McCarthy Road, Wrangell St Elias National Park, Alaska.

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Photos, Travel, Wrangell-St. Elias 20 Comments

McCarthy Road

Of the two roads into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the McCarthy Road is definitely the most popular – and for a few good reasons.  For one, the road itself is more interesting and exciting.  I think you can see that in today’s photo.  This is where the road crosses a one lane bridge 238 feet above the Kuskulana River.  This bridge is actually an old railroad bridge built back in 1910 in order to haul copper from the Kennicott Mines  That leads me to another reason this road is popular; the history of the area, in particular, the mine and mill buildings in Kenecott and McCarthy.  Finally, the McCarthy Road brings you closer to and provides better views and access to the dramatic Wrangell Mountains. 

Like the Nabesna Road, there are few services on the McCarthy Road, you need to be prepared with a good spare tire, food and gas.  Some years there have been tire repair facilities at Silver Lake at the end of the road, but I wouldn’t count on these.  The washboard can be bad, but if you catch it after a recent grading it can be fairly minimal.  The key is to take your time.  I saw one family turn around with a travel trailer about 30 miles down the road after losing their propane tank and a lot transmission fluid from their truck!

You can’t actually drive into the town of McCarthy.  The last river crossing involves a foot bridge.  You will need to pay to park or camp on the opposite side of the river – something most Alaskans aren’t used to.  It is less than a mile to the town of McCarthy, and about 5 to the Kennicott (Kennecott) area.  There are shuttle services available, and a courtesy phone at the foot bridge where you can call for transportation or lodging. 

I think the McCarthy / Kennicott area in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park is one of the true gems in Alaska.

Comments 20

  1. I’ve been enjoying your series about Wrangell-St Elias. It’s amazing how big and beautiful it is! I have to visit there someday, hopefully.

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  3. Ahh yes, … a road trip to make the blood pressure rise a bit!
    Would love to travel and explore along a road such as this.
    This little section of bridge looks a bit precarious, and probably something I could not get the wife to cross if her life depended on it!

    Love what you have been showing us all Ron.
    Keep’em coming!

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    Thanks Michael,

    Yeah my wife has a fear of heights as well – I think she kept her eyes glues to the dash!

  5. My friends from Anchorage sent me a print of “Frozen Copper.” I am guessing that the artist is your mother. Anyway, as soon as I put it up on the wall today, I went and googled your last name and I opened your web page. Our friends have taken us to McCarth twice already and we will be there again in July. We were there for the 4th of July last year and enjoyed the parade and other festivities. I have only been over this bridge a few times but always in the car. Spouse and friend have walked out and taken pics over the side. We are nikon dslr folks and friends are Canon dslr folks. We manage to remain friends in spite of that. Really enjoy your web site. The photos are outstanding. Couldn’t believe seeing Antelope Canyon. That was a google search of mine last week because I am interested in going there myself.

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    Hi George,

    Thanks for the kind words – I appreciate it!

    Yes the artist who did Frozen Copper is my mother.

    You are fortunate to be going back to McCarthy this summer – it has been a couple of years since I have been there, and I miss it! have a great trip.


  7. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Niebrugge Images – Photo Blog, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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  9. Hi Ron

    Great site that can help me alot, Im going to Alaska on the 5 of june. for 3 weeks where we will be going to Kodiak, Seward, Wrangell and Denali. we are thinking of staying in a tent on the Nabesna road because i have been on the road to McCarthy and would like to see somethingelse, but what treks would be great to take on the Nabesna road

    Fell free to mail me.


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    Hi Thomas,

    You know the road gets a little narrow past the town of Nabesna, but there are some neat old mines on past the town – continuing down the road and exploring the old mines would make a nice trek. The road also passes through some high country where you can pretty much just get out and hike. There really aren’t any trails, but I have headed out towards the Wrangell mountain foothills and found some beautiful country.

    Sounds like you are going to have a great trip!


  11. Hi
    I am french and I plan to go there at the end of june.
    Is it possible to go with an RV ?

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    Hi Agnes,

    Some places rent pickups with campers, and I believe they might let you drive down this road. Most car rental places don’t allow driving on dirt roads like this, I would think the same would be true for motor home rentals as well.

    Have fun,


  13. Hi Ron
    I love travel and have been all over the world taking photographs. I have never returned to a place with the exception of Alaska!! I have been about six times now and love it. I don’t know whether I shall ever be able to return but your photos do provide some wonderful memories for me. My last trip was to stay in THE cabin in Annan Bay to photograph black and brown bears — superb. Keep up the memories please!!

    Cheers Nina in UK.

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    Thanks for such kind words Nina!

    I would love to stay at the cabin at Annan Bay for the bears – that must have been fun!


  15. Ron,

    GREAT photos!

    One day my oldest son, Tim, and I will write a book, “Places we’ve been in Rental Cars”. McCarthy is one of those places as are Independence Mine, Cordova (Alaska Marine Highway), and the Million Dollar Bridge, all in the summer of 2002. We stopped at some less “out of the way places”, Anchorage, Denali, Palmer, Seward, Valdez, Copper Center, and a number of points in between on paved roads!

    Our other trips to Alaska have included a “weekend” trip (3 day Labor Day weekend in 2006) to Skagway by way of Whitehorse, Yukon, with a stop at Atlin, BC, while “in the area”. We also, to take my wife along and keep her happy, took a cruise in 2008 from Seattle to Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan.

    Alaska is quite a change from our home town of Phoenix, Arizona.

    Dennis Hultsman

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    Thanks Dennis!

    You have pretty much hit all my favorite places in Alaska. It is a big change from Phoenix, but it is hard to beat Phoenix in March!

  17. Your warning to Agnes was certainly appropriate. Who would guess that most car rentals don’t allow 4x4s off paved roads. We found that out much to our chagrin when my grandson-in-law rented a Hummer to visit us in Sedona one year. To make a long story short, we broke a couple of the steps on the Hummer (which the dealer later told us can be taken off easily for such drives by removing a couple of cotter pins). Then we read the rental agreement and found out the vehicle wasn’t supposed to go off paved roads! A Hummer, no less! Why the heck else would someone rent one?

    We got to the dealer in Phoenix just in time to replace the steps (for $100 each) and got the scratches buffed out the next day. The following morning they got up to find that the windshield was cracked . . . Sure convinced him not to buy a Hummer!

    On our trip to Alaska with my husand’s uncle (who was a Park Ranger there years earlier and helped identify the land areound Wrangels and several other places to set aside as part of the national park system) we got to Wrangles, but don’t remember this bridge. Must have entered the other way. We did see those big wheels that the natives use for fishing, fascinating. Just a taste of Wrangles sure made me want to go back sometime!

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    Hi Joni,

    That is crazy – I can’t believe they rent Hummers that can’t be taken off road!

    You husbands uncle played an important part in the creation of the Wrangells – that is a great story.

    You have been to lots of great places!


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