Root Glacier

This white ribbon of ice merges with the much larger Kennicott Glacier only a mile or so northwest of the historic mill town of Kennecott in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. One of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska, it can be reached by hiking a few miles up a relatively easy trail. In contrast to the gnarly and very rugged-looking Kennicott, the Root has a remarkably clean appearance—with plenty of solid blue-tinted ice, aquamarine slot canyons, its moulin drain holes and crevasses appearing on undulating slopes.

Best Viewing Spot

A two-mile trail heading up valley from Kennecott leads to an overlook. A short, steep descent brings you right to an apron of grit-covered ice. (The trail continues up the valley, roughly paralleling the glacier.) Because early melt usually leaves the Root snow free by the end of May, this access may offer one of Alaska’s best spring and early summer opportunities to explore a remote, wilderness glacier on foot. You can safely venture onto a few low-angle sections right off the trail. But without training—not to mention crampons, ice axes and other gear—don’t go too far up the solid ice slopes. Remember: It’s easy to scramble up a glacier face and then find it’s too slippery or treacherous to safely descend. In any case, never approach a drain hole or crevasse, and keep off unmelted snow because it might be bridging a hole. If you want to explore the Root further, you should come prepared for safe glacial travel. Most visitors join a guided trip.

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 61.57667
Longitude: -142.902

The Root Glacier lies about seven miles beyond end of the McCarthy Road, about 310 miles east of Anchorage in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Getting there requires a six-to-eight hour drive over the Glenn, Richardson and Edgerton highways, followed by a 60-mile trip up the McCarthy Road. To access McCarthy, visitors must park and then walk or ride bikes across the Kennicott River over a pedestrian bridge. Most visitors then take a shuttle bus another five miles to visit the mill town of Kennecott. The Root Glacier access is two miles on trail leading uphill from the town.

Photos