the glacier felt like walking on the surface of the moon, and in just a few minutes we came upon an endless expanse of glacier ice, where we’d spend the next hour or so.

Soon we trekked over to a blue glacial pool, which really is as bright a blue as it looks like in photos. We filled up our bottles with water from a small creek and had a refreshing drink of crisp, cool glacier water.

Kennecott Glacier Lake & River Raft

After heading back to the lodge, we had time to rest and grab a bite before our next adventure—a rafting tour. We knew it would make for a full day, but since it was our only one in McCarthy, we wanted to make the most of it.

The area to gear up for the rafting adventure was just a short walk away. Following Jake’s lead, we put on our dry suits and hopped in the raft on the lake’s shore. We practiced paddling techniques as we made our way toward an island (which was actually part of the Kennecott Glacier covered in gravel), where we got out and did a safety briefing.

Paddling some fun, splashy rapids on the Kennecott River

Paddling some fun, splashy rapids on the Kennecott River

We then paddled around the lake a bit before starting down the Kennecott River. It was the perfect mix of mild and wild, with calm waters (where we didn’t have to paddle much at all) as well as some thrilling Class III rapids. We had a blast shooting our way down the whitewater, with our dry suits doing their job.

At the takeout point, our awaiting van shuttled us back to the lodge, and we enjoyed dinner at a local favorite, The Potato.

It was the perfect way to close out an amazing day. Even with limited time, we had enjoyed the area’s highlights through two great activities, thanks to a seamless experience through Explore McCarthy. We hiked on a glacier that had created the lake as well as the river we floated down, and from the lodge we got to enjoy spectacular views of it all.

As The Glacier Melts

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The next morning we checked out, bought a few gifts, and walked over to the ice cream and espresso shop, As the Glacier Melts, where we had some terrific ice cream.

Before we left, we had one thing we still wanted to do: walk over the footbridge that most visitors cross to get into town. With that accomplished, we hopped in our vehicle and drove back to Anchorage.

About Explore McCarthy

Explore McCarthy is the parent company of several McCarthy area operations, so you can book your entire McCarthy experience through one company.

For accommodations, the company runs two great places: the Kennecott River Lodge & Cabins, where we stayed, and the Glacier View Campground, which has 22 tent and RV sites. Be sure to check out the on-site restaurants—the Glacier View Grill, which serves lunch and dinner, and As the Glacier Melts, a cafe with ice cream and espresso.

Of course, you won’t want to miss out on the activities offered through their guiding business McCarthy River Tours: rafting, kayaking, and glacier hiking. Explore McCarthy also offers multi-day raft adventures on nearby rivers if you’re looking to get even further off the grid. The operating season runs from May 15 to September 15.


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