Once a bustling railroad station on the line to the Kennecott Copper Mines, Chitina has come full circle in its path from mining boomtown to ghost town and back again. Today, it is the prime jumping-off point to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the country, and hub for salmon fishing on the Copper River.
ABOUT CHITINA (AHTNA ATHABASCAN: TSEDI NA’ )
Located 66 miles southeast of Glennallen at Mile 34 of the Edgerton Highway, this community of about 60 residents is in a scenic location near the confluence of the mighty Copper River and the Chitina River, overshadowed by 16,390-foot-high Mount Blackburn.
The area was home to Athabascan peoples and was attracting the attention of miners and homesteaders when officials designated it as one of the principal railroad stations of the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad in 1910. Chitina quickly became an important transportation hub to Interior Alaska and a thriving community of more than 3,000, featuring stores, five hotels, rooming houses, bars, a dance hall, even a movie theater.
All but abandoned after the mine closed in 1938, Chitina’s rebirth began with the creation of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in 1980. It now serves as the principal gateway for visitors embarking on the rugged McCarthy Road, which stretches 60 miles east into the heart of the park following the old railroad bed.
THINGS TO DO
Chitina’s main attraction is the nearby Copper River. During the summer, subsistence dip netting for salmon on the river brings a large number of Alaskans from around the state to stock their freezers with one of the most prized of all salmon – Copper River red salmon. As you leave town and head east towards McCarthy you will cross a bridge over the mighty Copper River. During fishing season you will likely see a row of local dipnetters and Alaska Native subsistence fishwheels upstream from the bridge.
Several fishing outfitters are located in and around Chitina, offering guided fishing trips and sightseeing tours. Many offer dipnetting charters that are for Alaska residents only, but some offer sportfishing trips open to visitors. In addition to the Copper River, other popular fishing spots are the Gulkana, Tonsina, and Klutina Rivers.
The town offers accommodations, groceries, gas, eateries, lodging, church services, and other amenities, all within walking distance. If you travel on to McCarthy, it’s a slow 60 miles from Chitina on a gravel road. Plan to take two to three hours for the drive to the McCarthy; shuttle and air taxi services are also available from Chitina.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park information is available at the Chitina Ranger Station, housed in the historic Ed S. Orr Cabin, built in 1910 for the manager of the local stage company. Hikers and backpackers can gather information regarding backcountry routes, file trip plans, and obtain bear resistant food containers. The historic cabin also contains photographs and displays from the days when Chitina was the major transportation hub in Alaska: "where the rails meet the trails." Equally historic is the town’s original tinsmith building, built in the early 1900s, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is now an art gallery known as the Spirit Mountain Artworks Building.
Just before Mile 24 of the Edgerton Highway is Liberty Falls Scenic State Recreation Area. At Liberty Falls campers can pitch their tent or park their trailer next to a scenic waterfall and fall asleep at night to sound of rushing water. The recreation area is the starting point for the Liberty Falls Trail, a scenic 2 mile long trail that offers panoramic views of the Copper River and Wrangell Mountains.
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