A Local's Guide to McCarthy & Wrangell St-Elias National Park & Preserve
Neil Darish has been directing operations at McCarthy Lodge for over 20 years creating high quality restaurants, retail stores, and hotel accommodations in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, America’s largest national park. Neil first visited McCarthy and Kennicott in the 1980s and today, Neil and his team operate notable properties including the Ma Johnson’s Historical Hotel, Salmon & Bear Restaurant, McCarthy Center Stores, The Golden Saloon, Mountain Arts, McCarthy Electric LLC, Copper Town Shuttle, and a more. Neil starred in Discovery Channel’s “Edge of Alaska” from 2014–2017 as the "modernizer" in the bush town resisting change.
Modern as the world is, in some parts of Alaska, you can still fly (or hike) to a place and be the first to see a vista no one has ever seen before. First ascents to a mountain top are still possible in this park with far too many mountains and glaciers to name but a small fraction of them. Wrangell St-Elias National Park & Preserve in McCarthy has a few dozen neighbors living in a park that’s bigger than 70 nations in the world. The must-see list in this park is substantial; here’s a quick checklist of what to do in this park:
A flightseeing trip
You simply must see the landscape from the air to get a sense of scale. Three mountain ranges converge on the town of McCarthy, flying is a dramatic introduction to the scale of the largest protected wilderness (UNESCO World Heritage Site) on earth. You can’t see the whole park in a few flightseeing trips, so pick a good one!
The glacier hike on Root Glacier
If you have kids, opt for the glacier climb, while parents do the glacier hike and watch. It is a safe adventure that makes young kids feel like a superhero. It looks hard. It looks dangerous. It’s neither and it’s crazy fun! Bonus for the rock collectors: On the way to the glacier, have the kids look for green and blue specks and streaks in the rocks – that's the malachite and azurite after copper that the area is famous for. You can even take a few samples for your own edification. We are a conservation area, so please leave the artifacts in their place.
Become a part of our remote Alaska community
Even if just for a few nights! An example of frontier life is not to be missed. Kids learn how to think critically when they grow up in such places. Simply watching the town from a deck chair is pure entertainment.
The Ma Johnson’s Historical Hotel
I’ve spent 12 years of my professional career living out of hotels around the world. The Ma Johnson’s is a property that could only happen in McCarthy. The hotel is a living museum and a step back into McCarthy circa 1929. Artfully restored using repurposed artifacts from the former Ma Johnson’s Boarding House and furnishings from homes in McCarthy and Kennicott’s past.
Food is an expression of Alaska
Something remarkable happens in our bush community when it comes to sharing a sense of place through food. Wild-caught Copper River red salmon, foraged morels, and locally-sourced products make the Salmon & Bear Restaurant at the McCarthy Lodge a world-famous destination restaurant – and one of the most interesting experiences when visiting this park – if you’re a food lover, that is. The McCarthy Lodge started the food scene explosion in the valley in 2001 and the destination lives up to the hype. We’ve won numerous awards and recognition for our new Alaska cuisine and wine program; the latest being the Wine Spectator Award Of Excellence in 2020. The Golden Saloon features live music, and they party like the end of the road. After all, it is the only bar for 60 miles. The Meatza Wagon, owned by Joe Macchina (a past McCarthy Lodge chef) is in Kennicott. It’s the newest addition to the local choices, and the view is the best of any food truck in the world as it is sandwiched between the glacier and mill town of Kennicott.
Bring your dog to McCarthy
Dogs are not collared, let alone leashed, and for good reason – they are part of the family and they are working while playing. Dogs have a long history in McCarthy – it was the dog mushing capital of Alaska’s early days and they help keep unwelcome wildlife away from the center of town. They’re not feral, they’re joyful. It’s no coincidence that the dogs of McCarthy will welcome your dog to our town.
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