Glennallen to McCarthy

A little less than half of the 127 mile trip from Glennallen to McCarthy involves paved roadways, and the gravel surface of the McCarthy Road makes the trip slow going. However, if you’re prepared for any conditions (stop by the Chitina Ranger Stations, and be sure to bring a spare tire and jack!), the drive from Glennallen to McCarthy is well worth the effort. The drive is one of two access points to Wrangell-St.Elias National Park, and takes you through a number of small towns with a strong sense of history. Start in Glennallen, a town used to visitors passing through, then through Chitina to count the painted ghosts on the buildings in town. Lastly, take the bumpy McCarthy Road to see McCarthy and Kennicott, two small pioneer towns where time seems to have stood still.

Not all rental vehicles are allowed on this road, so check with your rental agency before you travel. Or, rent from a company that allows their vehicle on gravel roads, like Alaska 4x4 Rentals, Alaska Overlander, or Alaska Auto Rental.

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Road Guide

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

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

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 $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.

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.