Valdez to Wrangell St.
Elias NP Hints
is one of those ports that may leave you scratching your head as
to "why are we stopping here"? The usual dockside town is
absent, and in fact there doesn't seem to be much of a town.
This is explained by the fact that the original town of Valdez
was wiped out by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake (the 2nd largest
earthquake ever reported). It was afterward determined
that the town was built on unstable ground, and moved further
inland. However, look beyond the port and you'll see there
are lots of opportunities for thrills and true wildness
experiences. In fact you'll soon
discover that your stop is too short to really take advantage of
what the Valdez area has to offer.
you thrill seekers, check out the white water rafting
opportunities in Keystone Canyon on the Lowe River. When
the water is running, your raft can just about fly! Take
the bow seat if you dare. You'll be traveling the river
with sheer cliff walls and wondrous waterfalls propelling down.
Prepare to paddle and to get a little wet despite the rain gear
that is provided. And trust me, the water is cooooold! The scenery is
wonderful, and the ride can be thrilling.
You can take the Columbia Glacier Cruise in Prince William Sound
to learn about the Valdez area and enjoy what nature has to
offer. If you'd rather stay on land, drive over Thompson
Pass and enjoy the scenery. Take a hike to view the
Wrangell St. Elias
If you keep on driving the Richardson Highway (~ 80 miles from
Valdez) you will reach the Edgerton Highway heading to the
town of Chitina. Here you will find the Chitina Ranger
Station, and shortly thereafter you will be able to start down
one of the two roads (McCarthy) which provides access to Wrangell-St.
Elias National Park. At the ranger station, you
can get information about the park, permits, and road
road is a 60 mile unpaved road. Expect road travel to take
about 3 hours in each direction. No fuel or service is
available along the road, so make certain you have sufficient
fuel and a good spare tire along. The road originated as a
railroad bed, and old railroad spikes are known to have created
road hazards. The drive down the road itself is a
delightful experience. Hiking opportunities are available.
See the Park Visitors Guide which details points of interest,
hiking trailheads, and rest stops along the road.
Before reaching the end of the road at the Kennicott River,
there will be an information station where you should stop to
pick up "A Visitor's Guide to Kennecott and McCarthy". You
may drive another mile to the end of the road and leave your car
in one of the pay parking lots.
You now walk across the footbridge. A pull cart is
available for luggage. This is the point where shuttles
will stop to take visitors to McCarthy and Kennecott. If
you are staying in the town of McCarthy or Kennecott, check with
your inn keeper if transport is available. Otherwise, a
schedule is posted at the shuttle stop and a pay shuttle will
arrive as posted. We paid the driver, but it is possible
to purchase tickets before crossing the bridge. (Note the
zip-line next to the footbridge. This was previously the
way you and your luggage crossed the Kennicott river to reach
The first stop is the small but bustling town of McCarthy.
The town is cute as can be, and is the place to go to arrange a
variety of activities such as scenic flights, remote access
flights, ice climbing, or guided tours. There is also a
small historic museum situated here. You can also fly into
McCarthy from Chitina if you do not wish to drive.
in mind that Wrangell-St. Elias is comprised of 13.2 million
acres making it the largest National Park in the nation!
This trip is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.
Wilderness opportunities abound, and McCarthy is a great place
to plan and start your adventure.
For many visitors, the next stop is Kennecott. Kennecott
Mines is of historical significance as it once extracted the
world's richest copper ore. Come get a glimpse of those
times at this National Historic Landmark. Here you can
walk the streets, tour and view the old buildings, hike up to
the old mines, and relive the old times in your mind.
In addition to hiking to the old mines, you may hike out to a
glacier on the Root Glacier Trail. The trail leading to
the glacier is abundant with wildflowers and spectacular
You many also explore the Northern side of Wrangell-St. Elias by
following the Glenn Highway to mile marker 60 (Tok cutoff)
heading towards Slana. Be certain to stop at the Slana
ranger station to inquire about the road condition and to
pick-up "The Nabesna Road Audio Tour" cd. This is a well
timed audio narration that will point out highlights as you
travel down Nabesna Road. As someone who knows what motion
sickness feels like, I appreciated the cd as it removed the need
to follow along printed mile marker information. Much of
the 42-mile long Nabesna Road is gravel and can be bumpy, so
take it easy. In addition be forewarned that you will
encounter several creek crossings. A high clearance
four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended if you intend to explore
to the end of the road. Even at that, be sure to examine
each creek crossing before plowing ahead.
In reward, you will be afforded beautiful but ever changing
scenery and a number of lakes that may contain some interesting
waterfowl. The road ends in the town of Nabesna. The
right side of the road facing into Nabesna is for cars.
The left side is for planes...so stay off the left! Here
you will find a handful of businesses that cater to those
seeking the solitude of the wilderness.
Nabesna Road offers many opportunities for hiking, but be aware
that this is Grizzly country. Also note that many of the
trails are often pretty wet. We stopped to do a bit of
hiking, but after continuously encountering large fresh Grizzly
footprints heading the same direction that we were, we decided
that it would be a good time to turn around. We hoped to
get to the river, but apparently a Grizzly had the same idea.
As usual in Alaska, be prepared for the possibility of thick
Once you've driven McCarthy and Nabesna Roads, you've navigated
the only public roads in the park.
Whatever you choose to do in Wrangell-St. Elias, it will be sure
to be a peaceful and memorable wilderness experience. We
can't wait to visit again!
Happy cruising and exploring!
-Therese & Reid
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