A 3-day Alaskan Itinerary: Things to do in McCarthy

Some consider it a ghost town, but it is very much alive. Sitting in the heartland of Wrangell St. Elias National Park, the town of McCarthy continues its rebirth. In combination with the National Park Service and community involvement, the town is now a small yet thriving place that you should visit on your trip to Alaska. Even though it’s hours from the real world, there are plenty of things to do in McCarthy, Alaska.

Things to do in McCarthy, Alaska

Commonly asked questions before visiting McCarthy

Is McCarthy and Wrangell St Elias National Park worth visiting?

Most definitely, yes. I loved the three days we spent in McCarthy. My parents had been years earlier and raved about the small town. So when I had the chance to visit, we jumped at it. Wrangell St Elias National Park is an amazing place, and it should be on your bucket list.

With so many things to do in McCarthy, you’ll be booked for your entire trip!

Alaska things to do in McCarthy alaska

What is McCarthy famous for?

McCarthy was famous for having one of the most lucrative mines in all of Alaska early in the 20th century. However, due to changing times, it slowed and eventually ceased to operate. In 1980 it was designated a National Park. Since then, they’ve been slowly rehabilitating the mine and town.

Does anyone live in McCarthy, Alaska, now?

Only a few people live in McCarthy full-time, with the rest of the population working there over the summer.

Planning your trip into the Alaskan Wilderness

Should you worry about the McCarthy Road?

We were worried about the McCarthy Road after hearing horror stories of getting flat tires along the 60-mile dirt road. However, we found it in good drivable condition, even on a rainy weekend.

While it’s not a nightmare anymore, many rental agencies still won’t allow you to drive it— so double-check before going. But, with our nerves subdued, we could take in the stunning landscape of Wrangell St. Elias as we cruised in.

Wrangell St Elias National Park

Getting to town on the ‘Daunting’ McCarthy Road

While you’re ‘out there,’ it’s not as lonely as we thought. As you get closer to the town of McCarthy, a handful of people live along the road with a crescendo in population. There are no “must stop” stops on the route, but there is a small overlook before crossing the Kuskulana Bridge around mile 17. I enjoyed getting out here to stretch my legs and take in the sights.

You’re in the literal middle of nowhere as you drive the road. This means you’ll have the chance to see tons of wildlife. We saw a wolf, beaver, porcupine, and moose, but sadly no bears. But they’re out there. We also heard of a lynx being spotted on the road. My advice? Put whoever has the best eyes on wildlife spotting duty in the passenger seat.

Park and walk across the bridge to McCarthy

McCarthy’s unique thing is that you cannot drive into the city physically. Instead, park in the parking lot when you reach the end of the road. Then, call your hotel, gather your belongings, and walk across the metal bridge. You’ll be picked up by whatever lodge/hotel you’re staying with here.

things to do in McCarthy alaska

Where to Eat in McCarthy, Ak

The Potato

This place was popping all weekend long! They have a great menu and a ton of beers. I considered it “American” food and grabbed burgers and beers for our first visit. We liked the Potato so much that we returned to get the Cheesesteak and try more Alaskan beers.

Golden Saloon

A bar, restaurant, and breakfast joint, the Golden Saloon has affordable and tasty meals. In my mind, being a hundred miles from the nearest town, food would be insanely pricey. However, I was able to order a salmon dish for less than $20. This is another place with an incredible beer selection – not so much on tap but in cans from across the state.

McCarthy Lodge Bistro

I never went to the Bistro, but it’s connected to the Golden Saloon. It’s a higher-end restaurant with what looks to be unique dishes.

The Top Things to Do in McCarthy

What truly makes this place unique is all the outdoor things to do in McCarthy, Alaska. These are what I’d consider the best things to do. I have an extended 10-item list here.

things to do in McCarthy alaska root glacier alaska

Hike on the Root Glacier

When it comes to glacier hiking, going with a guide is the best way to experience it. So we went with St. Elias Alpine Guides, who equip you with crampons and a knowledgeable person who can lead you to the most incredible spots. Whether or not you choose a guide, walking on the Glacier with no traction is dangerous and could lead to serious injury.

The hike to the Glacier from Kennicott is about 1.5-2 miles, starting flat, then going up, and then heading down to the Glacier. Once there, strap on your crampons or microspikes, and start adventuring. It was one of the highlights of the Alaska trip and a must for things to do in McCarthy.

Book your Root Glacier tour here.

things to do mccarthy root glacier alaska
things to do in McCarthy alaska root glacier alaska

Take a Flightseeing Trip with Wrangell Mountain Air

It’s pricy, but it was one of my favorite things to do in McCarthy. Another fantastic opportunity to see the landscape is flightseeing with Wrangell Mountain Air. Choose from one of four routes, and your mind will be blown every time. Wrangell St. Elias is the largest National Park in the country at over 13M acres.

So flying over it is the most efficient way to see it. My one suggestion is to ask your pilot every question you have and have them give you all the factoids from the flight. Their knowledge base made it a significant aspect of the trip, and I learned much more than expected.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park things to do in McCarthy alaska
things to do in McCarthy alaska
Flightseeing in Wrangell St. Elias Wrangell Mountain Air things to do in McCarthy alaska

Tour the Kennicott Mine

In the town of Kennicott sits the old mine. The National Park Service recently renovated it and now allows tours. One of the big selling points of coming to the region is understanding how influential this was to the area. At one point, due to this mine, it was the largest town in Alaska. If you have time, this is one of the things to do in McCarthy.

kennecott mine wrangell mccarthy alaska
kennecott mine wrangell things to do mccarthy alaska
Kennicott Mine Wrangell things to do in McCarthy alaska

Visit the Museum

There’s no better place to learn about the history of McCarthy than in McCarthy. So take an hour of your day and walk around the two-room museum to understand why this town is so loved and revered.

things to do in McCarthy alaska
things to do in McCarthy alaska

Things to do in McCarthy – Where to stay?

Ma Johnson’s Hotel

We stayed here and loved it. It’s a cute historical building that looks like you are still living in the 1930s. With every night’s stay, you get a complimentary breakfast at the saloon in the morning. There’s hot water for communal showers, and most rooms have a sink. Our room had two single beds, so don’t always expect to be snuggling up with your significant other unless you ask for a larger bed.

Check availability here.

ma johnsons hotel things to do in McCarthy alaska

Blackburn Cabins

A short walk out of the city, the Blackburns Cabisn are supposedly fantastic! My parents stayed here and loved it.

Check availability here.

Kennicott Glacier Lodge

Up in Kennicott, this looks like a luxurious place. It also has a huge staff, which makes it seem like they’re running a good ship. You’re maybe a 10-minute drive from the town of McCarthy, Alaska.

Check availability here.

McCarthy Cabins

Check availability here.

Lancaster’s Backpackers Hotel

Glacier View Campground

Plus, lots more!

Our 3-day McCarthy, AK Itinerary

Friday Night: Arrived in McCarthy. Unpacked at Ma Johnson’s. We grabbed dinner at the Golden Saloon.

Saturday:  Breakfast at the Golden Saloon. Supposed to have a flightseeing tour, but it was canceled due to the weather. 1 pm private guiding tour on the Root Glacier. Dinner at The Potato.

Sunday: 9 am flightseeing trip with Wrangell Mountain Air. Walked to the mouth of the Glacier. (Budget 2 hours for this.) Lunch at the Potato. We packed up and headed out of McCarthy.

Final Tidbits on Things to Do in McCarthy

  • Take the time to explore here.
  • Hike to the mouth of the Root Glacier.
  • Enjoy walking along the water.
  • Stroll into the old cemetery.
  • Talk to the locals.

It’s a remarkable place, and I’m still wondering how it operates so far off the grid. All the things to do in McCarthy, plus the gorgeous 360-degree views, will leave you yearning to come back.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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