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McCarthy, Kennecott, & the Kennicott Valley

The Heart of America's Largest National Park!

Kuskalana bridge on the McCarthy RoadThe McCarthy Road

Traveling 60 miles from Chitina to McCarthy, the McCarthy Road provides vehicle access to the Kennecott/McCarthy area and the heart of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. For many visitors, traveling "the road" can be just as much a part of the adventure as the activities they have planned when they reach their destination. If you have the time, driving offers beautiful views of the Wrangell and Chugach mountains, the opportunity to see wildlife such as moose and bear, and an enjoyable transition into the pace of life of the bush communities of Kennecott and McCarthy.

 

McCarthy Road Map

 

A Brief History

Copper River and Northwestern Railway under construction In the early 1900’s prospectors discovered a rich deposit of copper ore near what is now the town of Kennecott.  Mines, a concentration mill, and a company town were quickly established to support the extraction of the valuable metal.  Due to its remote location, figuring out an efficient way to transport the copper ore to the smelter became a key piece of the puzzle.  The management of the mine decided that a railroad would provide the much needed transportation and the 196 mile Copper River and Northwestern Railroad was constructed by Big Mike Heney between 1907 and 1911.  Heney had earned a reputation of overcoming incredible difficulties on the construction of the Yukon and White Pass Railroad in Skagway.  A colorful character, he once boasted “Give me enough snoose and dynamite and I’ll build you a road to hell!”  Beginning at the coast in Cordova, the railroad was a monumental feat of engineering as it crossed raging rivers, active glaciers, bogs, and impenetrable forests on its way to Kennecott.  However, once completed, the railroad provided the much needed transportation and was vital for the success of the mines in Kennecott. The railroad operated for 27 years until the mines closed in 1938.  Eventually, the rails and ties were removed from the road bed and the road was first graded for vehicles in the 1960’s.  Since then, the road has been continually upgraded and provides access to this remote area for visitors and locals alike. For more information on the rich history of the area visit our history page.

 

Driving Time

Under normal conditions, the McCarthy Road takes about 2 1/2 hours to drive one way.  However, periods of bad weather can make the road a bit more difficult and drivers are advised to plan accordingly and be prepared with food, water, a full-sized spare tire and jack, and plenty of fuel. Click here for a chart of mileage and driving times from popular destinations.

 

Road conditions

McCarthy Road

Although, many guide books say otherwise, many people find the McCarthy Road a relatively easy drive. Conditions have steadily improved over the years and although it is a gravel road, periodic maintainance by the Alaska Department of Transportation keeps the road driveable.  That being said, the road passes through some very remote areas and there are no services after Chitina so be prepared.  During the summer months the road is passable for most vehicles, however during the winter and periods of rainy weather, the road can become a bit more challenging. 

Current conditions can be obtained by contacting the DOT maintenance station in Chitina at 907-823-2218.

 

 

 

Driving tips

Changing a flat tire on the McCarthy RoadFlat tires are a common occurrence on the McCarthy Road.  At least one full-sized spare tire and a good jack are mandatory equipment.  Mile markers are located along the entire length of the road and it is wise to keep track of where you are.  Drivers are cautioned to obey the speed limit and use caution on curves and when passing.  Excessive speed not only endangers yourself and other drivers, but greatly increases the potential for a flat tire or damage to your vehicle.

 

 

Once you arrive

There is no vehicle access to McCarthy/Kennecott, however, Wrangell Mountain Air operates a shuttle that departs from the footbridge on the half hour.  Check in with St. Elias Alpine Guides for parking options and visit our Lodging and Activities pages to help with planning your trip.

 

Highlights along the way

Mile 0.0

Chitina Wayside. This wayside has the first of four state-maintained outhouse facilities on the road to McCarthy. The next available outhouse is at Mile 17.2 at the Kuskulana Bridge

Mile 0.1

This 16-foot wide road-cut was originally the only tunnel on the railroad between Chitina and Kennecott, but loose material kept collapsing on the railroad. After you pass through this road-cut, you are treated to panoramic views of the Copper and Chitina River confluence.

Mile 1.1

Notice the fish wheels up river, operated by residents with subsistence fishing permits. The salmon runs include Copper River red, king and silver salmon. The original railroad trestle was washed out annually during break up and spring floods. The current Copper River Bridge was built in 1971 at a cost of $3.5 million.

Mile 1.5

The Kotsina Bluffs are volcanic deposits, shaped by the winds.

Mile 5.5

A nice Chitina River overlook.

Mile 10.1

Public fishing access for rainbow trout and silver salmon via 0.3 mile trail to Strelna Lake.

Mile 10.8

Public access for good rainbow trout fishing at Silver Lake and Van Lake.

Mile 11.9

Sculpin Lake, with pedestrian access only, also has good rainbow trout fishing.

Mile 14.8

The road to Nugget Creek is located across from the Strelna airstrip, which parallels the McCarthy Road.

Mile 17.2

The Kuskulana Bridge, built in 1910, is 525 feet long and 238 feet above the Kuskulana River. Before 1988, vehicles had to pass over wide open gaps on the wooden decking of the bridge with only 18-inch safety rails on either side. Now, this 3-span steel bridge has solid wooden decking and sturdy safety rails, along with gorgeous views of a deep river canyon. There is a state maintained outhouse on the east side of the bridge.

Mile 25

Chokosna Lake area has views of Mt. Blackburn. It is a great place to observe permafrost vegetation (black spruce forest) and wildlife including swans, eagles, and salmon (in late summer).

Mile 29

The Gilahina trestle, which is 880 feet long and 90 feet high, was built in 1911 with a half million board feet of timber. There is a short hiking trail and a state maintained outhouse located on the downstream side of the road. On the north side, there are chances to view the trestle structure (please respect private property).

Mile 34.9

The Crystalline Hills trail parking area.

Mile 35

Moose Lake has views of the Crystalline Hills along with wildlife viewing.

Mile 41

Crystal Lake has views of Crystalline Hills and Chugach Mountains.

Mile 44

Lakina River.

Mile 46

Wildlife refuge at Long Lake. Please respect private property along Long Lake.

Mile 51

Views of Castle Peak and Mt. Blackburn.

Mile 55

Department of Natural Resources wayside with information about local fire history and spruce bark beetle infestations. There is a state maintained outhouse at this wayside.

Mile 58

St. Elias Alpine Guides OfficeCome on in for information about the area and to book exciting adventures during your stay in Kennecott/McCarthy.

Mile 59.5

The end of the McCarthy Road. Parking and a pedestrian footbridge to McCarthy and Kennecott.

 

Back to the Getting Here page

Back to the History page

 

 

Copyright 2009, McCarthy-Kennecott Visitor Information Center, All Rights Reserved.