The small town of McCarthy and Kennicott copper mine is one of our favorite places to travel in the summertime. If you prefer to avoid large crowds of people, this is the perfect Alaska road trip destination for you.
Here is our Kennicott trip report full of advice on how to get to Kennicott mine and fun things to do while you are there.
How To Get to Kennicott Mine in Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Drive to Kennicott Mine
It took us most of the day to make the 341-mile journey from Anchorage to the footbridge in McCarthy.
The first five hours were pretty straightforward: Anchorage to Glennallen on the Glenn Highway with a stop in Glennallen to gas up.
Be sure to stop and get gas, as there are no gas stations near McCarthy.
Then, turn right and head south on the Richardson Highway for 32 miles to the Chitina cut-off. Then east on the Edgarton Highway. From there, continue east on McCarthy Road.
The McCarthy Road is a narrow, gravel road that stretches 59 miles long. The town of McCarthy is at the end of McCarthy Road, where you will see the Kennicott River footbridge.
All visitors must park their vehicles at the Kennicott River footbridge and walk across a footbridge with their bags, and take a shuttle van to Kennicott.
A private shuttle transports visitors between McCarthy and Kennecott during the summer for a fee.
Get ready to hike as there is no vehicle access to Kennecott Mill town, which is located 5 miles away from McCarthy. You can walk there on the Wagon Road Trail or the shuttle road.
Plan for approximately a 1.5-hour walk each way.
Now you know why this is a perfect getaway for those who avoid large crowds.
This time, we elected to drive the road from Chitina to McCarthy. Most of it is gravel, and I drove 35 miles per hour most of the way. The road is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it.
KUDOS to the Alaska DOT&PF for smoothing out lots of the bumps.
For more detailed driving to McCarthy and the Kennicott copper mine visit: Kennicott Lodge Driving Directions.
Fly to Kennicott Mine
You can fly from Chitina to McCarthy with Wrangell Mountain Air. The 60-mile flight is fantastic. The pilot takes the scenic route through a couple of mountain passes, coming out through the 4th of July pass right over the Kennicott Glacier. Spectacular.
Usually, we can leave Anchorage just after 8:00 am to catch the 2:45 pm flight to McCarthy.
Where To Stay in Kennicott Mine
Kennicott Glacier Lodge
We stayed at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge—which has its portion of the parking at the end of McCarthy road. An attendant at the lot called the lodge to send a shuttle. So we took our bags across the footbridge, which was exciting. The Kennicott River was positively ROARING beneath our feet.
The lodge shuttle took us directly to the lodge. We didn’t stop in McCarthy—but you should catch a ride back down the hill and check out the museum. Grab a beer and a snack at The Potato. Have a nice dinner at the McCarthy Lodge.
This small community offers several options for excellent accommodations. However, making your reservations ahead of time is essential, as they can fill up during the peak summer travel season.
Kennicott Glacier Lodge sits up above “Main Street” in Kennicott. You can look over some of the historic red-and-white buildings from the mining days 100 years ago.
The Kennicott Glacier Lodge is built on the site of an apartment building for mine administrators and their families. It’s an excellent venue for launching some great adventures in the park.
There are two buildings in the lodge. The original building has rooms with shared bathrooms and hosts the dining room.
The “south wing” has new rooms, all with private baths.
Since we’ve been coming to the lodge for more than 20 years, our family prefers the original lodge. But some travelers are more comfortable with a private bath.
We arrived in time for dinner. There’s one seating at 7 pm and one item on the menu. That night it was Copper River Sockeye salmon with a Teriyaki sauce. DELICIOUS.
The kitchen always offers a vegetarian option, by the way.
Take An Evening Walk around the Mine
The light was so beautiful after dinner that I took a stroll down Main Street for photo opportunities of the giant Mill Building where the copper ore was processed.
Be sure to tour the Mill Building and some other structures to get a picture of what life was like when the Kennicott mine was in full production. St. Elias Alpine Guides offers a great tour.
The next morning, our dream was fulfilled. We had some adventures planned, but we’d all been dreaming of the delicious cinnamon rolls made by the lodge’s pastry chef. Katherine Kirkwood whips up something sweet for breakfast and dinner every day!
Take a Glacier Hike on the Root Glacier near Kennicott
Our friends at McCarthy River Tours offer a half-day glacier hike, which we signed up for. We met our guide, Violet, in front of the lodge. The first couple of miles is a hike through the woods to get to an access point on the Root Glacier. When we got down to the ice, Violet pulled out the crampons, and we strapped them on. THEY MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE on the ice!!
It’s just spectacular out on the glacier and one of our favorite things to do on a trip to the Root Glacier. Two thumbs up!
Rafting Trip on the Kennicott, Chitina, and Copper Rivers
That said, Violet, convinced us to go rafting next time we’re in McCarthy. McCarthy River Tours offers a pack raft trip that includes paddling around the toe of the Kennicott Glacier and a stretch of the Kennicott River. McCarthy River Tours also makes multi-day journeys throughout the park on the Chitina and Copper Rivers.
After spending time on the ice, we returned to the access point and munched on the lunch provided by the lodge. Delicious! Then we made the hike back to the lodge, where we crossed several bridges and incredible waterfalls. The views are spectacular.
Hike the Bonanza Mine Trail and Jumbo Mine Trail
You can head uphill from the lodge to several old mining camps at the Bonanza or Jumbo mines. Your legs might hurt—but you’ll be afforded million-dollar views of the mine area, the glaciers, and the mountains beyond!
Take a Flightseeing tour over the Kennicott Valley.
If you want to get even higher, go for a flightseeing tour with Wrangell Mountain Air. It’s easy to be awed by the Kennicott Valley.
But other areas nearby will blow your mind! We flew with these folks back to Iceberg Lake for an overnight ice-climbing adventure. GREAT fun!
The area around Kennicott is spectacular, for sure. But also—there’s nobody around, compared to other national parks on the road system in Alaska. The gravel road may stop some folks—but for those who want an adventure, Kennicott is the place!
Located in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Kennicott, and McCarthy offer visitors a taste of Alaska’s historic mining era and outstanding adventure opportunities.
I hope our trip inspires you to visit McCarthy and the Kennecott copper mine. After making several trips, I believe the Kennecott copper mine is one of the best-hidden gems of Alaska.
Don’t forget, reservations fill up fast at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, so plan your trip ahead, and don’t forget to tell them Scott sent you!
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Learn more about McCarthy and Kennicott >>
- Kennicott: “I’ve always wanted to go there,” said everyone.
- Visit Wrangell-St. Elias Nat’l Park + save 20 percent at Kennicott Glacier Lodge
- Explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
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