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Wrangell-St Elias National Park  

Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest unit of the U.S. National Park System and, with its trademarks of high peaks and massive glaciers, one of the most spectacular. Designated as a national park in 1980, Wrangell-St Elias sprawls across 13.2 million acres in the southcentral region of Alaska. It abuts against Canada's Kluane National Park and together their 20 million acres represent one of the largest wilderness areas left in the world, the reason the two parks were recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage site in 1979.

At Wrangell-St. Elias four great ranges, Chugach, Wrangell, St Elias and the eastern end of the Alaskan Range, converge in an area the size of six Yellowstone National Parks to form a crossroads of the mountains. The St Elias Range merges with the Wrangells in the heart of the park and then arcs eastward past the Canadian border where it forms the highest coastal range in the world. Within the park's borders are nine of the 16 highest peaks in the country, including the second highest, Mt St Elias (18,008 feet), Mt Bona (16,421 feet), Mt Blackburn (16,390 feet) and Mt Sanford (16,237 feet). From its glaciated roof of mountains and peaks, the park's terrain descends to the north as treeless tundra and then boreal-forested uplands. To the south the glaciers extend from the mountains almost to the tidewaters of the Gulf of Alaska.

Wildlife includes Dall sheep and mountain goats in the alpine region, caribou around the Wrangell Mountains to the north and moose in the bogs and brushy areas of the lowlands. Bison were released in Copper River Valley in 1950 and along the Chitina River in 1962 and remnants of those herds remain today. Black and brown bears roam throughout the park. Within 60 miles of Chitina, the McCarthy Road ends at a foot bridge across the Kennicott River. On the other side is one of the park's most noteworthy features; the now-deserted Kennecott Mine town site, a National Historic Landmark. After copper was discovered in the area in 1900, a group of wealthy investors formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation (named when a clerical worker misspelled Kennicott), built the Copper River and Northwest Railroad including its famous Million Dollar Bridge, established the company town of Kennicott and from 1911-38 made more than $100 million mining some of the richest copper veins the country has ever known. Since no gambling or drinking were allowed at the company town, McCarthy quickly sprang up nearby as a place where miners would find 'wine, women and song,' in its saloons, restaurants, hotels, and pool halls. A number of the buildings from that era still stand in both Kennicott and McCarthy, making the area the best remaining example of early 20th century copper mining.

Beyond exploring the old mining towns, other activities include backpacking and hiking, mountain biking, birding, camping, sport fishing and hunting, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and kayaking, mountaineering and ice climbing, wildlife viewing and flightseeing. In the winter visitors arrive to cross-country ski, snowmobile and snowshoe.

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