At this point in the drive you may need something to talk about.

The Athabascan people traveled along the current McCarthy Road corridor to access their summer hunting camps in the Chugach Mountains. Their trails took them to prime mountain sheep country, as well as to some of their favorite spots for harvesting copper. One copper nugget taken from Dan Creek, almost pure and as big as a refrigerator, now sits in a museum at the University of Fairbanks. Natives were able to heat up the high-grade copper and make tools, arrowheads, and other necessities. They also floated down the Copper River and traded on the coast.

The Klondike gold rush of 1896 turned many eyes towards Alaska, with 4,000 prospectors reaching Valdez in 1898. They initially struggled to reach present-day Copper Center by crossing the treacherous Valdez Glacier. It was a disaster. The next year the government sent John Abercrombie to establish a more efficient route, which led to the current path through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass. In 1900, the government further developed what would become the Richardson Highway. This was Alaska's first road to the interior, offering an alternative to the Yukon and Tanana River route as a way to reach gold-rich Fairbanks.

This road also served as the lifeline for prospectors who were using native trails to explore for copper and gold in the Chitina River Valley and present-day McCarthy/Kennicott. Those who got in trouble or ran out of food just needed to make it back to the Richardson. There are many stories of starving white folks being saved by stumbling upon natives in their camps or just out on the trails.

An early government explorer, John Rohn, was traveling this corridor when he too ran low on food. He encountered a sole prospector named James McCarthy who lent him a horse and enough provisions to make it through. Rohn would be the first to see signs of copper in what he would later name McCarthy Creek after the prospector who saved his butt. Years later, James McCarthy would drown while crossing the Tonsina River, and his friend John Barrett would name the town of McCarthy for him.

Getting There

Latitude: 61.51933892
Longitude: -144.1822529
Driving Directions