McCarthy and Kennicott
By Radu Marculescu
McCarthy and Kennicott are historic ghost towns of the Kennecott Copper Mine. The mine and mining company were misspelled as Kennecott. The place is a two-town community located in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, one the largest protected wilderness area in the world.
During the mining days, Kennicott was the Kennecott Copper Mine operation site and the mining town. The Kennecott Copper Mine built in 1910 the town of Kennicott . It had 300 people in the mine’s mill camp and 300 miners up in the mines located 3 miles away from Kennicott. McCarthy was established in 1906. Known as a “ Sin City ,” the town provided services not available in the company’s town such as saloons and a red light district. At its glory, McCarthy was the largest city in Alaska that serviced 800 people in this area. In 1938, after falling copper prices, the Kennecott Copper Mine abruptly closed. Both McCarthy and Kennicott were mostly abandoned and became ghost towns.
The National Trust for Historic Places has established the Kennicott and McCarthy area as one of the United States ' most endangered landmarks. In 1998, the National Park Service acquired many of the important old mine buildings and much of the land within the mill town of Kennicott . A plan is underway for improving safety around the mill site and other buildings.
Since 1980, the area began to be developed as a tourist destination. Kennicott has become Alaska 's most fascinating ghost town. McCarthy, an Alaskan frontier community of 42 permanent residents, situated 4 miles south of Kennecott, is providing tourist services in the area. In recent years, McCarthy has become a gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The park, known as "North America’s Mountain Kingdom ," is larger than Switzerland . It encompasses 13 million acres with 1 million acres of native and private lands within the borders of the park. It contains Mount St. Elias, at 18,008 feet, as the second highest peak in the United States . The main features of the park include over 150 glaciers and 9 of North America ’s tallest peaks. Abundant wildlife include: buffalo, caribou, moose, mountain goats, bald eagles, wolves, and brown and black bear.
The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is a vast, remote, ragged, untamed and beautiful wilderness area. The park is only accessible by charter airplane. It has fewer visitors in a year than Denali because of its remoteness. Summer visitors have grown every year to an estimated 57,000.
The best time to visit is June to August. Visitors can get to McCarthy & Kennicott by car, bus, plane or their combinations. The most recommended way is by car. McCarthy is about 300 miles from Anchorage driving on Glenn Highway via Glennallen. From Anchorage to Chitina the road is paved. A 61-mile McCarthy Road that begins in the town of Chitina and provides access to McCarthy and Kennicott is unpaved. Driving this road is an adventure. This may be one reason why these two towns are not crowded with tourists during the summer season. The McCarthy Road is a dirt-cover road with narrow and one-lane bridges. It can be dangerous, especially during the heavy rains when slippery or sharp rocks can cause flat tires. The road requires a high clearance passenger car. At the end of the road are parking areas and two foot bridges that cross the Kennicott River and provide access to McCarthy and Kennecott. The access to McCarthy and Kennicott is by foot, bike, or shuttle. Shuttles run every half-hour from 9:00 a.m. to 7 p.m., in circuit, from the Footbridge, McCarthy and Kennicott. Kennicott and McCarthy are privately owned.
Steps to follow for a successful visit in the McCarthy & Kennicott:
- Plan three days to stay
- Make in advance lodging reservation. Lodging is available at McCarthy Lodge & Ma Johnson's historic hotel in downtown McCarthy, and at Kennicott Glacier Lodge in the heart of the ghost town, close to the glaciers
- Rent a car to get you from Chitina to your final destination. A1 Car Rental in Anchorage (907-929-1222) allows their cars on the McCarthy Road. If it is not possible to get the car, try McCarthy by air: Wrangell Mountain Air (907-554-4411 or 800- 478-1160) has daily air shuttles from Chitina or Glennallen to McCarthy at reasonable prices
- Dress appropriately. The weather is unpredictable. In the Kennecott area the climate is similar to interior Alaska
- Stop at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center. The visitor center is located along the Richardson Highway , 10 miles south of Glennallen (907-822-5234). For the latest information about the situation of the McCarthy Road call park rangers
- Make a stop in Chitina and visit the Chitina Ranger Station open daily in season. Information about the current road conditions, land status, and weather are available here. Chitina has a gas station, food store and a post office
- Drive the McCarthy Road, at the end of the road leave the car in the parking lot and get to McCarty-Kennicott area
- Take a guided tour of the ghost town of Kennicott and explore the tallest wooden structure in the USA - 14-story mill building, powerhouse, and other historic landmarks
- Enjoy a hike by yourself. Begin your hike from Kennicott. Watch for bears! Make noise as you go
- Enjoy a 50-minute backcountry tour with Wrangell Mountain Air of McCarthy to experience the wonders of America 's largest national park by plane
- Explore Root and Kennicott Glaciers on foot with experienced trained guides. Choose Kennicott Wilderness Guides - the best local company
- Experience the Wrangell St. Elias National Park from the water in a Kennicott River rafting adventure
The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Information Page contains an essential advice regarding the park. “You have to see it to believe it!” During your stay, enjoy the streets of Alaska ’s famous ghost towns, spectacular views, glacier hiking, flightseeing, and rafting. At the end, this will be your best Alaskan wilderness vacation.
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