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.
Located 66 miles southeast of Glennallen at Mile 34 of the Edgerton Highway, this community of 125 residents is in a scenic location near the confluence of the mighty Copper River and the Chitina River and overshadowed by 16,390-foot-high Mount Blackburn.
The area was already home to Athabascan Indians 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 the most prized of all salmon varieties – Copper River red salmon.
The town offers accommodations, groceries, gas, eateries, fishing charters, lodging, church services and other amenities, all within walking distance. If you travel on to McCarthy, it is a long 60 miles from Chitina on a gravel road. Plan to take at least three hours for the drive to the park; shuttle and air taxi services are also available. Information is available at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park’s Chitina Ranger Station, housed in a log cabin containing historic photographs and displays. Equally historic is the town’s original tinsmith building that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now an art gallery.