Unique, remote, and off-the-beaten path, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is a difficult travel destination to plan for. Here are some travel tips to keep in mind when planning a trip to Wrangell – St. Elias National Park:
Make the length of stay worth it
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, McCarthy, and Kennecott are all truly very remote, even by Alaska standards. Most travelers soon realize that the WSENP Visitor Center in Copper Center isn’t really even in the Park and to really visit this National Park, you need to get to the heart of it, to McCarthy/Kennecott. It takes a lot to get out here, so we encourage you to stay a while and get the most out of your time here.
This area is a great representation of inland and mountainous Alaska and the highlights of our area are the glacial ice and the high-altitude peaks. Of the terrain permanently covered in ice in Alaska, 60% of it is in WSE! The Park is also home to 6 of the 10 tallest mountains in the country, including #5, Mt. Blackburn, which towers over Kennicott Valley, and #2, Mt. St. Elias itself, which gives the Park its name.
With so much wilderness to see and experience, you’ll find that there is tons to do in the area. From hiking and climbing on the glaciers to rafting the winding rivers and paddling between huge icebergs, there are endless ways to engage with this breathtaking landscape. Even just spending time in this quiet and wild place, not doing anything in particular all day (and night under the midnight sun), has a valuable effect on the psyche and will have you wanting to stay all summer.
Come for the adventure, stay for the history, or vice versa
Whatever brings you to WSE, be prepared to find way more than you bargained for! This place is a unique vortex of cool stuff – in just the Kennicott Valley alone we have the 5th tallest peak in the US, the 2nd tallest ice fall in the world, one of the easiest glaciers to access in Alaska, one of the smallest and most authentic bush communities in the state, an incredibly well-preserved National Historic Landmark and the tallest wooden structure in North America on the site where they found one of the richest copper oar veins in history!
It’s not uncommon to come out here to see one thing and then get hooked on something completely different – start the trip a history buff and end up an ice-climbing-geologist-pilot-in-training by the end of your stay! With 13.2 million acres to explore, there’s not just something for everyone, there’s more! Be prepared to be surprised, leave a little extra time in your itinerary for a spontaneous inspiration and start making plans now for your return trip!
Off-the-grid but still connected
The entire community of McCarthy/Kennecott is entirely off-the-grid. This means that all of the local residents and businesses must be completely self-sufficient in their resources and utilities. For example, we use solar to power our buildings and pump water from a local natural source. Consider this when shopping for lodging and remember that “basic” utilities like plumbing, heat, and electricity are a little more luxurious up here than you might be used to and prices will reflect this. That said, most lodging hosts offer reliable Wifi, and Verizon’s and GCI’s coverage works well in McCarthy/Kennecott. We highly encourage you to disconnect during your visit and don’t rely on local connections to allow for lots of high-quality streaming, but for that super important email that just can’t wait you’ll be able to get the connection you need.
And while McCarthy and Kennecott are very remote, they are still connected to the road system and also accessible by bush plane. You can drive your own vehicle or a rental most or all of the way here and there are also reliable and regular transportation options that local vendors provide, making it easy to get here from Anchorage or other towns in Alaska. Check out our Lodging + Transportation page for more information.
Be prepared for the “Alaska Factor”
There is a reason Wrangell – St. Elias has such a rugged allure for the lower 48 and beyond: it is still wild. This untamed wilderness offers us the opportunity to authentically pioneer new territory and live in tune with our surroundings, on which we very much depend. Our landscape is incredibly dynamic with some of the tallest mountains on the continent affecting the weather, glaciers melting and flooding our rivers, mudslides threatening to make our roads inaccessible, wildlife encounters impacting our daily plans, you name it! Part of embracing the “Alaska Factor” includes understanding that things may not always go as planned and expecting the unexpected.
In the last 40 years of guiding out here, we’ve seen it all and are ready to jump into action, pivot our plans, and stay as dynamic as the landscape around us. Living and working out here means that no day is alike and always keeps us on our toes – this engaging way of living can be addicting and has converted many of our guides to permanent McCarthy residents over the years.
When visiting a place as truly wild as WSENP, be ready for some fluidity and flexibility. This place does not run on clockwork, it runs entirely on mother nature’s schedule.
Check out our other article on Common Alaska Misconceptions as you plan your visit as well as our FAQ for even more information! Get in touch with any remaining questions – we can’t wait to see you in the Wrangells this summer and are happy to help you get out here by answering any questions you have!