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Alaska's Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve - An Overview

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Wrangell Mountain Sunrise, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Wrangell Mountain Sunrise, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska

© Neil Hannan via NPS.gov

Overview:

An area larger than Rhode Island and Vermont combined, Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve is named for two mountain ranges that form its spine. While the landscape is made up of remnant volcanoes and areas carved by glaciers, there are only two within the park - McCarthy and Nabesna. Trails are unmarked and braided rivers run free, adding to the undeveloped and preserved atmosphere. Nearly 10 million acres of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve are designated and managed as a wilderness area - the largest in the U.S. National Park system. It is an area untouched and worthy of a long exploration.

History:

The area was proclaimed as Wrangell-Saint Elias National Monument on December 1, 1978 and established as a national park and preserve on December 2, 1980. It was also given wilderness designation on December 2, 1980 and designated a World Heritage Site on October 24, 1979.

When to Visit:

Summer is the best time to visit the park. Lodges and guide services operate form mid-May to the end of September. June is the best month to see wildflowers, while July offers the warmest temperatures. Fall is also a great time to visit as berries ripen in August and fall foliage is beginning to show in September. If you enjoy cross-country skiing, plan a trip for March or April.

Getting There:

There are no park-operated shuttle systems inside or around Wrangell-St. Elias National Park/Preserve. For visitors looking for public transportation into the park, check out the Alaska Direct Bus Line which runs a bus from Anchorage to Tok, with multiple stops along the way, including Glennallen. Soaring Eagle Transit also provides shuttle service to and from Anchorage, as well as Valdez.

If you are driving your own private vehicle, you can travel from Copper Center by taking either the McCarthy Road (from Chitina to McCarthy - 60 miles) or the Nabesna Road (from Slana to Nabesna - 42 miles). Both are unpaved gravel roads.

During the summer, Backcountry Connection makes daily runs from Glennallen, Copper Center, Kenny Lake, and Chitina to McCarthy/Kennecott. Group transportation is also available from Anchorage, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, & Valdez. Wrangell-St. Elias Tours also provides daily transportation from Chitina and Kenny Lake to McCarthy. They also provide transportation from Anchorage to McCarthy.

If you are flying into Alaska, Copper Valley Air has scheduled flights from Anchorage to Glennallen and McCarthy. Wrangell Mountain Air also offers three daily trips (Mid-May to Mid-September) between Chitina and McCarthy.

Fees/Permits:

There are no fees to enter Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. If you plan on enjoying the park through any commercial outfitters, guides, services, or lodging facilities, you should arrange any reservations directly through them.

Things to Do:

With such a beautiful and untouched area to explore, things to do are endless. Visitors can camp, hike, backpack, fish, hunt, ride ATVs, sea kayak, go mountaineering, or stay in a backcountry cabin. Other ways to explore the area also include flightseeing and water taxis, as well as river trips.

While adults may find plenty of things to do, the park also offers a Junior Ranger Program for kids.

Major Attractions:

Kennecott: Once the site of the world’s richest copper mine. Today, the silent 13-story mill and other buildings offers one of the most photogenic opportunities of historic structures.

Nugget Creek Trail: Allows visitors to travel to public cabins beneath Mount Blackburn, where dozens of day hikes can be made from.

Rivers: Nabesna, Copper, Kennicott, Chitina, and Nizina Rivers all offer commercial rafting trips ranging from three hours to two weeks. It’s an awesome way to explore the park.

Copper Glacier: The Copper River rises out of this glacier and runs for 300 miles.

Accommodations:

Unlike many national parks, Wrangell-St. Elias does not offer formal park service campgrounds or lodging concessionaires. Visitors may simply make camp on public land along the McCarthy and Nabesna Roads. You may also find commercial businesses that offer a variety of visitor services including camping and lodging on private land within the park boundaries, and along area highways.

Currently, there are 14 public-use cabins located within Wrangell-St. Elias. All cabins are in remote locations and require hikers/campers to make plan ahead. Most cabins are available on a first-come, first-served basis, however, there are five cabins that require a reservation. Make a reservation at Viking Lodge Cabin, Caribou Creek Cabin, Nugget Creek Cabin, and Glacier Creek Cabin by calling (907) 822-7401 during summer and (907) 822-5234 during winter.

Alaska state parks are also a great option for visitors looking to stay outside the park walls. Call the Greater Copper Valley Chamber of Commerce at (907) 822-5555 or the Cordova Chamber of Commerce at (907) 424-7260 for other options for accommodations.

Pets:

This is a remote and undeveloped area of Alaska. It is best to leave pets at home to not disturb wildlife.

Contact Info:

Write to:
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
PO Box 439
Copper Center, AK 99573

E-mail

Phone: (907) 822-5234

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