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.