Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
106.8 Richardson Hwy.
PO Box 439
Copper Center, AK 99573-0439
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska
takes its status as the largest park in the National Park System seriously. Wrangell-St. Elias is six times the size of Yellowstone, and the park's largest glacier, Malaspina, is so big that the state of Rhode Island could fit on it.
Located about a day's drive east of Anchorage, Wrangell-St. Elias features a staggering display of mountain peaks -- including Mount St. Elias, which at 18,008 feet is the second-highest mountain in the United States. Visitors will also see the continent's largest collection of glaciers. And with three mountain ranges converging in the park, it's easy to see why Wrangell-St. Elias has been labeled the "mountain kingdom of North America."
Entrance fees: Admission is free.
Visitor centers: Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center is open year-round. Kennecott Visitor Center is open daily during the summer.
Other services: Three ranger stations, two camping areas with several private campgrounds, and one bed-and-breakfast
- Although the National Park Service has established no formal campgrounds in the park, camping is available at a number of private campgrounds.
- A number of private lodges are also readily available.
Visiting Wrangell-St. Elias National ParkWrangell-St. Elias National Park stands out for the sheer audacity of its topography -- no small claim in a land where mountains and glaciers go on for hundreds of miles at a stretch.
Three great mountain ranges converge in the park, creating a reckless jumble of ragged peaks, lovely river valleys, and enormous glaciers. The St. Elias Mountains, the world's tallest coastal range, shove their way up from the Yukon Territory in the southeast, where in a torrent of glaciers and ice fields they join the Chugach Range. The mighty Wrangell Range, coming down from the north, is the backbone of the park.
Near the point where the three ranges come together, in the southeast corner of the park, spectacular Mount St. Elias rises 18,008 feet. It is the second tallest mountain in the United States (Denali, otherwise known as Mount McKinley, is the tallest). Only 35 miles from the rugged, glacier-scoured coast of the Gulf of Alaska, Mount St. Elias rises so dramatically and precipitously that it dominates its surroundings like few other mountains.
Elsewhere in the park are eight more of the 16 tallest peaks in the United States; four of them are above 16,000 feet. As you fly over the park, the mountains come at you in waves of ranges that change color with the weather.
In the next section, learn about the incredible things to do at Wrangell-St. Elias.
Sightseeing at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Floating on a raft down one of the many rivers in Wrangell-St. Elias, visitors will see Dall sheep on the tundra and mountain goats on the rocky crags of mountain slopes. But there are so many huge glaciers in this park that there is not very much habitable terrain. The park's largest glacier, Malaspina, is so big that Rhode Island could fit on it.
This rugged region has been called the Himalayas of North America. In fact, the park's terrain may actually be wilder than the great Asian mountains. There are still valleys in these mighty Alaskan mountains where people probably have never set foot, and countless peaks remain unnamed and unscaled. The park is so vast that it contains more unexplored terrain than the Himalayas, largely as a result of the short summers and long winters that come with its proximity to the Arctic.
The size of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is overwhelming: The biggest national park by far, it is larger than Switzerland and six times the size of Yellowstone. But it is not inaccessible. Two roads lead into the heart of the park. The road from the Chitina River Valley goes to two tiny towns that are remnants of the gold and copper mining frenzy at the turn of the century. Today, these communities are staging areas for hiking, rafting, climbing, and kayaking adventures in the park.
Wrangell-St. Elias is also a place to come and listen to the loon sing hauntingly out on the lake or taste the sweetness of the berry that is the essence of the Alaska outback -- the mountain blueberry.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Photo Opportunities
Wrangell-St. Elias is sure to provide sights you've never seen before. Here are some that you'll want to capture with your camera:
- Kennicott Town Site: The National Park Service recently acquired many of the significant buildings and lands of the historic mining town of Kennicott. Designated as a National Historic Landmark since 1978, Kennicott is considered the best remaining example of early 20th century copper mining.
- Bagley Ice Field: Stretching over 125 miles, the Bagley Ice Field fills a giant trough in the interior of the Chugach and St. Elias mountains. In some places, this huge mass is more than 15 miles wide.
- Malaspina Glacier: Measuring about 40 miles wide and reaching out about 28 miles from the mountain to the sea, Malaspina is a classic example of a piedmont glacier. It is so big that only satellite pictures can capture its entire mass.
- Mount St. Elias and Mount Wrangell: At 18,008 feet, Mount St. Elias, is the second-highest peak in the United States. Mount Wrangell reaches 14,163 feet and is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America.
So how did such an awesome park come to be? Check out the next section for a brief history lesson on Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
The History of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, conjoined with the adjacent Kluane National Park in Canada's Yukon Territory, together protect 19 million acres. What was once the exclusive domain of prospectors, trappers, and big-game hunters is now a designated World Heritage Site.
Because of its volcanic past, Wrangell-St. Elias is a landscape rich in valuable minerals, including gold, silver, and copper. In the early part of the century, the Kennicott Mining Company operated a highly productive copper mine near McCarthy, an area that is, ironically, now one of the chief attractions of the park. One of Wrangell-St. Elias's two good unpaved roads leads visitors back in time to the Alaska gold rush days at the turn of the century.
From the ranger station at Chitina on the east side of the park, the road follows the abandoned Copper River and Northwest Railroad for 60 miles to its end. There, a hand-pulled cable tram takes you across the Kennicott River to the tiny community of McCarthy. Now almost deserted, it was once a town of 3,000 miners, hustlers, and card sharks.
From the McCarthy side of the river, where you can rent a bicycle or hire a taxi, another dirt road leads to the ghost town of Kennicott, the site of a 14-story mill that was abandoned in 1938. The mill and other deserted buildings here are covered with ferrous-oxide red paint and trimmed in white. They are among Alaska's finest and most photogenic samples of turn-of-the-century structures. The copper mine at Kennicott, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was once the world's richest.
From visiting these historic mining towns to flying over the massive glaciers and mountain peaks, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has an incredible amount to see and do for the entire family.
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