McGrath is a small rural community that sits equidistance from Anchorage and Fairbanks where Interior Alaska meets Southwest Alaska. Not connected to the Alaska road system, the community enjoys a quiet, wilderness lifestyle with occasional bursts of activity brought by major sporting events in the winter.
Originally a seasonal Athabascan village, McGrath became a permanent settlement in 1904. McGrath enjoyed its heyday from 1911 to 1920 after gold was discovered at Ganes Creek and in the Ophir gold districts. Since the town is the northernmost point on the Kuskokwim River accessible by large riverboats, McGrath quickly became the regional supply center. The Iditarod Trail, which passes through McGrath, also boosted its growth as hundreds of miners walked and mushed over the trail on their way to the gold fields until 1925.
Things to do
McGrath comes alive each March when the community serves as one of 26 checkpoints during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In Alaska’s most popular sporting event, more than 50 mushers race 16-dog teams along a 1,100-mile route from Wasilla to Nome, stopping over in McGrath and other checkpoints along the route. The trail is also the scene of the famous Iron Dog snowmobile race and the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a human-powered race that ends in McGrath and has been called “the world's toughest winter endurance race.”
In summer, visitors to McGrath use it as an access point to the southern unit of the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. The 4.6-million-acre refuge was established to protect the vast Interior wetlands that are crucial for waterfowl nesting, resting, staging and molting. Most visitors explore the area by floating down the Innoko, Iditarod or Dishna rivers. Refuge headquarters are located in McGrath and are a good source of information about location conditions.
Iditarod International Sled Dog Race
Staged in March, the Iditarod International Sled Dog Race is a 1,100-mile run from Willow to Nome with McGrath serving as one of the important stopovers for mushers and staging points. The town comes alive during Iditarod week when the contestings passing through almost daily.
Iditarod National Historic Trail
This national historic trail extended from just north of Seward, passed through Iditarod and McGrath and then ended in Nome. The trail was 1,150 miles long and reached its peak in usage in the early 1900s when freight shippers, mail haulers, miners and passengers relied on dogsleds to reach the gold rushes of Interior Alaska. The demand for accommodations quickly resulted in a string of roadhouses and dog barns along the trail at a convenient day's journey apart, roughly 20 miles.
Iron Dog Snowmachine Race
The Iditarod National Historic Trail is also used for the Iron Dog Snowmachine Race with McGrath serving as an important stopover for food and fuel. Staged in mid February, the Iron Dog starts in Big Lake, arrives at the halfway point of Nome and finishes in Fairbanks. At 2,000 miles, the Iron Dog is the world's longest snowmobile Race.
The McGrath Museum is dedicated to the rich history of the town and explores with permanent displays on mining and the Iditarod National Historic Trail as well as traveling exhibits.