Wrangell- St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Located: Alaska - Established: December 2, 1980
The Park. Almost six times the size of Yellowstone, Wrangell is by far the country’s most spacious park. A visit to Wrangell offers you a wilderness experience on a scale you cannot even begin to imagine. The park is bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Switzerland combined! The designated wilderness section of the park is the largest in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The park’s name comes from the two massive mountain ranges that form its backbone – the northwest to southeast oriented Wrangell and St. Elias Mountain Ranges. Mt. St. Elias at 18,008’ is America’s second highest peak trailing only Denali. Nine of America’s 16 highest peaks are located within this expansive park.
Mt. Wrangell (14,163’) is one of the largest active volcanoes in all of North America and the Malaspina Glacier located at the southern portion of the park is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island! Needless to say, this park is HUGE!
Getting there. Situated 246 miles east of Anchorage, AK, Wrangell is one of the three Alaskan National Parks accessible by automobile. (The other two are Denali and Kenai Fjords) However, the two roads that access the interior of the park (McCarthy Road and Nabesna Road) are unpaved, rough and dotted with deep potholes. High clearance Four-Wheel Drive vehicles are recommended!
When to visit. Although the park never officially closes, the primary season for trekking about Wrangell is between early June and mid-September as snowfall is common beginning in September.
What to do. Wrangell has limited developed resources and caters primarily to wilderness-oriented activities. Here you will be mostly on your own to climb mountains, float raging rivers, ski upon glaciers or fly above it. Experience in outdoor survival techniques is highly recommended if one chooses to explore the depth and breadth of Wrangell.
One of the best ways to experience this park is to take a flightseeing tour from a licensed air taxi operator. You’ll soar over many of the 150 massive glaciers and jagged mountain peaks while taking in the wild expanses of the Alaskan wilderness!
Hiking. Most of Wrangell’s hikes begin on a maintained trail and many of the more accessible trails are located outside the park boundaries. Those within the park become routes across the massive expanses of this majestic wilderness! There are no official rules about staying on the trails so you are free to roam about the wilderness to your hearts content!
One of the most popular activities within this park is to visit the hippy-dippy town of McCarthy while visiting the famous Kennecott Mines – once the world’s richest copper mine. The road into McCarthy follows the previous route of the CRNW Railroad. It is a bumpy dirt road that rides like an old fashioned washboard.
The Kennecott Mines were acquired by the National Park Service in 1998 and these historic buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (see picture below)
Where to stay. The only campground within the park boundaries is at the Kendesnii Campground located at mile post 27.8 on the Nabesna Road. Here you will find 10 designated campsites. There are several campgrounds to be found outside the park.
There is a wide range of lodging facilities to be found around and inside the park. The few lodges found inside the park are accessible only by small aircraft.
Trivia. Approximately 25% (5000 square miles) of Wrangell-St. Elias is covered by glacial ice representing close to 60% of all glacial ice found in Alaska!
Banner: Kennecott Mines Ruins
Experience these Check List:
- Get there!
- Stop by the Copper Center Visitor Center
- Explore the funky town of McCarthy...
- ...and grab a bite to eat at the Potato!
- Visit the Kennecott Mines & Visitor Center