Anchorage, Copper Valley, Kennicott/McCarthy, Valdez
Day 1 Anchorage
Rent a car in Anchorage and set out on an extraordinary road trip to the historic mining towns of Kennicott and McCarthy in Alaska’s Southcentral region, about seven to eight hours from Anchorage. From Anchorage, head east on the Glenn Highway until you reach Glennallen, then continue south on the Richardson Highway. From Mile 82.6 on the Richardson Highway, join the Edgerton Highway (which later becomes the McCarthy Road) for the 92-mile trip to the banks of the Kennicott River, where a footbridge leads the rest of the way into McCarthy. On the way, stop at the village of Chitina for a bite to eat and to fill up on gas. While the drive offers spectacular scenery, most car rental companies don’t allow travelers to drive the last 60 miles, which are unpaved. Many visitors choose to drive as far as Chitina and arrange an air taxi flight from there to McCarthy.
Day 2 Kennicott/McCarthy
The once-booming towns of Kennicott and McCarthy are located deep in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve — the largest national park in the United States at 13.2 million acres. Copper was originally discovered in the area in 1900 and a group of investors formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation, named from a clerical mistake in spelling Kennicott. McCarthy sprang up nearby and served as the go-to destination for pool halls, saloons, hotels and stores — it even had a red light district. Modern lodging, restaurants and basic services are available in McCarthy today. Take a five-minute shuttle ride up the mountains to the abandoned mining town of Kennicott, and explore the former mine and mill buildings. The National Park Service has done extensive preservation work in the last few years and the town is fascinating to explore, on your own or with a guided tour through the old mill building. The town itself is a spectacular snapshot of history and is situated above Kennicott Glacier.
Day 3 Kennicott/McCarthy
McCarthy serves as a great base camp for adventures into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several tour companies offer activities like whitewater rafting, glacier trekking and flightseeing trips to remote locations in the heart of the park. Fly high above the four mountain ranges that meet here, which include nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. The park itself is the size of six Yellowstones! Several hiking trails for self-guided exploration are also easily accessed from the area.
Day 4 Valdez
Begin your return trip to Anchorage, or consider driving south to the town of Valdez, located at the end of the Richardson Highway. Valdez is a fishing community on the shores of Prince William Sound, and is surrounded by towering mountains and deep-water fjords. Take a boat cruise to Columbia Glacier, the second-largest tidewater glacier in North America, or stay closer to town and go sea kayaking. Hike to the mining ruins along Mineral Creek Trail just a few minutes from downtown or charter a fishing boat from the bustling small boat harbor. Valdez is also a popular destination for whitewater rafting in the summer, heli-skiing and ice climbing in the winter, and is the terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.