McCarthy, Alaska: How to Get Here
There are several ways to get to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and McCarthy/Kennicott:
The most straight forward approach, and the method I recommend, is to rent a car in Anchorage and drive to McCarthy. This is the most direct and hassle free way to get here. It's also a very scenic drive and a fun way to start your Alaskan vacation. If you are driving in a car you have the freedom to go at your own pace and stop wherever and whenever you like.
Drive North out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway (Alaska 1). Go past the turn off for the Parks highway and past Palmer.
Continue on the Glenn Highway to Glennallen
At Glennallen, the Glenn Highway meets the Richardson Highway, take the Richardson south.
Continue south to the Edgerton Cutoff. Turn left and drive to Chitina.
Just keep going on through Chitina and take the McCarthy Road which extends 61 miles from Chitina to the Kennicott River, just west of McCarthy.
The road follows the old Copper River and Northwest Railroad route. High clearance, two wheel drive vehicles usually can make the trip in summer but the condition of the road may vary widely throughout the summer.
Travel time from Chitina to McCarthy can range from two to three hours. The road is generally not maintained in winter.
Many car rental agencies in Alaska do not allow their vehicles on the McCarthy road. A few that do:
A1 Car Rental (907.929.1222)
If you prefer, you can drive to Chitina then take one of three daily flights to McCarthy on Wrangell Mountain Air.
The McCarthy Road
Private property adjoins much of the McCarthy road and both the McCarthy/Kennecott area. Please respect the privacy ofthese areas. Information on federal land access or private property locations is available at park headquarters,Chitina Ranger Station and the National Park Service kiosk at Mile 60 of the McCarthy Road.
All McCarthy/Kennecott visitors are encouraged to visit the Chitina Ranger Station open daily in season. Current road conditions,land status details and general area information are available. Services available at Chitina include a post office,gas station,food store, café and telephone.
Beyond Chitina, the 61-mile gravel road follows the abandoned Copper River and Northwest Railroad bed to the Kennicott River. Please drive slowly as traffic and weather may create ruts and washboard effect. In places, old railroad ties may surface along with anchoring spikes creating unexpected hazards. The road is narrow in places and slower moving traffic is encouraged to allow passing at turnouts. Under normal summer conditions most two- wheel drive vehicles can make the trip. Allow a minimum of three hours for each leg of the trip.
The McCarthy Road ends at the Kennicott River. Visitors may park in the designated areas according to posted signs near the footbridge. The land is privately owned except for the 100-foot state road right-of- way. There is limited free parking,and also parking or camping for a fee on private property. Pit toilets are provided in the upper parking lot but water is not available . There are no garbage dumps here. Visitors are encouraged to remove their own trash.
Remember, services are limited once you begin your journey along the McCarthy Road In wet weather the road often becomes muddy and slippery. Portions of the road may be subject to washouts after heavy rains. Soft shoulders have led to numerous accidents and vehicle damage. Carry at least one spare tire and an adequate car jack. Most people spend a minimum of two days exploring the McCarthy/Kennecott area. Camping is allowed near the end of the road. Lodging is available at McCarthy and Kennecott. Reservations are recommended.
For a detailed descripition of highlights along the McCarthy Road, download the park service McCarthy Road Guide.
Click to enlarge map
Approximate Mileages and Driving Times
Anchorage to McCarthy 314 miles 7-8 hours
Anchorage to Glennallen 189 miles 3-4 hours
Glennallen to Chitina 65 miles 1 1/2 hours
Chitina to McCarthy 60 miles 2-3 hours
Valdez to McCarthy 176 miles 5 hours
Fairbanks to McCarthy 374 miles 9 1/2 hours
Denali N.P. to McCarthy 359 miles 11 hours
By Bus: If You're on a Budget.
If you have more time than money another option is to drive or take a bus to Glennallen with Alaska Direct then take a Backcountry Connections van to McCarthy. This approach requires two days as you must make a connection in Glennallen.
Arrangements can also be made to fly from small airports close to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park such as Valdez, Glennallen or Chitina. Contact Wrangell Mountain Air regarding a flight into McCarthy from Chitina. Ellis Air could fly you into McCarthy from Glennallen.
Flying in can be an enjoyable way to get a different perspective on Alaska and Wrangell-St. Elias Park. You really have to see this land from the air to grasp its size and grandeur.