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.