Cutting into the heart of the Wrangells, the challenging McCarthy Road follows an old railroad route past ragged mountain peaks, picturesque ponds where you’ll hear loons (and buzzing mosquitoes), and sweeping vistas of the mighty Copper River. This could be the longest 60-mile road in Alaska—plan on three hours from Chitina, several more if it’s clear and you stop for views of the Wrangells.
The road has been substantially improved in the last few years and is in fairly good shape, but you may have to contend with choking dust if it hasn’t rained recently. There are tire repair and towing services in Chitina and McCarthy, along with various lodging options as you approach McCarthy. You may be tempted to speed on the road at times, but try to keep around 30 mph since you never know what’s around the next bend. It’s also a good idea to have a full-size spare tire.
Note that many car rental and RV companies will not allow their vehicles on the McCarthy Road. Of course, this doesn’t stop folks from driving the road. As one lodge owner told me, “If everyone obeyed that rule, I wouldn’t have any guests.”
At Mile 16, get ready for an adrenaline-pumping drive across the Kuskulana River on a narrow three-span bridge built in 1910 by the railroad and improved in 1988 (when guardrails were added). The bridge is nearly 600 feet long and sits almost 400 feet above the water—perfect, in other words, for bungee jumping, which does occasionally take place here.
Another attraction is the abandoned railroad trestle across the Gilahina River at Mile 28. Just before the end of the road is a spectacular overlook of the town of McCarthy, the surrounding mountains, and the Kennicott and Root Glaciers.
The road ends on the west side of the Kennicott River, and parking is available ($5 per day) on nearby private land. The general public is not allowed to drive vehicles beyond this point, and two footbridges cross the river and a smaller tributary. Once across, walk up the road; the right fork takes you a mile to McCarthy, the left fork nearly five miles to Kennicott.
Shuttle buses ($5 one way, through Wrangell Mountain Air) transport visitors from McCarthy to Kennicott, and mountain bikes are available to rent from Glacier View Campground. Backcountry Connection (907/822-5292, www.kennicottshuttle.com) provides van service to McCarthy from Glennallen or Chitina.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition