Photo Credit: Kennicott Wilderness Guides Glacier Hike & Ice Climb

Things To Do in Wrangell St. Elias National Park

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 allow 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.

5. Flightseeing

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 Glennallen with Copper Valley 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.

7. Rafting

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.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park Day Tours View All

Season: May 15 to Sep 15 $150+ 3 hrs to Multi-Day

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.

Season: Late June - Early September  $1,960+ all-inclusive packages Multi-Day Excursions

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

Season: June – September $580+ per person 2 - 8 Days

Fly in and out of remote loca­tions in the gor­geous Wrangell-St. Elias Nation­al Park and expe­ri­ence the true wilder­ness of the Alaskan back­coun­try. Keep­ing it min­i­mal and unplug­ging com­plete­ly, you’ll sleep in a tent and wake up refreshed and exhil­a­rat­ed by the sights and sounds of these raw wilds. Mod­er­ate mini-Back­pack­ing excur­sions for begin­ners, or point-to-point hikes for expe­ri­enced back­pack­ers that match your abilities.

Season: May 25 – Sep 8 $34 2 hrs

The wilder­ness town of Ken­necott — once home to a bustling min­ing oper­a­tion — was sud­den­ly aban­doned in 1938 when the Ken­necott Cop­per Cor­po­ra­tion ceased oper­a­tions. Now you can tour the ghost town with an expert: St. Elias Alpine Guides was grant­ed spe­cial per­mis­sion as the only con­ces­sion­aire with the Nation­al Park Ser­vice to take trav­el­ers not only around the town, but also inside the buildings.

Season: May 15 to Sep 15 $300+ 4 hrs to Multi-Day

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.

Season: May 15 to Sep 15 $240+ per person 4 - 8 hrs

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

Season: June 15 – September 1 $115+ 3+ hours

Raft the gor­geous glac­i­er-fed rivers and ice­berg-filled lakes of the Alaskan back­coun­try out of McCarthy, an his­toric town in the heart of America’s largest nation­al park, Wrangell-St. Elias. Going with St. Elias Alpine Guides — the park’s longest-oper­at­ing raft­ing com­pa­ny — is a great way to expe­ri­ence the wilder­ness on every­thing from half-day out­ings to 15-day expe­di­tions. No expe­ri­ence is required, and all food and gear are provided!

Season: May 24 – Sept 10 $115+ per person 3 hrs - Full-day

A third of Wrangell — St. Elias Nation­al Park is cov­ered in glacial ice, mak­ing it one of the eas­i­est places to access a glac­i­er in Alas­ka. Strap on the pro­vid­ed cram­pons and explore the stun­ning fea­tures of the glac­i­er with expert guid­ance — rivers and water­falls, crevass­es and blue pools wait to be dis­cov­ered. Or, take on the chal­lenge of scal­ing the dra­mat­ic icy walls of a glac­i­er on an ice climb­ing trip.

Season: May 15 - Sept 15 $115+ 4 - 9 hrs

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

Season: May 15 - Sept 15 $95+ per person 2 - 4 hrs

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

Season: Year Round Flightseeing $350+ | Air Taxi $450+ One Way 1+ hrs

Year-round air ser­vice from Glen­nallen, Alas­ka. Short on time? Check Alaska’s largest nation­al park off your list with a flight­see­ing tour that includes a land­ing in the wilder­ness of the park. Trav­el­ing to McCarthy / Ken­ni­cott? Trav­el like the locals and hop on a mail plane flight. See how back­coun­try mail is deliv­ered and enjoy speedy trans­porta­tion to McCarthy. Or, opt for their sched­uled air ser­vice. Both have depar­tures from Anchor­age and  ...more

Season: May 15 - Sept 15 $875+ per person 2 - 7 days

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.

$300+ 30 min to 2 hrs

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. 

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Wrangell St. Elias National Park Parks & Trails View All

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 7 miles Elevation Gain: 1640 feet

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 25 miles

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 22 miles Elevation Gain: 2860 feet

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

Difficulty: Easy

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 9 miles Elevation Gain: 3750 feet

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 12 miles

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. 

Difficulty: Moderate

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

Difficulty: Difficult

The trail begins at the Skookum Vol­cano trail­head (Mile 36.8 Nabesna Road) and fol­lows until the pass (see SkookumVol­cano trail descrip­tion­for more infor­ma­tion). From the pass on, there is no trail, and one must pick one of two routes.

Difficulty: Easy

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.

Difficulty: Easy

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

Difficulty: Easy

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

Difficulty: Difficult Distance: 2 miles

Locat­ed in Wrangell-St. Elias Nation­al Park, this 4.4‑mile trail takes hik­ers through a rugged land­scape of ice, rock, and streams. It’s a mod­er­ate­ly chal­leng­ing hike that offers stun­ning views of the glac­i­er and sur­round­ing mountains.

Difficulty: Difficult Distance: 6 miles

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

Difficulty: Moderate

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile

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.

Difficulty: Moderate

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.

Difficulty: Moderate

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.

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 4 miles

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.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 2 miles Elevation Gain: 550 feet

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 5 miles

From the trail­head, the trail leads up an allu­vial fan, through white spruce for­est and alder for approx­i­mate­ly 0.8 mile. The trail sur­face is gravel/​cobble and dry.

Difficulty: Easy

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 3 miles Elevation Gain: 800 feet

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. 

Difficulty: Difficult

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.

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

Difficulty: Moderate

Lib­er­ty creek is acces­si­ble via Lib­er­ty Creek Camp­ground. The camp­ground sur­rounds a clear­wa­ter creek at the bot­tom of a beau­ti­ful water­fall. Camp­grounds are on either side of the creek in a sur­re­al setting.

Difficulty: Difficult

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

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 1 mile Elevation Gain: 400 feet

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

Difficulty: Easy

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.

Difficulty: Moderate

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

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