6 Things to Do in Kennicott/McCarthy
If wild adventure is what you’re after, take a trip to Alaska’s Kennicott/McCarthy. You’ll love its peak-strewn views as you explore the expansive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, historical mining remnants, and meandering trails.
1. Explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the world’s largest internationally protected wilderness. As America’s largest national park, it rises from sea level all the way up to 18,008 feet at the highest peak. Within the 13.2 million acres of the park, the Wrangell, Saint Elias, Chugach, and Alaska Ranges merge to create an alpine paradise that is home to nine of the country’s 16 highest peaks and some of its largest glaciers. The towns of Kennicott and McCarthy are located in the heart of the park and are great basecamps for excursions. Guided hiking tours range from easy day trips to extreme multi-day adventures. For a different perspective, hop in the car and drive the McCarthy Road. Keep an eye out for historical sites and places to pull off the road for views of the Copper and Chitina rivers.
2. Take a Flightseeing Tour
Visitors who want to see more of the area should take to the sky. Flightseeing tours leave from McCarthy’s airstrip to take travelers around the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve for mountain and glacier spotting. Scenic flights can be as short as 30 minutes or much longer. Getting above the peaks allows visitors to take in the massiveness and grandeur of the park’s mountains, glaciers, and waterways. As visitors soar over the park, their pilot will detail the history of the area and different natural features that can be seen from the flight. For the experienced and courageous, flightseeing tours can even double as a backcountry drop-off for hiking and camping trips.
3. Visit Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark
Five miles up the road from McCarthy sits Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark in the old town of Kennicott (the misspelling of Kennicott goes all the way back to an error on the mine’s original paperwork). Shuttle vans transport visitors from McCarthy to the ghost town to discover the history of a once-booming copper mine. One of the most profitable mines of its day, Kennecott attracted workers from all over the world. Thanks to excellent restoration work by the National Park Service in recent years, it is not hard to imagine those days. The site tells the story of the mine’s operation from 1911 to 1938, as well as how miners and their families lived and socialized. Visitors can take a step back in time as they tour the huge mill building, bunkhouses, train depot, workers’ cottages, and the power plant.
4. Get Out on Hiking Trails
Gentle walking trails and challenging hikes in the area can offer hours of outdoor adventure. Guided hiking tours regularly take off from the area and there are plenty of trails that visitors can navigate on their own. The popular but challenging 5 mile (one way) Jumbo Mine Trail takes travelers straight up the side of a mountain to where ore was once loaded into cars and lowered down into the mill buildings below the tram. Those up to the challenge will be treated with views of remains from the mining days. To enjoy scenic views without such an intense hike, check out the region’s milder trails or even set out to walk the 5 mile dirt road from McCarthy to Kennicott or hike the Wagon Road Trail that parallels the road. Travelers who prefer two wheels can rent mountain bikes in McCarthy for trail rides.
5. Embark on a Rafting and Float Trip
Travelers who love the thrill of being on the water can take a rafting trip on the Kennicott, Nizina, or Chitina rivers. These popular trips give visitors the opportunity to take in pleasing views with potential for wildlife viewing. Outfitters in McCarthy offer day trips which could include floating through the vertical walls of Nizina Canyon, and multi-day adventures rafting the rivers from McCarthy all the way to Chitina. Some river floats in the area include whitewater adventures. Experienced guides take visitors down the river and set up camp in some of the most beautiful areas. Don’t worry about planning a thing — the guides will let you know exactly what to bring and they will handle the rest. In addition to river floats, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking adventures provide other ways to get out on the lakes and calmer waters of the region.
6. Hook Up with a Glacier Tour
For a picturesque day hike or bike ride with glacier-trekking potential, take a trip to the Root Glacier Trail in Kennicott. The path boasts views of Mount Blackburn, Regal Mountain, and Donoho Peak. To get to the glacier and back, the trail is about 4 miles round trip, but travelers can choose to continue on the trail for another 4 miles or so. At this point, visitors can turn off the trail to access the glacier - its easy access makes it a popular destination for glacier trekking. Some travelers choose to set out on their own but outfitters in the area also offer guided tours complete with all the equipment to make it a successful trip. Travelers who really love the view can stay overnight at the campsite located at the turn off for glacier access. Otherwise, after a day of trekking, make the short journey back to town to continue exploring.
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