Park Number: 49/61
First Visited: August 26, 2015
Wrangell-St. Elias is the biggest national park in the entire system: 13.2 million acres (six times larger than Yellowstone). But, like most Alaskan parks, this one is remote and those acres are hard to come by; experiencing them is a matter of earning them.
You can access Wrangell via a flight into Anchorage followed by a four-and-a-half-hour drive. What comes next, though, after reaching the town of Chitina, is another sixty miles on a malicious dirt road to the town of McCarthy (this stint will take another three hours, but don’t worry, there are espresso shacks along the way). This journey is well worth the hardship, however, because McCarthy is where the dark weirdos live—vagrants getting off the grid and back to a minimalist mindset. It is here that you can get a killer meal at the Roadside Potatohead Café and a regional education at the well-kempt museum.
Up the road is the old Kennecott Mine, one of the most successful copper mines in history. The National Park Service, operating with local organizations, has been working diligently to maintain and repair the original infrastructure of this area and has great placards and didactics explaining the significance of each building (of which you can walk around and explore). Myriad hikes branch out from this area, taking you to both glaciers and mineshafts.
There is another road into the park further north (called Nabesna) that will also lead you through the mining legacy of the area. I’ve been told this road is even more rugged and susceptible to flooding than McCarthy; bring spare tires if attempting this trek.
Beyond these two roads the only way to see this park is via hiking, prop planes, and river rafting. What’s rad is that camping is pretty much allowed anywhere and pull-offs along the two roads make this process even easier. Mount Saint Elias is also in this park, the second highest peak in the United States (at 18,009 feet).