Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, a beautiful 13.2 million acre expanse of mountains, valleys, rivers, and wildlife. Located in the southeastern portion of Alaska, and is home to the Chugach National Forest. In the center of the park lie two fully self-sustained towns: McCarthy and Kennecott. The members of the towns haul their own water, use generators for power and recycle and reuse everything. A portion of the town members live there year-round, but most travel back to different places for the winter. To get to the towns is another part of the fun.
You start by driving down a 59-mile dirt road into the wilderness to a single footbridge. The national park service gives you an audio tour guide to listen to for entertainment, and if you listen carefully, there is a little surprising excursion suggested for the adrenaline seekers, but it’s a little risky so I won’t reveal anything. You’ll just have to go and figure out what it is for yourself. Once you reach the end of the road there is no way for visitors to cross the bridge in a vehicle, you have to walk. Residents are the only ones who are allowed a car in the town and they use a separate bridge. There are two places you are allowed to park: the first is free, but it’s a quarter mile away from the bridge, and the other is a paid parking for about $10 right next to the bridge. My parents chose the first one. Once to the bridge, there are two ways to get to McCarthy and Kennecott. You can either walk for free or ride the summer shuttle for $5 one way. So we walked to McCarthy which was a half mile walk.
McCarthy is a cute, rustic mountain town with a few restaurants and shops. I called it the town of dogs because there were so many dogs running around– pure heaven. We spent time there and ate lunch, then decided to go up to Kennecott. It’s a five-mile trip to Kennecott, so thankfully my dad chose to ride the shuttle there and back. Kennecott is more of a tourist destination. It has a large historic mill with exhibits and tours you can go on. There is a beautiful lodge available to stay in with a cafe, and a few gift shops for your shopping pleasure.
For a more exciting adventure, there is a four and a half mile round trip hike to the Root Glacier. This rugged adventure will take you over waterfalls, up and down steep terrain, and a hike directly on a huge glacier. Make sure you wear good hiking boots or grab a pair of spikes from the visitor center before you head out. My dad and I hiked about a half mile on the glacier, but you can go as far back as you want. Being surrounded by all that ice and mountains really made me feel small, but so awe inspired at the same time. You could hear the calving of glacier ice in the distance and the sound of all the birds in the trees. It was peaceful, quiet and just a beautiful place.
Once we got back to town, we tried out one of the restaurants: The Golden Saloon and enjoyed a nice evening walk back to our car. So we walked over 7 miles in one day. That is not a lot in hindsight, but it was still an exhausting and incredible day.
This simple town gave me a new outlook on life. Most people in this day and age take a lot for granted. The people of McCarthy and Kennecott work hard and cherish everything they have. They work hard for the land and property they own but still understand the importance of adventure and quality of life. They live away from all the hustle and bustle of the modern world and live at a slower pace. They know how to fully support themselves, enjoy their life and take care of the world they live in. This is by far one of my favorite places I have visited.