|a l a s k a j o u r n e y . c o m|
|Southcentral Mountains & Prince William Sound|
Location/Size: 210 road miles from Anchorage; bounded by Copper River, Gulf of Alaska, and Canadian border. National park8.3 million acres; national preserve4.8 million acres; designated wilderness8.2 million acres. In southeast corner of Alaska "mainland."
Main Activities: Historic mine site, backpacking, mountaineering, hiking, river running, wilderness exploration, sea kayaking, cross-country skiing.
Gateway Towns/Getting There: Chitina/vehicle access via Edgerton Highway (AK 10) from Richardson Highway (AK 4); McCarthy/vehicle access via McCarthy Road from Chitina, charter air access; Yakutat/scheduled air service from Anchorage, other points; Slana/vehicle access via Tok Cutoff (AK 1). Park access: vehicle access via Nabesna Road from Tok Cutoff (AK 1), or McCarthy Road from Edgerton Highway (AK 10) via Richardson Highway (AK 4); charter air drop-offs from Gulkana, McCarthy, Cordova, Yakutat, Valdez; foot access from several points including Nabesna, McCarthy Road, Kennicott.
Facilities, Camping, Lodging: No facilities. Primitive camping. Lodging on private land within park including Nabesna, Kennicott, McCarthy.
Headquarters and Information: Headquarters, P.O. Box 439, Mile 105.5 Richardson Highway, Copper Center, 822-5234, www.nps.gov/wrst. Nabesna Ranger Station, 822-5238; Chitina Ranger Station, 823-2205; Yakutat Ranger Station, 784-3295.
The Chitina River flows westward to the Copper from near the Yukon border, draining the meltwater from the Chitina, Logan, and several other glaciers, and separating the Wrangell Mountains from the St. Elias Mountains. Both ranges are heavily glaciated and feature magnificent peaks, including Mount St. Elias, second tallest in the United States at 18,008 feet; and Mount Wrangell, tallest active volcano in the United States at 14,163 feet. WrangellSt. Elias National Park and Preserve encompasses the Wrangells, the Chitina valley, and much of the St. Elias Mountains. The park is Americas largestmore than twice the size of Denali National Park and Preserve.
WrangellSt. Elias is contiguous with Kluane National Park in the Yukon, Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park in British Columbia, and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Together, they secure a 24-million-acre wilderness in perpetuityan area about the size of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut combined. The four parks collectively have been designated a World Heritage Site.
The McCarthy Road
Road Conditions and Attractions60 miles. Very rough gravel road on old rail bed, but drivable by regular vehicles; open year-round. Chitina valley views, historic rail route with bridges and artifacts, Kennicott Glacier terminus.
Most visitors come to the park via the Chitina valley and the town of McCarthy. From the Edgerton Highway (AK 10) and the town of Chitina, the McCarthy Road follows the original railroad bed of the Copper River & Northwest Railroad that ran from Cordova to the Kennicott River. The road can be exceedingly rough and should be driven at modest speedsespecially if you have any doubts about your dental work. Numerous parcels of private property are found along the road and should be respected.
At Mile 13.5 an access road on the left passes through some private property to the trailheads for the Dixie Pass Trail, Kotsina Trail, and Nugget Creek Trailstarting points for extended backpack treks and mountaineering in the Wrangells. Consult the ranger in Chitina about routes and conditions.
The McCarthy Road features some historic rail bridges, including the narrow, 390-foot-high, 525-foot-long Kuskulana River Bridge, which passes over the water at Mile 16. Watch for clandestine bungy jumpers (inquire quietly in Chitina and McCarthy if youre interested in buying a leap). Viewpoints along the way are good for driving breaks and cleaning up the shards of any fine china you were carrying.
At Mile 58.2 the road ends at the source of the short Kennicott River and the foot of Kennicott Glacier, the ice of which is invisible under thick moraine. There is awkward, free parking, but its worth it to pay the small fee required to park in the private gravel lot by the river. Inquire about nearby camping possibilities.
To reach McCarthy, Kennicott, and beyond, visitors once had to haul themselves over the Kennicott River in a two-person hanging basket. A footbridge now makes the crossing easier if a lot less exciting. If the chance exists, take the hand-hauled basket across to see what its been like for McCarthy residents for so many years. All supplies either came this way or by plane during the summer months. See McCarthy and Kennicott, below, for more information on park access.
No other access routes to WrangellSt. Elias are as simple as the McCarthy Road, nor do they offer similar services. North and east of Chitina, there are no bridges over the Copper River, which serves as the park boundary for many miles. Other than the Nabesna Road (see below), access requires air drop-offs, long treks in difficult terrain, coastal boat drop-offs, or extended kayaking.
The gravel, 46-mile-long Nabesna Road enters WrangellSt. Elias National Park and Preserve from the north, beginning at the town of Slana where the Nabesna Road meets the Tok Cutoff (Glenn Highway, AK 1). Park information is available at the Slana Ranger Station at Mile 0.2 of Nabesna Road. The road provides access to the headwaters areas of both the Tanana and Nabesna Rivers and to possible pathless wilderness routes into the mountains. Hunters and fishers are the most frequent users of the road.
For much of its length, Nabesna Road follows the boundary between national park and national preserve. On the preserve side, sport hunting and trapping are allowed, while in the park, only subsistence hunting by local residents is permitted. At Mile 29.4 and Mile 31.2 the road crosses streams that can challenge nonfour-wheel-drive vehicles during times of heavy runoff. Elsewhere the road is easy for most vehicles, though long RVs and fifth wheels are not recommended. Several private properties are located along the road, including a fishing lodge near its end.
The outer half of Icy Bay separates two coastal parcels of native corporation land, while its inner reaches cut a fantastic four-fingered hand into the heart of the St. Elias Mountains. Less than 20 miles separate the tidewater at the foot of Tyndall Glacier from the summit of Mount St. Elias, the second tallest peak in the United States after Denali. Along with Tyndall, the Yahtse and Guyot Glaciers account for almost all of the coastline of aptly named Icy Bay. This is an adventure kayakers paradise.
Access is via a landing strip at the west entrance to the bay. Beyond the eastern shore are the wide moraines of the terminus of the Malaspina Glacier, the largest in the nation. There are no services or lodging options; consult your outfitter or pilot about timing, supply needs, and pick-up options (see the Appendix).