Wrangell St. Elias Nat’l Park Things To Do
1. Visitor Centers
Welcome to America’s largest national park! This mammoth protected land—a whopping 13.2 million acres—requires multiple access points, which is why you’ll find several visitor centers.
Copper Center. At the park’s main visitor center, you can explore the bookstore and theater, then stop in next door at the Ahtna Cultural Center for some insight into the Alaska Natives from this area. Finish your visit by walking one of the short hiking trails, like the half-mile loop that includes an overlook of the stunning Wrangell Mountains. You can even opt for a guided walk led by a park ranger.
McCarthy Road/Kennicott. The Chitina Ranger Station is set in a log cabin and shows a film about the area. The McCarthy Road Information Station isn’t staffed, but you can stop in for current conditions and notices. The Kennecott Visitor Center, in the historic mining town of Kennecott, is staffed and offers maps, as well as ranger-led talks and walks.
Nabesna Road. Stop by the Slana Ranger Station for suggestions on things to do in the area, as well as road conditions.
2. Drive the McCarthy Road
Some people say this drive is the highlight of their entire trip to Alaska. If you do have the type of rental vehicle allowed on this 60-mile gravel road, consider taking this two- to three-hour trip. It follows former railroad tracks through dramatic, pristine wilderness with the chance to see swans, moose, grizzly and black bears, owls, eagles, and other wildlife. And at the other end, walk the McCarthy Footbridge into town.
3. Explore the Kennicott Ghost Town
This is a truly unique place. You can get to the McCarthy/Kennicott area by driving the McCarthy Road or taking an air taxi from Chitina. Then explore the fascinating Kennicott Mine, a copper mining camp that was opened in 1903, shut down in 1938, and has been abandoned ever since. Go with St. Elias Alpine Guides and you’ll even be allowed to walk inside the old buildings!
4. Drive the Nabesna Road
Tremendous views await you along the 42-mile Nabesna Road, on the north side of the park and one of just two roads that allows for park access. You’ll pass stunning panoramas along the way, formed by some of the highest mountains in North America. While there’s a mine at the end of the road, it’s not set up for tourists; this drive is more about the journey than the destination.
With the mind-blowing scale of this national park, seeing it from the air is really the only way to get some perspective on it. Also, it’s quite an experience! Soar and see places like Bagley Ice Field, the largest non-polar ice field in the world; 14,000-foot Mount Wrangell Volcano, which erupted in 1930 and was last active in 2003; and the greatest collection of peaks over 16,000 feet, including Mount St. Elias, the second-highest peak in the U.S. (18,008 feet). Leave from Chitina and McCarthy/Kennicott with Wrangell Mountain Air or from Tok with Tok Air Service.
6. Hiking and Backpacking
From McCarthy/Kennicott, enjoy a day hike on the spectacular Root Glacier, or go ice climbing on it—no experience necessary! If you’re interested in backpacking, the most popular treks use Skolai Pass as a basecamp; there, you’ll get amazing views of Chitistone Pass, including the canyon and falls. For either, hire a guide; check out Kennicott Wilderness Guides and St. Elias Alpine Guides.
As you might expect, the park area offers tons of rivers and many great spots to go rafting. And since the park only has two roads, exploring by river is one of the only ways to get deep into this pristine wilderness. If you’re interested in a day trip from McCarthy, you’ll find thrilling adventures on Kennicott Glacial Lake and down the Kennicott River. To really explore this amazing area, opt for an immersive multi-day rafting excursion, which can take you down the spectacular Nizina, Copper, or Chitina rivers.
Things to Do
Wrangell St. Elias National Park Day Tours View All
Experience a full- or half-day sport-fishing trip the way it was meant to be: with a relaxing visit to an uncrowded fishing hole. Depending on the season, you can try for kings, sockeye, trout, or Arctic grayling, as you angle with fishing guides who know the ins and outs of these cold, glacial drainages.
Taking to the rivers is such an excellent way to explore Wrangell St. Elias National park, and this operator out of McCarthy offers day trips that let you embrace the wonders of the park in a comfortable, hands-on, way. Both day trips are four hours. One allows you to paddle around a glacial lake, relax, and take in the scenery. The other takes it up a notch by floating downriver through class 2 and 3 rapids after a brief paddle around the lake. ...more
If you want to get a true sense of the 13 million acres within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park — which has a mere 100 miles of roadways — start with an aerial view. Since 1992, Wrangell Mountain Air has been offering safe and fascinating tours of this remote kingdom, which boasts North America’s largest assemblage of glaciers as well as its largest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet. Choose from three main tours.
Experience the thrill of trying out a new sport: packrafting. Led by expert guides, you’ll leave from the town of Kennicott out to the Alaskan backcountry, then strap a raft to your back (it’s under 9 pounds) and set off on an interpretive walk down to a lake. Then unpack the raft and put in the water. You’ll learn how to use and maneuver these unique boats in Class I‑II water, and even have the possibility of taking on some Class III rapids. ...more
Alaska’s eastern interior promises high adventure in an area relatively few visitors explore. Fly with Tok Air Service into this jaw-dropping wonderland to visit National Parks and Wildlife Refuges: Wrangell-St. Elias, Tetlin, and Yukon-Charley Rivers. Land on a remote glacier, see dramatic mountains up close, and watch for grizzlies, sheep, moose and caribou.
Exploring the rivers of Copper Center, around 4 hours from Anchorage and right on the edge of gorgeous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, brings opportunities for everything from mild floats to Class III and IV rapids. Since the Copper River Basin is a little more remote than other areas, you’ll be able to truly appreciate the wilderness as you enjoy a relaxing day on the water.
If you’ve never walked on a glacier, this is your chance. Going with experienced guides, you’ll leave from Kennicott, hike two miles, and spend the next several hours on the Root Glacier, safely exploring the blue ice, blue pool, canyons, and moulins of this extraordinary natural phenomenon. Choose a half- or full-day tour and learn all about natural and human history from your expert guides along the way. Or ramp up the excitement by going ice ...more
Explore the Alaskan wilderness while carrying your pack and camping out — it’s a way to truly get in touch with nature. Choose a 1‑night or 2‑night trek leaving from the town of Kennicott — your expedition will be led by expert guides, who will take you on hikes that can wind past gorgeous lakes and stunning waterfalls. Work with your guide to personalize your adventure — they know the must-see highlights of this area and can fill you in on the human ...more
St. Elias Alpine Guides have a long history of sharing the wilderness with travelers — whether the activity involves hiking a glacier, backpacking, rafting, skiing, or even doing some extreme mountaineering — there’s something for everyone! You can also take advantage of the option to customize your trip.
Sprawling Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has huge mountains, North America’s largest concentration of glaciers, and thousands of rivers — but just two roads. That’s why taking to the local rivers is such an excellent way to explore the park: this operator out of McCarthy offers multi-day adventures that embrace the rugged wonders of the park, while keeping you comfortable enough so that you relax and enjoy it.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park Parks & Trails View All
To get a little further away from civilization, you can also camp at the end of the Root Glacier trail, about 4 miles from Kennecott. This is hardly a traditional campground; there are a few creative spots to pitch a tent, one of which is on the trail itself. There’s also a bearproof food storage box, since this is definitely bear country. But few people and amazing views make the hike out here worth it. You’ll know you’re at the end of the… ...more
The discovery of gold at Jacksina Creek in 1899 was an exciting find for prospector K.J. Fjeld, but it proved too remote to develop successfully. Other prospectors were persistent though, and in 1925 Carl Whitham found a rich lode on White Mountain. That find, and his subsequent development of the mine, led to the construction of Nabesna Road. At its height, between 40 and 70 men were employed at the mine. It also provided trading… ...more
By the time you reach this trailhead you’ve already had the pleasure of gazing upon the Chrystalline Hills . The Wrangell Mountains contain a wide variety of mountain compositions. They were formed millions of years ago by classic plate-tectonic thrusting. If you look closely, you should be able to see folds in the rock. While being formed, these young mountains were shaken up by serious volcanic activity. Things heated up when the terrain… ...more
Camp right at the toe of the Root Glacier, in a National Park Service camping area. This is a great way to experience the glacier without the traffic of hikers and tourists that pass through during the day. The area has a few camping spots carved out of the hillside, as well as bear boxes (and there’s another just past Jumbo Creek). Jumbo Creek is the boundary for camping – with no permission to camp before you cross it. Be wary of bears: In… ...more
People travel from all over the world for a backpacking trip within Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve. One common misconception is that the more expensive the bush-plane flight, the more impressive the scenery and terrain. It would be more accurate to say that the more expensive the bush-plane flight, the farther away from the airstrip you’re flying. Since the McCarthy airstrip and the 60-mile dirt road to the airstrip are in the… ...more
The Nizina River is a classic Alaskan monster — almost 1.5 miles wide. Once stepping out of the forest you may need to walk 20 minutes to reach the river channel currently being used. Walk around and you’ll find here lots of cool rocks, as well as rewarding views of the dramatic Chugach Mountains that you won’t get from McCarthy or Kennicott. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the historic steel bridge once used as part of the route to the gold… ...more
Copper brought people to Kennicott/McCarthy, and gold kept them coming, usually via Dan Creek Road. The Cordova Chamber of Commerce built this road back in 1914 to promote access into the gold-rich interior of Alaska. Today you can use this road to get to the old airstrip, a miner’s cabin at the top of the bluff above McCarthy Creek (a 25-minute walk from McCarthy), and the Nizina River, some 9 miles away. Watch for the bridge over McCarthy… ...more
At mile 14.5 McCarthy Road, turn left on the access road and follow it 2.5 miles to Nugget Creek and Dixie Pass trailheads. These remote trails offer visitors the chance to explore the wilderness and embark on an adventure they will never forget!Ask a park ranger for more information and trail descriptions.
An easy trail, about 0.6 miles long, that will take about 1 hour to hike and leads you to excellent views of Child’s Glacier. Important note: While the Forest Service still maintains it, you can’t get here by car, as the Copper River highway is washed out at Mile 36. You can only access the trail by hiring a boat or a plane from town.
This is a trail with access to Copper Lake. Copper Lake has opportunities for Lake Trout, Grayling, and Burbot fishing. The first 2.5 miles are suitable for hiking, then the trail crossses Tanada Creek, which can be high and fast, and trail conditions deteriorate.
The trail proceeds in a northeast direction towards the hills. The trail is an ATV route, and as such there are some muddy areas where you may be required to walk off the trail. The beginning of the trail goes through the valley bottom with low tundra vegetation. Views are great. As the trail continues, the forest surrounds the trail with spruce, alder, willow and wildflowers.
Access: Trailhead is located at the end of the maintained portion of the Nabesna Road, Mile 42. As you near the end of the maintained portion of the Nabesna Road, you will reach private property owned by the Ellis family, who operate Devil’s Mountain Lodge, established here in the 1950s. Please respect their privacy and take care not to park on their property or private air strip. Continue driving on the road through the Ellis property.… ...more
Coming around the corner after milepost 28, you can’t help but notice the Gilahina Trestle. There are 85+ miles of bridges and trestles within the 196 miles of rail between Cordova and Kennicott. Building them was a big job. The Gilahina Trestle is visual confirmation of the size of job it was, standing 80 – 90 feet high and 880 feet across. The crew used a half-million board-feet of lumber and completed the job in eight days.
If you’ve spent the day in Kennicott, on the glacier trail, or in the mountains and still can’t get enough of the outdoors, skip the shuttle ride down the hill to McCarthy and take this nice 1.5‑hour walk. The Wagon Trail cuts off the main road just to the right of the St. Elias Guides office.
The main street in Kennicott turns into a well-maintained, 4‑mile-long hiking trail just outside of town. This trail winds alongside the Kennicott and Root Glaciers, and hiking it is a great opportunity to experience the grandeur of the Wrangell Mountains and see more of the valley. It’s a great starting point, whether you have only a few hours or are planning a multi-day glacier and mountain adventure. You will be rewarded throughout the… ...more
Follow Root Glacier Trail to its termination at Root Glacier, then continue on past the rockslide to a camping area with a bear-proof food storage box. From here, descend over the top of the moraine, carefully making your way down the rocky slope. At the bottom, you’ll head north off-trail until steep cliffs are towering on your right. Curve around the point and continue on to Erie Lake and the Stairway Icefall, which is a 7,000 ft vertical… ...more
This hike takes you up the historical wagon road to the top of the mountain, where you’ll find the ruins of mine buildings. Start by hiking along the Root Glacier Trail until a NPS junction sign points you right up the mountain. You’ll ascend about 2,000 feet (1.5 – 2 hours) before rising above the tree line; even if you go no further, the view is worth the effort. However, you can also continue up another 2,000 – 3,000 feet to the top, where the… ...more
Looking for a mellow 3- to 4‑hour walk and a nice spot to relax with a book or a journal? Check out McCarthy Creek. To get here, just walk straight through McCarthy’s Main Street, past Ma Johnson’s Hotel (on the left), down the hill, and past the Wrangell Mountain Center.
The Dixie Pass trail gains over 5,000 feet as it leads you into the alpine. The views are world-class, and there’s always a good shot at spotting wildlife on this hike. It’s best to give yourself 3 or 4 days to fully explore this area, but an overnight is definitely better than not going at all. There are no support facilities here, so bring your own tent, sleeping bag, and supplies because there are plenty of great camping spots near water… ...more
This spectacular backcountry route connects the Lost and Trail Creek drainages via a 6000’ pass. Explore these trails as day hikes from Nabesna Road or as one big loop in either direction over 3 to 4 days. Trail Creek and Lost Creek were used by generations of Ahtna people, who hunted moose and trapped gophers and porcupine. In the 1930s a few cabins were built at Lost Creek and the Ahtna residents made a living hunting, fishing and selling… ...more
This route begins at the Park Service and Information Station. Follow the flags, and they will lead you to an unmaintained footpath. This trail requires a lot of bushwacking and the footholds are not strong, especially after the first four miles.
This hike is a great opportunity to prolong the Crystalline Hills experience. It’s relatively easy traveling and gets you some nice views of the mountains looming above, as well as looking south towards the Chugach Mountains. About 15 – 20 minutes of hiking will get you to a viewpoint worth leaving your car for. This area has long been used by sheep hunters, so if you have binoculars you may want to spend some time scanning these hills. If it’s… ...more
Jumbo Mine is located 3,000 feet above Kennecott — get there via a gorgeous and strenuous hike that will leave most people very happy, and very tired. The mine building ruins pale in comparison to the dramatic mountain scenery that surrounds you. The buildings were initially built on a rock glacier, in which loose rock accumulates and is lubricated by frozen water, then moved by gravity. Needless to say, after 80 years, not many buildings are… ...more
This historical trail through the woods between McCarthy and Kennicott was the walking/wagon road when the railroad was still running. It’s a nice alternative to walking or biking up the 4.5‑mile-long road between McCarthy and Kennicott, where you’ll find more vehicles and dusty conditions.
Getting out to the Kennicott Glacier is the first challenge. You need to hike onto the Root Glacier, cross over the monster rock moraine to your left, cross another tongue of ice on the Root Glacier, then cross yet another monster rock moraine between the Root and the Kennicott glaciers. It’s tricky terrain and not to be taken lightly. When facing down the second moraine, you’ll want to hit the low point that’s close to where the black mud… ...more
Highlights: Wildlife, open tundra, spectacular scenery. Soda Lake was created by a large landslide, most likely in response to an earthquake and past movement along the Totshunda Fault. The fascinating terrain near the outlet of Soda Lake resulted from the landslide, creating a topography which contrasts from its surroundings. The lake now seeps through this landslide rubble.Hazards: Creeks, especially Soda Creek, may be high on hot sunny… ...more