Anchorage to McCarthy-Kennicott

How to Get to McCarthy  (7:06)

The drive to McCarthy and Kennicott isn't your run-of-the-mill road trip. It's 7-8 hours from Anchorage, with the last 61 miles-between Chitina and the Kennicott River-on an historic, gravel road. Not all rental vehicles are allowed on the McCarthy road, so check with your rental agency before you travel. Or, rent from Alaska 4x4 Rentals or Alaska Overlander, they allow their vehicles on the McCarthy Road.

At the end of the McCarthy Road, a footbridge brings you across the river to McCarthy and Kennicott. Once a rowdy pioneer town, McCarthy now makes a great basecamp for adventures into American's largest national park, Wrangell-St.Elias.

Four mountain ranges converge in this remote park the size of six Yellowstones. Kennicott was abandoned during the Depression, and visitors can explore the past on a tour of this historic ghost town. Leave early enough from Anchorage and you can enjoy some of the scenic highlights and activities on your way there.

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Driving Guide

Anchorage to Glennallen

Forty min­utes from down­town Anchor­age lies Eagle Riv­er Nature Cen­ter, a gate­way to Chugach State Park and a glacial riv­er val­ley as wild and dra­mat­ic as any in Alas­ka. Enjoy an easy, 3‑mile nature walk on the Albert Loop or trek up-val­ley 5 miles to see plung­ing water­falls and 3,000-foot cliffs. In win­ter, tra­verse the trails on cross-coun­try skis or snowshoes.

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile Elevation Gain: 100 feet

Who can say no to a cool water­fall only a half-hour’s dri­ve from town? One of the most pop­u­lar first hikes” for fam­i­lies with small chil­dren, the one-mile trail to Thun­der­bird Falls tra­vers­es a hand­some birch for­est along the Eklut­na Riv­er canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot water­fall. Dur­ing win­ter, the falls can freeze, form­ing fab­u­lous columns of blue ice. 

Dat­ing back to 1650, the park is the area’s old­est con­tin­u­ous­ly inhab­it­ed Athabaskan Indi­an set­tle­ment. Russ­ian Ortho­dox mis­sion­ar­ies came here in the ear­ly 1800s, and you can still see St. Nicholas Church, the old­est stand­ing build­ing in greater Anchor­age. Snap some pic­tures of the col­or­ful Spir­it Hous­es build over the graves of the deceased‑a cus­tom that came from the meld­ing of the cul­tures. Up for a walk? It’ll pay off with a glacier…  ...more

The camp­ground is pret­ty open, since bark bee­tles killed the big, old spruce trees. The camp­sites attract RVers and campers, and each of the 24 sites has a fire ring and pic­nic table. There’s potable water at a hand pump. 

Season: Jun 11 to Aug 20 $95+ 2.5 to 3 hrs

Expe­ri­ence a scenic float along a glacial riv­er. Just 90 min­utes from Anchor­age, the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er is Alaska’s largest road-acces­si­ble glac­i­er, and the water run­ning under­neath cre­ates a riv­er that’s per­fect for raft­ing. You’ll float down­stream for up to 2 hours, tak­ing in the scenery along the way — moun­tains, riv­er chan­nels, hill­sides, moraines — and look­ing out for wildlife. It’s fun for the whole fam­i­ly — any­one ages 5 and up can do this  ...more

Difficulty: Easy

Look­ing to break up your dri­ve with a jog or bike ride? This lit­tle-used, 2‑mile sec­tion of the for­mer Glenn High­way has lit­tle to no traf­fic. Rocks and shrubs are creep­ing onto the road sur­face in places. It’s qui­et, scenic, and hilly. The road­way is offi­cial­ly closed in the mid­dle but easily-passable. 

The Matanus­ka State Park is the best place for a free view of the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er. You won’t be able to walk up to the glac­i­er (that’s at Mile 102 and is $30 per per­son), but this well-devel­oped site (wihch is also con­nect­ed to the near­by RV Park) offers plen­ty of park­ing, pub­lic restrooms, and excel­lent glac­i­er views and pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ties. You’ll also find: A half-dozen inter­pre­tive signs about glac­i­ers, ice crea­tures, spruce bark…  ...more

It’s only a small pull-out on the side of the high­way, but this is the clos­est view­point of the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er. If you don’t have a pow­er­ful zoom on your cam­era, or just want to get a great look at the ice, this is the spot. There’s only room for about six cars and the feel is a bit more rus­tic than the offi­cial state rec site a mile to the west, but you’ll be perched on a bluff over­look­ing the glac­i­er. Dis­tance 103.3 miles north of…  ...more

Season: Mid-May to Mid-September $89+ 3 hrs to full day excursions

There’s climb­ing a moun­tain – and then there’s climb­ing an ICE moun­tain. Regard­less of your climb­ing abil­i­ty or expe­ri­ence, you’ll end the day feel­ing ful­filled and inspired. MICA also offers short, guid­ed hikes and longer treks if you pre­fer a more leisure­ly explore of the glac­i­er and its grandeur.

Difficulty: Difficult

Lion’s Head is famous through­out the state. This rock out­crop­ping is the promi­nent fea­ture beside the Matanus­ka Glac­i­er and is fea­tured in mag­a­zines and adver­tise­ments all over Alas­ka. And you can hike it! You’ve got to be in good shape and ready for a scram­bling, one-hour climb. You’ll be reward­ed by great views, look­ing down a 2,000-foot cliff face to the glac­i­er. You’re panora­ma will include views of the Matanus­ka Riv­er, Cari­bou Creek with…  ...more

South-fac­ing slopes can con­cen­trate large num­bers of sheep that are espe­cial­ly vis­i­ble after green-up in the spring. Lodges in the area pro­vide spot­ting scopes and good advice, and there are sev­er­al pull­outs and trail­heads with safe parking.

Peo­ple love to pull off here and shoot a pho­to beside this clas­sic sign. A local the­o­ry on the creek name is that the crusty, old sour­dough who lived down near the creek used mules for guid­ing hunts. These mules pur­port­ed­ly escaped a lot, so the ass­es were always by the creek. Who knows? But it’s a clas­sic pho­to for the friends back home.

Just south of the Cari­bou Creek bridge near mile mark­er 104 on the Glenn High­way in the shad­ow of the Lion’s Head rock for­ma­tion, look for the turnoff for the Cari­bou Creek Recre­ation­al Min­ing Area. You are not going to get fab­u­lous­ly rich here and be the next star of the TV real­i­ty show Gold Rush, but you do have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to car­ry a gold pan and shov­el, hike the steep half-mile-long trail down to the creek, and pan for gold.

Some 15,000 years ago, this glac­i­er reached anoth­er 50 miles west to the Palmer area. It now has a four-mile wide tow­er­ing face that you can walk right up to and touch. Keep an eye out for sum­mer­time ice-climbers at this most impres­sive road­side glac­i­er. Direc­tions: Head north from Anchor­age on the Glenn High­way. At mile 102, you can dri­ve down to Glac­i­er Park and pay a day fee (8882534480), then hike 15 – 20 min­utes to the face of  ...more

Difficulty: Moderate

Climb to the sum­mit of Belanger Pass, bike an all-day loop to Cari­bou Creek or off-road in a four-wheel­er or ATV. This pub­lic access area is a gate­way to adven­ture in the rolling tun­dra and alpine ridges of Belanger Pass and Syn­cline Moun­tain. The hike to the top of Belanger Pass is 90 min­utes, fol­low­ing an old, rut­ted road. You can also bike this, fol­low­ing the Min­ing Road Trail for an all-day, 35 mile ride to Syn­cline Moun­tain and Caribou…  ...more

This is one of Alaska’s pre­mier recre­ation mec­cas. You’ll see lots of big-boy toys around Eure­ka Sum­mit: RVs or big trucks pulling trail­ers with ATVs or brand new snow machines. This sum­mit receives sev­er­al feet of snow each win­ter, and rugged trails open access to the ter­rain dur­ing sum­mer. Eure­ka Sum­mit is the high­est point along the Glenn Highway.

Even though black spruce forests look sick­ly, they’re actu­al­ly healthy trees. Their shal­low roots spread over per­mafrost, so they grow slow­ly. Soil above the per­mafrost melts and freezes, buck­ling the ground and mak­ing the trees tip. This stand might’ve sprout­ed around the same time as World War I, or even ear­li­er. Maybe back when there were only ten miles of paved roads in the entire country.

Glennallen to McCarthy

The town of Gle­nallen is named after two ear­ly explor­ers. Hen­ry Allen was a lieu­tenant who trav­elled through this area in 1885 on his way to the Yukon Riv­er, and Capt. Edwin Glenn was part of the U.S. Gov­ern­ment sur­vey crew for the Richard­son High­way that came through in 1898 – 99. Glen­nallen is also a part of the Cop­per Riv­er Water­shed. Find the inter­pre­tive sign at the vis­i­tor’s cen­ter and ori­ent your­self in the water­shed with a map of Ahtna  ...more

Just out­side Glen­nallen you’ll find some great views of the Cop­per Riv­er and the Wrangell Moun­tains, as well as the chance to take some pho­tos that don’t include any roads or build­ings. Mt. Drum will be straight in front of you, with Mt. San­ford on the left side, and Mt. Wrangell— a mas­sive shield vol­cano — on the right. Cloud cov­er is the only way you’ll miss this dra­mat­ic scene. And these moun­tains are def­i­nite­ly dra­mat­ic. The western…  ...more

Season: May 15 to Sep 15 $125+ 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.

His­toric Cop­per Cen­ter is one of the old­est non-native com­mu­ni­ties in Alaska’s Inte­ri­or. Found­ed as a gov­ern­ment agri­cul­tur­al exper­i­men­tal sta­tion, it lat­er served as a trans­porta­tion cen­ter for gold rush prospec­tors. Also find the inter­pre­tive sign where you’ll learn about the local fish species that make their home in dif­fer­ent habi­tat nich­es of Cop­per Riv­er water­shed creeks and rivers. 

Get a taste of ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry Alas­ka in Cop­per Cen­ter. This small com­mu­ni­ty locat­ed at the con­flu­ence of the Kluti­na and Cop­per Rivers, was estab­lished in 1898 as a camp for prospect­ing gold min­ers. After the Richard­son High­way route opened in 1900, road­hous­es sprung up every 15 to 20 miles, pro­vid­ing ser­vices for trav­el­ers between Valdez and Fair­banks. You could get meals, lodg­ing, mail ser­vice, med­ical help, hay for your horse, gasoline…  ...more

Route 4 from Valdez to Delta Junc­tion, Route 2 from Delta Junc­tion to Fair­banks. Speed Lim­it: 50 – 60 mph, except 45 mph in Thomp­son Pass section 

Ken­ny Lake (pop.500) Ken­ny lake was estab­lished in 1910 as an Alas­ka Road Com­mis­sion Road­house for the Valdez-Fair­banks-Chiti­na Mil­i­tary Road. Today it is a small farm­ing com­mu­ni­ty where res­i­dents lead a self-suf­fi­cient lifestyle har­vest­ing fish, game, berries and organ­ic produce.

25-foot wide, 17b Ease­ment that pro­vides foot access to the bluffs over­look­ing the scenic low­er Ton­si­na Riv­er. The trail is approx­i­mate­ly 2 miles and is excel­lent for hik­ing. There is park­ing at the trailhead. 

Difficulty: Easy

This trail fol­lows an old road along the Cop­per Riv­er and has excel­lent views of the glac­i­er along the way. The trail starts out in a sec­tion of thick veg­e­ta­tion, then fol­lows the riv­er until it reach­es Childs Glac­i­er Recre­ation Area. In ear­ly sum­mer, this is the place to be for birdwatching. 

Difficulty: Easy Distance: 1 mile

This is an easy, well-marked BLM trail that leads 1.3 miles south through the spruce for­est to a pic­nic site over­look­ing the Ton­si­na Riv­er. You’ll enjoy stun­ning views of the Chugach Moun­tains and the abun­dant wild­flow­ers here. 

In the sum­mer, there may be fresh pro­duce and home­made baked goods avail­able at a road­side stand to the north. The stand is oper­at­ed by SAPA, a Pen­te­costal Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty of about 70 peo­ple. Pull over and enjoy the Alaskan hos­pi­tal­i­ty and tasty treats. SAPA also runs a suc­cess­ful local sawmill. 

Most fields are plant­ed in hay. Watch for yaks graz­ing in the fields south of the road along here. These Tibetan natives are ide­al­ly suit­ed for the Alas­ka cli­mate. Stop by the Yak farm and learn why they are an eco­nom­i­cal alter­na­tive to rais­ing cattle.

Only a short dis­tance of 5 to 8 miles sep­a­rates you from the braid­ed upper Cop­per River.

Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 1 mile

The first part of this trail is a bit steep, but once you’re out of the spruce for­est, the rest of the hike is pleas­ant and takes you along the ridge. Once on the ridge, there are places where the trees open up and there are great views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains. The offi­cial trail ends at mile 1.7, but you can con­tin­ue anoth­er 0.25 miles to the lake and even fur­ther on unbro­ken trails. 

This is prob­a­bly the nicest camp­ground on the Edger­ton High­way. The site has pic­nic tables and tent plat­forms. You’ll enjoy an amaz­ing view of a pic­turesque water­fall from the bridge across Lib­er­ty Creek. 10 sites are avail­able in this campground. 

A 25-foot wide, 17b Ease­ment that pro­vides foot access to excel­lent views of the Wrangell Moun­tains and Cop­per Riv­er. The one mile trail is in good con­di­tion but fair­ly steep. There is park­ing at the trailhead. 

Watch for com­mu­ni­ty fish wheels on the Cop­per Riv­er, they can be very inter­est­ing to watch and pho­to­graph. Keep in mind, it is ille­gal to walk on the fish wheel plat­forms or touch the fish if you do not have a license for the wheel.

This is the air­port where trav­el­ers take a 30-minute flight into McCarthy instead of dri­ving the McCarthy Road. 

Chiti­na (pop. 105) came to life almost overnight with arrival of the Cop­per Riv­er & North­west­ern Rail­way on Sep­tem­ber 11, 1910. The rail­way was built to haul ore from Ken­ni­cott Cop­per Mines at McCarthy to Cor­do­va for ship­ment to Seat­tle. Chiti­na became a sup­ply town for both the rail­way and the mine. When the mine closed in 1938, Chiti­na became a ghost town almost overnight. In the 1950s and 1970s, ghosts were paint­ed on some of the old  ...more

The rock cut you’re about to dri­ve through was blast­ed out in 1909 as a rail­way to sup­ply and sup­port the Ken­necott Cop­per Mines when they were being built. The rail­road began in Cor­do­va and fol­lowed the Cop­per Riv­er to cur­rent day Chiti­na before turn­ing through the rock cut and head­ing east towards the Wrangell Mountains.

There’s a sto­ry about a local pio­neer who in the 1950’s walked the entire way to McCarthy from Cor­do­va. Across the Cop­per Riv­er was a steel cable, the cur­rent bridge hav­ing not been built until 1973.

How do you fish in a riv­er full of glacial silt? The eas­i­est way is to use the icon­ic fish wheel — long asso­ci­at­ed with Alas­ka Native sub­sis­tence. See them in action in the Cop­per Riv­er near Chitina.

You’re now look­ing at the Chiti­na Riv­er just before it merges with the Cop­per Riv­er and dis­ap­pears out of view. The braid­ed Chiti­na below actu­al­ly car­ries more water than the Cop­per Riv­er, despite los­ing the name bat­tle. (It’s actu­al­ly more of a name tie, though, as Chiti­na is the native word for cop­per.) Heavy rains, floods, and out­bursts from glacial­ly-dammed lakes can fill the riverbed, in com­par­i­son to the chan­nels you’re like­ly seeing…  ...more

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…  ...more

Walk in pub­lic fish­ing access to Sil­ver Lake and Van Lake; you’ll find won­der­ful scenery and good rain­bow trout fish­ing in both lakes.

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