If soaring over towering peaks or walking on glaciers is your version of fun, you need to visit Wrangell St Elias. Nestled away from the usual touristy spots in the busy Alaskan summer, the quaint town of McCarthy will fuel your adventure soul.
There are so many things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park and experience the diverse wilderness, wonderful people, and stunning views.
And don’t let the terrible road reviews hold you back. We drove it in late May of 2021 and found it to be in great condition. I’ve even driven city roads with more potholes. Plus, there’s no need to drive fast as wildlife could be just around the corner!
However, I will note that not all car rental places allow you to drive it. So, if you do want to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park, think about Turo, as single owners may not prohibit it.
Your Guide to the things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
Is Wrangell St Elias National Park worth visiting?
Absolutely yes! It’s one of my favorite national parks as it’s off the beaten path, and those who get there really want to be there.
Furthermore, the landscape is some of the most impressive in the entire country, with peaks rising to 18,000 feet and glaciers stretching the sizes of some cities.
There are so many things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park. It’s truly a sight to behold
How much time to spend at Wrangell St Elias National Park?
We spent three days and two nights, and I think that’s a perfect amount of time. It allows you to do a couple of activities, enjoy the views, and spend time in town with the locals (or those who are local during the summer).
While you can surely spend more time if you’re interested in doing an overnight backpacking trip or doing a rafting adventure. But for us wanting to see more of Alaska, this was a good amount of time.
What is special about Wrangell-St Elias National Park?
First, it’s the largest National Park in the United States and is bigger than some states. Secondly, it’s so remote that few people ever get to see what makes it magical: Glaciers. Mountain Peaks. Rivers. Mines.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park has it all, and you should highly consider visiting!
The best things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park
Walk on the Root Glacier Trail with St. Elias Guides
The next two are the top things to do in Wrangell St Elias, hands down. There are few other places in the country where you can walk on a glacier as easily as here. I LOVED getting to experience the Root Glacier Trail, and we were there early in the season, so hardly anyone else was on it. The way the water cuts through the ice, coupled with the sun’s distortion of the water color, is amazing.
Three tips for the Root Glacier hike
- Bring crampons or microspikes to ensure you have traction hiking on the ice. Better yet, take a tour with a local guiding company.
- Have an extra layer or two for when you get onto the glacier. Temps will drop dramatically.
- Bring sunglasses and sunblock as the reflection from the ice will be bright.
Overall, this should be at the top of our list of things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park.
Enjoy a flightseeing tour with Wrangell Mountain Air
You honestly can’t get more of a thrill from taking off from a gravel runway and being launched thousands of feet into the Alaska sky in a tiny plane. Anyone who wants to visit Wrangell St Elias National Park needs to hop on a plane with Wrangell Mountain Air.
The experience was jaw dropping and provided a unique look at the landscapes, in addition to the opportunity to learn so much about the land. Our pilot was more than phenomenal and was almost the highlight of the trip as he showed us the largest National Park in the United States.
Take a walk to the mouth of the glacier for lunch
Looking for just a short adventure to stretch your legs? Take a 2.5-mile roundtrip walk to the mouth of the glacier. This is perfect for a lunch or dinner activity if you’re looking to switch it up. Be prepared for windy and chillier conditions, as the air coming off the glacier is cooler than what you have in town.
Things to do in Wrangell St Elias – Hike to the Bonanza Mine
Outside of hiking the Root Glacier, there aren’t a lot of established trails near McCarthy and Wrangell St Elias. But one that is supposedly great is the Bonanaza Mine Trail. At eight miles round trip and four thousand feet of elevation gain, this is a difficult hike.
However, with that struggle, you’ll get impeccable views of the glacier and valley below.
Get dropped off in the Wrangell St Elias wilderness
Looking to push the adventure button? St. Elias Alpine Guides do guided trips or just drop you off in the mountains and let you figure it out. This is for the most arduous adventurers who have mapped out a backcountry trek and know how to survive on their own.
Wrangell St Elias National Park is the largest in the country, which means you have plenty of options and places to explore.
Learn about the history of McCarthy in the town museum
The small museum is a great place to stop by when you need a break from hiking or adventuring. Learn everything there is to know about the city of McCarthy and its surrounding areas. While probably not the most exciting of things to do in Wrangell St Elias, it’s still worthwhile!
Tour the Kennecott Mine
A must when visiting Wrangell St Elias and McCarthy! This tour will tell you how instrumental the town and area. It was even the most populated Alaskan town for a time.
The Kennecott mill town and mines are an extraordinary relic from America’s past. The impressive structures and artifacts that remain represent an ambitious time of exploration, discovery, and technological innovation. They tell stories of westward expansion, World War I politics and economy, the lives of men, women, and children who lived there, and the rise of a multinational corporation. Each link in the historical chain connects to another until we realize that this remote Alaska mining venture was intricately connected to the world around it.
The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark includes the land and mining claims that formed the foundation for the Kennecott Copper Corporation, later the Kennecott Minerals Company. The operation had two components: the mines where ore was extracted from the mountains, and the mill town where the ore was processed. From 1911 to 1938, nearly $200 million worth of copper was processed. At the peak of operation, approximately 300 people worked in the mill town and 200-300 in the mines. Kennecott was a self-contained company town that included a hospital, general store, school, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall, and dairy.
By the late 1920s, the supply of high-grade ore was diminishing, and Kennecott Copper Corporation was diversifying into other North American and Chilean mines. Declining profits and increasing costs of railroad repairs led to the eventual closure of the Kennecott operation by 1938. By that time, the corporation was well on the way to becoming a multinational giant.Via NPS
This is a popular activity, so try to plan ahead when you can. Additionally, this is a perfect thing to do if it’s raining.
Visit the Wrangell St Elias cemetery
Another interesting way to learn about the history of the town. This old cemetery, about .25 miles from the center of McCarthy, has been getting a reboot and offers a fascinating perspective on those who lived before us.
It’s small – maybe 100 feet by 60 feet – and should only take 45 minutes round trip. We strolled over post-lunch before heading home. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the things to do in Wrangell St Elias if you’re short on time, but if you need to kill some time, do it!
Search for wildlife on the beautiful drive into Wrangell St Elias
While I was cautiously driving the road from Chitina to McCarthy, my girlfriend was our wildlife spotter. This stretch of land is some of the most pristine and undisturbed in the world. Yes, some houses are back there, but you’re on your own overall.
We didn’t have much luck the way in, though we briefly saw a wolf. The way out was much more promising. We saw a moose, a porcupine, and a beaver.
Related: Photos of the Alaskan National Parks
Go to the Potato for dinner
If you’re in the mood for your choice of 25+ beers and some good American food, the Potato is your place. We ate here on multiple occasions (well, there are only three restaurants, so the pickings are slim, haha) and enjoyed the atmosphere, food, and drinks.
In addition, I enjoyed people-watching and seeing what type of visitors decided to spend part of their vacation in a ridiculously remote part of Alaska!
I have a few recommendations if you’re looking for places to stay. If you plan to book, please use this link.
- Ma Johnson’s Hotel was fantastic.
- My parents stayed in the Blackburn Cabins and loved it
Things to do in Wrangell St Elias National Park – Wrapping Up
There is an immense amount of things to do in Wrangell St Elias that you will have your plate booked for the entire trip. But that’s a good thing! Enjoy this little slice of heaven, and I know you’ll want to come back!
Note: All links here are affiliate links. They cost you nothing, but if you buy through them, I get a small percentage that helps support my business and crafting free articles like this.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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