McCarthy has been one of my favorite stops on this Alaskan journey. It’s way off the beaten path, so less visited by the tourist hordes, but full of Alaska personality and a rich history of copper mining. It’s also in the middle of the beautiful Wrangell-St Elias Wilderness which is home to 9 of the 16 highest peaks in N.A.!
There are no cars in McCarthy. To access the town, you have to park the car and walk across a foot bridge over a river, then walk or take a shuttle another 1/2 mile to town. Almost all the buildings in town are original structures from the thriving days of mining in the early-mid 1900s. There are no services – just a few good restaurants and a saloon. What else do you need?
My favorite experience in McCarthy was ice climbing on the Root Glacier. What a trip! McCarthy is known for having the most accessible glaciers for ice climbing, and you can even climb down into a moulin – the gaps and caves created by glacial movement. We had an awesome guide, an awesome day, and easily one of my favorite experiences of the trip, even if I clearly do NOT have a future as a professional ice climber! It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, and we were way out of ours!
We also did an incredible Bonanza Mine Hike – 11 miles of hell (straight up and then straight down for 4,000+ feet), but it was worth it for the incredible views (at least I can say that now)!
Another cool benefit of McCarthy is a visit to Kennecott which is 4.5 miles down the road from McCarthy, accessible via foot or shuttle bus. Kennecott is an old mining town – the Kennecott Copper Mine was one of the largest copper mines in the world in the 1920s. From 1911 to 1938 nearly $200M worth of copper was processed there! At 14 stories high, the mine is still the tallest wood structure in North America. If you close your eyes, you can almost still hear and feel the bustle of the machines and people during the mining heyday.
If you come to Alaska, put McCarthy-Kennecott on your must-do list! This place “kicks ice”… 🙂