There are a couple of routes to Kennicott from Anchorage–I’ve taken them both. Typically, we drive northeast from Anchorage up the Glenn Highway to Glennallen, then take a right-hand turn and head south on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez. About 14 miles down the road, you’ll see the cutoff on the Edgerton to Chitina. Depending on traffic, you can drive from Anchorage to Chitina (on the banks of the Copper River) in about five and a half hours.
The other way is to drive to Whittier and take the ferry over to Valdez. Then, drive north a little more than 100 miles to the Chitina cut-off. It’s fun to make a circle trip–that’s what we like to do with visiting friends and relatives.
In Chitina, you have two ways to proceed: fly on Wrangell Mountain Air back to McCarthy or drive the old railbed into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. I’ve done both–it’s more fun to take the flight. Plus , it’s a better idea if you’ve got a rental car. Avis, for example, does not allow you to drive your rental car on the McCarthy Road. That doesn’t stop people, of course, from heading out in their Ford Tempo. But be advised: it’s a really expensive tow bill if you break down.
The flightseeing tour is fabulous.
Even though it’s just a 70-mile trip, Wrangell Mountain Air takes you through a couple of mountain passes. you’ll see giant ice falls, incredible rock glaciers–and some of the old Kennicott mine buildings high up on the mountain above the main town of McCarthy.
Once you get back to McCarthy, the van from Kennicott Glacier Lodge will pick you up: either at the airport or at the footbridge that crosses the Kennicott River. The van snakes up what used to be an old railroad track that hauled the copper oar from the mine back down to McCarthy and on to Cordova.
The lodge itself sits on “Main Street” in Kennicott. Read up on the historical facts of this mining district–which in its day was the richest and largest copper mine in the world. Be sure and reserve a tour of the Mill Building at the front desk with St. Elias Alpine Guides. You’ll get an inside look at the 14-story mill building and learn how oar was transported from the mines on a series of trams, then processed for shipment. Fascinating.
The mine is silent these days–and that gives you a chance to concentrate on the breathtaking surroundings of Kennicott. The glaciers. The hikes. The mountains.
Sign up for a glacier hike with St. Elias Alpine Guides. They have all the crampons you’ll need to get firm footing on the Root Glacier. You can walk right up to the glacier, strap on the ice spikes on the bottom of your boots (Yep. they’ve got them, too!) and your guide will give you good instructions on how to get the best traction while walking on the ice. In fact, you also can try ice climbing! It’s fun and exciting!
Sitting around the family-style dinner table at Kennicott Glacier Lodge, it’s easy to see why folks return year after year to this special place in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Make this year the year you discover Kennicott!
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