Kennecott & McCarthy FAQs

How do I get to McCarthy?
From Anchorage, visitors to McCarthy and Kennecott generally take a shuttle or rental vehicle to Chitina, where the paved road ends. From there, visitors can travel either by bush plane or by a scenic 60-mile dirt road. The McCarthy Road was once the route of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, running mining supplies all the way to Kennecott, filling up with copper ore, and turning around in McCarthy at the McCarthy turntable. Now, it is an adventurous ride featuring scenic views of the Crystalline Hills, the Twaharpies, Mount Drum, and other beautiful views of the Wrangell Mountains.

The McCarthy Road is the only overland route to and from the settlements of McCarthy and Kennecott. It ends at the west bank of the Kennicott River. There is public parking for a small fee. Plan to leave your car there as both communities rest beyond the east bank of the Kennicott River. They are connected by a four-mile single lane dirt road permissible to foot, bicycle, ATV and locals-only vehicular traffic. To get between the West Side and the East Side, visitors cross a pedestrian footbridge. Public bus, hotel, and Wild Alpine shuttles provide rides on the East Side between the footbridge, downtown McCarthy, the McCarthy Airstrip and Kennicott. We recommend packing your essentials in easy-to-carry duffel bags as shuffling gear is a major component of getting around here!


What can I do on a rainy day in McCarthy?
McCathy boasts a lively local nightlife, excellent cuisine, and plenty of opportunities for enjoying the mountains even on your rest days. The Wrangell Mountains Center, the local non-profit, is dedicated to environmental education, research, and the arts; and it is an excellent place to visit for activities from movies to lectures to art workshops. There are shops to visit in McCarthy and Kennecott, as well as historic buildings to explore. In Kennecott, the National Park Service hosts short videos and informative historic talks and tours.


What kinds of accommodations can I expect?
There are opportunities for all kinds of lodging in McCarthy and Kennecott. Visitors can camp in tents or stay at one of many businesses that offer hostel rooms, private hotel rooms, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, and decadent private rooms overlooking the Root and Kennicott glaciers.


Can I tour the Kennecott Mill building?
Most years, there are opportunities to take a guided tour of the inside of the 14-story Kennecott Mill building. This year, however, the National Park Service is closing the building for renovations after July 9, 2012. But don’t be dismayed! Visitors can still tour many of the other historic Kennecott buildings, which boast fascinating history and extraordinary engineering.


Why is Kennecott sometimes spelled with an “i” and other times with an “e”?
Robert Kennicott, who worked on the trans-Pacific telegraph line in the 1880s, is the original namesake of the Kennicott Valley. Oscar Rohn, who worked for the USGS, named the glacier, river and valley in his honor. When Kennecott Mining Company was formed, a mistake was made on some paperwork and the company name was forever spelled with an “e”. Today the natural features still carry the original spelling, while the town of Kennecott and the remains of the Company buildings are spelled Kennecott; both spellings are considered correct.


What kind of weather can I expect in McCarthy/Kennecott?
The weather in the Kennicott Valley is hard to predict, because of the large forecast area and the constantly changing mountain climate. We recommend that visitors prepare for a variety of conditions from t-shirt weather to chilly rainy days.


Why did the mine close so soon after it was built?
The supply of high-grade ore in the Kennicott Valley began to diminish by the late 1920’s, and as maintenance costs increased and profits decreased, the mining operation became less and less lucrative, leading to its eventual closure in 1938. The last train out of Kennecott was announced, and only a few days later, the valley was virtually empty of human inhabitants.


Is McCarthy part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve?
No. McCarthy is an in-holding of privately owned land, surrounded by federally owned park land. There are about 750,000 privately held acres within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.


Is there any copper left in the Kennicott Valley area?
Yes, there is still copper in the mountains around Kennecott, but there is not enough to ever merit a mining operation there again. In the 1960’s an attempt was made to reprocess the ore from the mine tailings and fly them out. However the amount of copper ore available did not prove to be worth the operation costs and the attempt was abandoned. On hikes near Kennecott, visitors can find small blue-green stones mixed with the limestone and greenstone tailings. These stones contain small amounts of copper ore.


Are the mines accessible to visitors?
The Kennecott mine system included many miles of underground tunnels, which enter and exit the mountains at various locations around the Kennicott Valley. Although you can not enter the tunnels themselves, some of their openings are reachable via beautiful hikes from Kennecott. Contact us for more information about custom trips that can include visits to the Kennecott mine entrances.


Do people live in Kennecott and McCarthy year-round?
After the mines were abandoned in 1938, the valley was virtually empty until the 1950’s. Slowly, brave Alaskans began to re-inhabit the remote ghost towns. Then, in the 1980’s when the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was established, there became an industry for tourism in the area. Since then, the local population has grown considerably. As of the 2000 census, there were 42 people who claimed that McCarthy was their year-round home. During the summer season, the town is lively with summertime locals who live and work in McCarthy between the months of May and September.


Is there a gear shop in McCarthy or Kennectt for that forgotten piece of gear?
Yes! The McCarthy Turntable Gear Exchange is McCarthy and Kennecott’s very own gear shop. Opening May 15 for the 2012 summer adventure season in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, “the Turntable” is your adventure gear headquarters!

You’ll find new and gently used gear including a full line of adventure essentials from Patagonia, MSR, Mountain House and other favorite brands. Visit the Turntable at the McCarthy Air cabin in downtown McCarthy.