At nearly 13.2 million acres of protected wilderness, Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in Alaska and the US (it’s larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined)!
Most of the park is remote and rugged, which makes it one of the best Alaska national parks to visit for backcountry adventures, hiking, camping, and scenic views.
There are two park roads that lead into the park: Nabesna Road is 42 miles long and McCarthy Road is 60 miles. These roads are unpaved and a lot of rental car companies don’t allow you to drive on them.
In this post, I’m going to share everything you need to know to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park in 2023.
- Park Notices
- Wrangell St Elias National Park Facts & Basic Info
- Wrangell St Elias National Park Map
- How to get to Wrangell St Elias National Park
- What if I'm driving a rental car?
- Getting Around Wrangell St Elias National Park
- Wrangell St Elias National Park: Where to Stay
- Best Things to Do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
- Top Tour in Wrangell St Elias National Park
- Other Things to Do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
- Answering Your Questions
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⚠️ RENTAL CAR RESTRICTIONS
If you are renting a car, make sure to check road restrictions. Some rental companies don’t allow you to drive on certain roads in Alaska, including McCarthy Road and Nabesna Road.
Wrangell St Elias National Park Facts & Basic Info
Traditional Land: Dënéndeh, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit (Visit Native-Land.ca to identify whose land you live, work, and play on.)
Size: 13,175,799 acres
Annual Visitors: 79,450 in 2018
Established: 1978 as a national monument; 1980 as a national park
Visitor Centers: Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center, Kennecott Visitor Center, McCarthy Road Info Station
Ranger Staitons: Slana Ranger Station, Chitina Ranger Station
Entrance Fee: There are no entrance fees for the park.
Pets: Yes, must be on leash at all times. Not allowed in public buildings.
Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide
Wrangell St Elias National Park has a few facilities that are staffed by interpretive park rangers who can help you plan your activities in the park. You can find the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center at Mile 106.8 on the Richardson Highway. It’s the main headquarters of visitor information.
Chitina Ranger Station is located at Mile 33 on Edgerton Highway. You can stop here to get the latest McCarthy road conditions and any subsistence permits you need.
Kennecott Visitor Center can be found inside the historic Blackburn School at Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark. Stop here for help with backcountry trip planning and information on the self-guided town tour.
Slana Ranger Station in located in the northern side of the park at Mile 0.2 on Nabesna Road. Stop here for Nabesna Road conditions, trail conditions, and any permits you may need.
Weather in Wrangell St Elias is usually dry with short, warm summers and long, frigid winters. During summer, average temps range from 42F to 71F. And don’t be surprised if it snows or hails in the middle of your summer backpacking trip!
During winter, expect extremely cold temps from -14F to high 34F on “warm” days. Make sure to check the weather multiple times and be prepared to experience a variety of conditions.
What is the best time of year to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park?
Wrangell St Elias National Park is open year-round, mainly because there are many communities living within the park boundaries.
Spring brings daylight, but most of the visitor centers don’t open until mid-May. Fall is a great time to visit the park if you want to see the beautiful fall foliage accompanied by wildlife.
Summer is the most popular time of the year to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park. This is when the tour operations, bar, shuttles, shops, and restaurants are open (May 15 to September 15). You’ll also get to experience better weather and have more opportunities to see wildlife.
One of my favorite summer weekends to visit McCarthy is during the Fourth of July. Usually, the weather is great and there are a lot of fun activities going on like the 4th of July Parade and live music all weekend.
Winter is quiet in the park as some access is limited and most facilities are closed for the season. However, this makes it a great time for winter activities, including Northern Lights viewing, winter camping, fat biking, xc skiing, and snowshoeing.
Wrangell St Elias National Park Map
Wrangell St Elias National Park is huge! There are two ways to access the park, either from Nabesna Road or McCarthy Road.
Here are some maps and books to help you plan your route:
How to get to Wrangell St Elias National Park
Wrangell St Elias National Park is a 5.5 to 8-hour drive north of Anchorage, depending on which side of the park you want to visit. Most visitors head to the McCarthy and Kennecott area.
If you have a vehicle, driving is the best way to visit the park so you can stop at other amazing Alaskan destinations along the way.
How to get to the North District/Nabesna area by car
From Glennallen, you will drive north towards Tok, until you reach the turn-off to Slana on Nabesna Road. The road begins at mile 60 of the Glenn Highway at the Tok Cutoff.
Nabesna Road is a 42-mile-long gravel road and drivers should be cautious of poor road conditions and washouts. High-clearance and four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, especially beyond mile 29 as you will have to cross a few creeks.
Driving Nabesna Road takes about 1.5 hours each way. Make sure to fuel up in Chistochina or Tok!
How to get to the South District/Kennecott area by car
From Glennallen, you will drive south towards Valdez, until you reach the Egerton Highway turn-off to Chitina. You can follow McCarthy Road through the park until you reach the end of the road.
McCarthy Road is a 60-mile-long gravel road and drivers should be cautious of poor road conditions and potholes. The road has improved over the years but it’s still slow going (30 mph).
Driving McCarthy Road takes about 2 hours each way. You can fuel up in Kenny Lake and Chitina. I usually like to top up my gas in Glennallen.
Parking in McCarthy
You’ve probably heard about a road that goes into McCarthy and Kennecott but vehicle access is for local residents only. You must park in one of the parking lots near the footbridge, which costs $10 per day per vehicle. There is free day-use parking at the McCarthy Road Information Station but it does add a half-mile to your walk.
What if I’m driving a rental car?
Many car rental companies in Alaska DO NOT allow vehicles to be driven on Nabesna Road or McCarthy Road. However, Go North, Alaska 4×4 Rentals, and Midnight Sun Car & Van Rental authorize vehicles to be driven on gravel roads, typically a road surcharge is added to your total cost. You can also check vehicles listed by locals on Turo.com.
How to get to Wrangell St Elias National Park by shuttle van
If you can’t drive your vehicle all the way to McCarthy, you can hop on a shuttle van. Kennicott Shuttle offers transport services between Glennallen and McCarthy, with stops in Copper Center, Kenny Lake, and Chitina Airport. Copper Spike Transport offers transport services to McCarthy from Glennallen, Valdez, and Anchorage. Overflow Transit offers transport services twice a week between Anchorage and McCarthy from May to September.
How to get to Wrangell St Elias National Park by air
Fly between Chitina and McCarthy
Another option to get into the park for those that don’t want to drive down McCarthy Road is to take a 30-minute flight from Chitina to McCarthy. Flights with Wrangell Mountain Air start at $197.80 per person one way.
Fly between Anchorage and McCarthy
Getting Around Wrangell St Elias National Park
Once you cross the Kennicott River footbridge, there are private shuttles that will take you and your luggage to McCarthy and Kennecott. If you need help hauling your luggage across the bridge, you will find hand carts near the shuttle shelter.
The Copper Town Shuttle is a free shuttle that offers transportation services from the footbridge to McCarthy Center Store and Kennicott. The shuttle leaves for McCarthy twice an hour from 8:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. The shuttle leaves McCarthy Center Store for Kennicott Mine every hour on the half hour from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. The last shuttle comes back from Kennicott Mine at 7 p.m. Always check the shuttle schedule with the driver as times can change.
The Blackburn Heritage Shuttle costs $5 each way and offers transportation services from the footbridge to McCarthy and Kennecott. This shuttle operates on an hourly schedule. You can purchase a day pass from the McCarthy Center Store.
If you’ve booked a tour, you will most likely be offered a pickup at the footbridge. Check with your tour guide to confirm.
On Foot or Bike
After parking near the end of McCarthy Road, you will have to walk or bike across the footbridge. If you don’t feel like waiting for a shuttle, you can walk 1 mile on the road or try to hitch a ride from one of the friendly locals.
If you’re camping near Kennicott River, biking is a fun and quick way to get in and out of McCarthy and you can bike along the Wagon Road Trail to Kennecott Mine.
Off Road Vehicles
Off Road Vehicles are permitted on Trail Creek Trail, Lost Creek Trail, and Soda Lake Trail along Nabesna Road but recreational users must obtain a permit. In Kennecott, ATV access is limited to private property owners and their guests. Personal ATVs or motorcycles must be parked near the end of McCarthy Road.
Wrangell St Elias National Park: Where to Stay
Campgrounds in Nabesna Area
Camping is one of the best ways to experience the park and it’s also a budget-friendly option. If you are exploring the Nabesna side of the park, you’ll find many pull-outs along the side of the road that are great for tent camping or small RVs and camper trailers.
Kendesnii Campground is the only campground in the park that is operated by the National Park Service. Drinking water is available at the Slana Ranger Station.
Mile 6.1 Rufus Creek – Picnic table
Mile 16. 6 Kettle Lake – Picnic table
Mile 17.8 Dead Dog Hill – Picnic table, vault toilet
Mile 21.8 Rock Lake – Picnic table, vault toilet
Mile 27.8 Kendesnii Campground – 10 designated campsites, picnic table, fire ring, vault toilet. Each site can accommodate vehicles up to a medium RV. Access is limited in winter.
Mile 35.3 Jack Creek – Picnic table, vault toilet. There is only room for up to three vehicles.
Campgrounds in McCarthy/Kennecott Area
If you are exploring the McCarthy and Kennecott side of the park, most campsites are found near the beginning and end of McCarthy Road. Most campgrounds are privately owned as there are no established NPS campgrounds in this area. You’ll find many other pull-outs along the side of the road that are great for camping, but make sure you’re not on private property.
Drinking water is available at the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center. If you’re camping in McCarthy, there is a local water spit about .5 miles from the footbridge that you can use to fill up your water bottle.
Mile 1.6 Copper River Campground – Private campground, 12 campsites, picnic table, fire pit, vault toilet
Mile 59 Glacier View Campground, Private campground
Mile 59.4 Base Camp Campground, Private campground, open campground, RVs and tents.
Jumbo Creek Campground – Primitive camping found 1.4 miles past Kennecott Mine. Only accessed by foot. Water is available from nearby streams and there are bear boxes for storing food. Call +1 (907) 205-7106 for camping info.
Lodging near McCarthy
Most lodging within the park is located in the McCarthy and Kennecott area. You’ll find hotels, lodges, guesthouses, cabins, and Airbnb options.
Here are some accommodations to check out:
Best Things to Do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
Popular Day Hikes in Wrangell St Elias National Park
One of the best ways to explore Wrangell St Elias National Park is on foot. You can choose to hike on or off the trail. If you’re not comfortable hiking on your own, you can find a hike guided by a park ranger. My favorite hike in the Kennecott area is Root Glacier Trail.
Here are some popular self-guided day hike options within the park:
Nabesna Area Day Hikes
Kennecott Area Day Hikes
Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark
Kennecott is a historic mining town that was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1978. It’s considered the best remaining example of early 20th Century copper mining and it’s the main reason people visit this area of the park. Today, you can visit the mill town on a self-guided walk or tour the buildings with a guide.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
On the self-guided Kennecott Walking Tour, you can visit the interpretive exhibits around the mine. Check out the General Store and Post Office, North Sacking Shed, General Manager’s Office, Blackburn School, Recreation Hall, Refrigeration Plant, Railroad Depot, Power Plant and Residential Cottage.
Kennecott Mill Tour
If you want to access the 14-story Concentration Mill, you need to book a tour with St. Elias Alpine Guides. The 2-hour tour includes a quick hike, navigates areas with low headroom and uneven floors, and goes up and down wonky stairs and ladders. Make sure to reserve your spot in advance as this is a popular tour! It costs $34 for adults and $17 for children.
Backcountry Hiking and Camping
Backcountry camping is a beautiful way to explore Wrangell St Elias National Park. Since there are no established trails and no designated campsites, you get to plan your own unique adventure.
Backpacking in Alaska’s remote backcountry presents a lot of challenges. You should be comfortable route finding, using navigation devices and maps, traversing various terrains like glaciers and rivers, and know how to handle any unexpected injuries or other emergencies.
I really enjoyed my week-long backpacking trip along the Seven Pass Route. Other common backpacking routes in Wrangell St Elias National Park are The Goat Trail, Skolar Pass, Dixie Pass, and Nikolai Pass.
Permits are not required for the backcountry, but it’s recommended to complete a backcountry itinerary form at the visitor centers and ranger stations or email at email@example.com.
Top Tour in Wrangell St Elias National Park
My favorite tour in Wrangell St Elias National Park is a flightseeing tour. Seeing Bagley Icefield from above is an unforgettable experience. You’ll witness craggy cliffs, endless glaciers, and explore majestic mountains within Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and St. Elias Mountains, including Mount Saint Elias which rises 18,008 ft above sea level.
Wrangell Mountain Air offers plenty of flight-seeing experiences and I highly suggest adding a flightseeing tour to your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed!
Other Things to Do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
Wrangell St. Elias has something to offer everyone! Some other ideas of things to do are packrafting Kennicott River, sport fishing, ice climbing on Root Glacier, go whitewater rafting, gold panning, listen to live music at the Golden Saloon, or take a dip in the local swimming hole.
There are a few places to eat in McCarthy. My favorite restaurant is Roadside Potato or as locals call it, The Potato. I love the breakfast burritos and spuds here. Plus, it’s a great place to grab a drink and listen to live music.
Another place to get good beers and good burgers is the Golden Saloon, which is the town bar. Kennecott Glacier Lodge and the Salmon and Bear Restaurant in McCarthy Lodge offer a bit of fine dining.
Meatza Wagon is the local food truck near Kennecott Mine and dishes up subs, tacos, and more!
Answering Your Questions
How many days do you need in Wrangell St Elias National Park?
I recommend at least 2 nights to explore Wrangell St Elias National Park. Since it’s a long drive in and out, it’s best to make the most of it.
Is it safe to hike in Wrangell St Elias?
It’s safe to hike in Wrangell St Elias, but be prepared for possible encounters with wildlife, including black bears and grizzlies.
Can you fish in Wrangell St Elias National Park?
Yes, fishing is allowed in the park. Take your fishing pole to Strelna Lake and Silver Lake near Chitina, or Long Lake near McCarthy.
Is there a store in the area?
If you need some food, ice or supplies, there is a small general store in McCarthy that has the basics. You can also pick up a few things like ice in Chitina. I recommend getting what you need in a larger town or city that’s on your way as it will be cheaper.
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Are you planning to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park in 2023? Ask your questions below!