LIVE from Kennicott, in Wrangell St Elias National Park

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

The McCarthy/Kennicott area is one of our favorites. Here is our trip report.

Looking back on the Matanuska Valley on the way to Kennicott.

It took us most of the day to make the 341-mile journey from Anchorage to the footbridge in McCarthy. The first five hours was pretty straightforward: Anchorage-Glennallen to get gas. Then, turn right and head south on the RIchardson Highway for 32 miles to the Chitina cut-off. AKA Edgarton Hihgway. From there, it’s 34 miles to Chitina, on the banks of the Copper River.

The big cut for the McCarthy Road was originally made for the Copper Valley Railroad.

You can fly from Chitina to McCarthy on Wrangell Mountain Air. The 60-mile flight is cool. The pilot takes a scenic route through a couple of mountain passes, coming out through 4th of July pass right over the Kennicott Glacier. Spectacular. 

Flying over the Kennicott Glacier with Wrangell Mountain Air.

 Usually, we can leave Anchorage just after 8:00 a.m. to catch the 2:45 p.m. flight to McCarthy. 

This time, we elected to drive the road from Chitina to McCarthy. Most of it is gravel…and I drove 35 miles per hour for 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.

There’s a parking lot at the end of the road. We stayed at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge—which has its own portion of the parking lot. There’s an attendant at the lot, who called the lodge to send a shuttle. So we took our bags across the footbridge….which always is exciting. The Kennicott River was positively ROARING beneath our feet.

The lodge shuttle took us directly to Kennicott. 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. 

The view from the front lawn at Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

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 lodge is built on the site of an apartment building for mine administrators and their families. It’s a great venue for launching some great adventures in the park.

There are two buildings in the lodge. The original building has rooms and hosts the dining room. There are shared baths in this building. 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, btw.

The light was so beautiful after dinner that I took a  stroll down Main Street for some photos of the giant Mill Building….where the copper ore was processed.

Be sure and go for a tour of the Mill Building and some of the 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. Oh—we had some adventues planned, but we’d all been dreaming of the delicious cinnamon rolls that the lodge’s pastry chef makes. Katherine Kirkwood whips up something sweet for breakfast and dinner every day! 

Hiking with Violet.

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 get down to the ice, Violet pulled out the crampons and we strapped them on.  THEY MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE on the ice!! 

McMurrens on ice. Photo by Violet.

It’s just spectacular out on the glacier. This is one of our favorite things to do. Two thumbs up.

Root Glacier.

That said, Violet convinced us to go rafting next time we’re in McCarthy. McCarthy River Tours offers a packraft trip that includes paddling around the toe of the Kennicott Glacier, as well as a stretch of the Kennicott River. The company also does multi-day journeys throughout the park…on the Chitina and Copper Rivers.

Ice is nice.

After spending awhile on the ice, we made our way back to the access point and munched on the lunch provided by the lodge. Delicious! Then we made the hike back to the lodge….we pass over a couple of bridges and some great waterfalls. The views are spectacular.

A great day for a tall, cool one on the deck at Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

This is not the only hike to take. You can head uphill from the lodge to some of the 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!

Sweet creations by Chef Katherine Kirkwood at Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

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! 

Nice view from the deck.

Just FYI, there are a few open dates at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge for August. But most dates are filled. So now is the time to plan for 2022. Tell them Scott sent you! 

Driving back home on the Edgarton Highway.

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