Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is the largest of our National Parks, it has most of the tallest peaks in the USA, it has glaciers galore, it has unhampered wildlife and gold mining history. It is also hard to get to. Reaching Wrangell – St. Elias National Park can be done by car or by air. Do your research before you decide, and then once you decide, be certain that you have planned for every eventuality. Once in the park, there are some great top ranked things to see and do.
7 Things to See & Do at Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
1. St. Elias Alpine Guides Glacier Walk
This is a guided walk, out to a glacier and back. A picnic lunch at the glacier is included. While on the walk you can climb up a glacier wall if you wish. You access this walk via Kennecott and Kennecott Glacier Lodge. The walk can be accomplished by those of almost every fitness level and age, from children to those who are sixty and over.
2. Kennecott Mill Town Tour
There it is, out in the wilds: an impressively huge abandoned copper mining operation that you can tour. The mine building is the tallest wooden structure in America. It hulks over the side of the hill and the various buildings make for dramatic photography. The place was shut down in 1938 and has been left to the elements ever since; you can expect it to be rustic and somewhat spooky. Also, there are lots of steep steps; consequently, those who have balance issues should not attempt this National Park Service tour.
3. Copper Oar Rafting Day Trip
A Copper Oar Rafting day trip is a good way to see the interior of Alaska by water. This is not a whitewater trip; the river flows briskly but not wildly. The guides are expert and friendly, and offer wilderness lore along the way. The all day trip includes lunch—a delicious mid day meal out in the wilderness. The trip concludes with a bush plane ride and flight-seeing at the end.
4. The Visitor’s Center and Interpretive Film
Here, as at every National Park, you will benefit greatly from the high quality of the Visitor’s Center. The free tour offered there includes a film that explores the wonders and rich history of the National Park. You are sure to learn more and see more than you could on your own in a visit to the Park. The Visitor’s Center also offers views of the 12,000 foot dormant volcano, Mount Drum. You can also take several short trail hikes near the Visitor’s Center. Be sure to take in any of the ranger presentations.
5. Old Valdez Trail
Take a hike to the Old Valdez Trail from the Visitors Center, it is about a two hour hike. The Valdez Trail was the overland access route to Alaska’s interior when it was built by the U.S. Army and the Alaska Road Commission (1898-1907). The trail follows a series of paths that were used by the indigenous peoples. It became the mail route for people, goods and communication. There are many other hikes from easy to challenging. Some of the most popular are: Fourth of July Creek and Hidden Lake (15 Miles), Root Glacier (A Day Hike for the whole family, 4.75 Miles); Up the McCarthy Creek Valley (13 Miles); and McCarthy Creek Nikolai Creek Trail (a 2-3 day hike).
6. Ahtna Cultural Center
The Ahtna Cultural Center is right next to the Visitor’s Center. This facility is operated and staffed by the Ahtna Heritage Foundation. Learn about the native peoples who call this portion of Alaska home, and their history. The exhibits include living culture and language activities.
7. The Lodges
The Lodges (Kennicott Glacier Lodge; McCarthy Lodge and Ma Johnson’s Hotel) are part of the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park experience and rank high for old fashioned comfort, stellar views and tasty dining. Kennicott Glacier Lodge is right next to the mine. Dinner is family style, real Alaskan food. Plan ahead and reserve one of the few rooms that do not have shared bathrooms. McCarthy Lodge and Ma Johnson’s Hotel gives you the flavor of century-old boarding house life, with no en suite rooms (the shower and WC are down the hall) and no electrical outlets in any of the rooms. If you enjoy going beyond quaint, to rustic charm, this is the place for you.