WRANGELL-St. ELIAS VIDEO: Huge park, tiny roads, nonstop beauty
If people know know anything at all about Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, it’s probably that the park is the largest unit in the NPS at 13.2 million acres- bigger than 6 Yellowstones! That’s the first thing we learned. It wasn’t until we started planning for our visit that we learned this massive park has only two gravel, out-and-back roads. So WSE may have the lowest ratio of park area explored to park size of any of the 53 parks we’ve been to so far.
Even though we only saw a small fraction of the park, it was enough to make a big impression. We decided to focus our attention on the main area of the park – McCarthy and Kennecott mining town. Coming from Skagway, we had to basically complete a semicircle drive around the park. On the way I saw the tallest mountain I’ve laid eyes on to date – 16er Mount Sanford. We learned later that WSE contains an impressive 9 of the 16 tallest peaks in the country.
The menacing 60-mile, unpaved McCarthy Road – abounding with tales of popped tires and leftover railroad spikes and nails nails sticking out of the gravel – was really not bad. What did catch us by surprise was the ordeal of getting from “The End of the Road” to Kennecott. Since the park is riddled with private property staked out long before it was established in 1980, we first got to pay for overnight parking (&5/day) and then cross the footbridge to McCarthy to find the shuttle for the 5 miles to Kennecott ($5 one way). Although Wrangell is one of the simplest of the 8 Alaska parks to access, you still have to work for it.
Our work quickly paid dividends. The ghost town of Kennecott is very beautiful in a dilapidated sort of way. Hiking to the Stairway Icefall and on top of the Root Glacier was riveting. And conquering the trail to the perch of Bonanza Mine offered one of our favorite view of the whole year. So we tied it all up in a pretty little video package. Enjoy!
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