Home to the highest peaks, most giant glaciers, and the only wilderness area in America, Wrangell St Elias National Park & Preserve is one of Alaska’s best-kept secrets.
|Park||Wrangell St Elias National Park|
|Things to do||Driving, Hiking, and many more|
|Hotels near Wrangell St Elias National Park & Preserve||Currant Ridge, Viking Lodge Cabin, and many more|
|Entry Fee||Free Entry|
|Camping Locations||Many Locations|
In this guide, we’ll outline some of the best things to do in the Wrangell St Elias National Park, along with other helpful information, including the best time to visit, where to stay, weather, what to bring.
Much more to help you plan a trip to one of the most spectacular places on earth that will take your breath away. Let’s get started!
About Wrangell St Elias National Park
This Park and Preserve is the largest and most remote national park in the United States, more significant than Switzerland and about six times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
At 13.2 million acres, the park protects the heritage resources and a vast ecosystem in south-central Alaska.
The park borders Canada’s Kluane National Park, and their 20 million acres combined represent one of the largest wilderness areas in the world.
This Park is a paradise for mountaineers, boasting some of the highest peaks and tidewater glaciers of North America.
It offers endless opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing, glacier trekking, rafting, wildlife viewing, and learning about Alaska’s mining history.
Due to its gigantic size and mountainous terrain, access to the park is limited to only hearty, adventurous willing to invest their time and effort to discover one of the finest places in Alaska.
History Of Wrangell St Elias National Park
Back in the 1890s, some explorers searching for gold happened to find the world’s richest copper deposit in the park.
This breakthrough discovery resulted in a boom that changed the face of the land forever. In less than five years, the town of Kennicott became the world’s richest copper mine.
After the Kennecott mines shut down in 1938, several efforts were made to revive the tourism in the area.
In 1939, Ernest Gruening, then Director of U.S Territories, was the first to propose the establishment of the park in the Chitina Valley.
Still, the proposal was declined b President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared the area a National Monument, considering its historical and scientific significance.
In 1980, after Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve was established across 13.2 million acres of Southcentral Alaska.
Today, the park protects the diverse geological landscape, natural resources, and habitat of wildlife populations, and visitors can still see the combination of history and adventure in the park.
Best Things To Do In The Park
Despite being a lesser-known natural wonder, this Park offers many things to see and do.
Let’s take a peek at some of the most awesome adventures that are must experience:
Visit The Copper Center
Copper Center is the park’s main visitor center, the best place to headstart your visit.
Located just outside the park’s boundary, at mile 106 of the Richardson Highway, the center features a natural history exhibit, a bookstore, a theater, and an expansive interactive map display.
Next to the visitor center is the Ahtna Cultural Center, museum, housing exhibits, and a short hiking trail that includes an overlook of the spectacular Wrangell Mountains.
Take A drive On McCarthy Road.
One of the best ways to enjoy the scenic beauty of the this Park is taking a drive on the McCarthy Road.
This 60-mile gravel road is considered one of the prominent landmarks of the park.
The road follows the old railroad tracks and takes the visitors through the pristine wilderness with the chance to see grizzly bears, swans, moose, eagles, and other wildlife.
The drive takes around 4-hours to complete and ends at the Kennicott River, where the visitors can take a bridge to the town of McCarthy.
Explore The Kennicott Ghost Town
Kennicott Ghost Town is the abandoned ghostly town, once the world’s richest copper mine.
Since the middle of the 1950s, the town has been completely deserted, and only ghostly remains of the rich copper veins in the jagged mountains are left.
To get to the Kennicott, you can take the McCarthy Road or a flight from Chitina and explore the fascinating Kennicott Copper mine, open for public seven days a week.
Drive The Nabesna Road
To explore the North Side of the Park, take a drive on the 42-mile unpaved Nabesna Road, one of the two roads to enter the park.
It is situated in a valley with stunning views of Wrangell, Mentasta, and the Nutzotin Mountains.
You’ll pass splendid panoramas along the way and get access to several hiking trails, campgrounds, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
The drive takes around 1.5 hours, one way, so be prepared for the rough road conditions and creek crossings.
Hike The Goat Trail
If you are looking for challenging multi-day trekking, nothing beats the Goat Trail of his Park.
Don’t get confused by its name, as the trail is more than a glorified animal track. The trail follows the classic gold prospecting route between the Wrangell and St. Elias ranges, passing cliffs, and waterfalls, unmarked tundra, skirts massive moraines.
It transverses a huge and sketchy talus slope. Keep your eyes peeled for the wolves, grizzlies, red fox, and of course, mountain goats.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit this Park is from Mid-May through September when cold temperatures and rainfalls are limited.
Winters arrive early in interior Alaska, and by the end of September, the park’s services are limited.
Visitor Centers are closed, and entrance and parking lots are locked. Do not forget to check the hours of operation before visiting the park.
Map Of Wrangell St Elias National Park
This Park is one of the largest units of National Parks in the United States, spanning over 13 million acres of land.
To make sure you won’t get lost in its remote wilderness, download the PDF map of the park showing roads, trails, campgrounds, and main points of interest to plan your trip and navigate the park with ease.
Visit the NPS website to download the official map of the park.
Hotels Near Wrangell St Elias National Park
This Park offers a variety of accommodation options within the park, including cabins, vocational rentals, hotels & lodges, ad wilderness lodges.
Here are some hotels near the park:
Camping Locations At Wrangell St Elias National Park
There are no developed campgrounds in thisPark, so those who want to camp in the park’s remote wilderness will have to go to the backcountry.
There are a few designated camping areas off the Nabesna Road, and some additional privately-owned campgrounds can be found off the McCarthy Road.
A huge variety of outfitters offer guided multi-day backcountry access, including camping, hiking, rafting, hunting, and glacier trekking.
Weather Of Wrangell St Elias National Park
This Park has a tundra climate prevailing, and the weather is mainly throughout the year.
The highest average temperature is 13°C in July, while the lowest is -10°C in December.
The park receives 300m of the annual precipitation and remains dry for 154 days a year. Make sure to check the latest weather forecast before visiting.
Entry Fee & Passes
This Park & Preserve is one of the few National Park Sites that doesn’t charge the entry fee and grants free access to the park.
As there is no entry fee, the park’s visitor centers don’t sell any federal land passes.
Checklist Of Things To Pack
Here’s an essential gear list you must bring while visiting the Park:
- A large Backpack
- Warm clothes
- Sturdy and comfortable hiking boots
- Tent & Sleeping bag
- Ground Cover
- Survival items
- Trekking poles
- Food and water storage
- Satellite Phone
- Bear deterrents
- First-aid kit
- Map & Compass
What makes the Wrangell St Elias National Park so unique?
It is the largest national park in the U.S, six times bigger than Yellowstone National Park. The park is also home to one world’s largest active volcanoes and the longest valley glacier in North America.
How many days should I spend in Wrangell St Elias National Park?
We’d recommend spending at least three days viewing the Wrangel mountains, strolling the hiking trails, and learning about the wildlife and history of the park.
Can I drive through the Wrangell St Elias National Park?
There are two roads to enter the Wrangell St Elias National Park, McCarthy Road and the Nabesna Road, open for all vehicles during the summer months. However, make sure to check the road conditions before heading out.