Wrangell – St. Elias is one of the most awe-inspiring national parks in the USA. And it’s one many people don’t know about.
This is the largest national park in the United States. Take Yellowstone National Park, multiply it by 6, and that’s roughly the size of Wrangell – St. Elias. Throw in four mountain ranges, some of the tallest peaks in North America, massive glaciers, wildlife, and about 100 miles of road, and you have a remote, spectacular wilderness to explore.
Wrangell – St. Elias contains the largest concentration of glaciers in North America. About 33% of the park is covered in ice. Nine of the 16 highest mountain peaks in the USA are located inside of this park, including Mount St. Elias, the tallest in the park. It’s also home to Mount Wrangell, the largest volcano in the US outside of Hawaii.
Wrangell – St. Elias is one of our favorite national parks. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s wild, and it’s remote. And it is easier than you think to get here.
WRANGELL - ST. ELIAS
Founded: December 2, 1980
Annual Visitors: 50,000 in 2021, making it the 8th least visited park in the USA that year.
Size: This is the largest US national park. At 13 million acres, it is larger than Switzerland and about twice the size of Maryland.
Entrance Fee: None
Take a Flightseeing Tour. Since this park is so large and has so few roads, one of the best ways to experience Wrangell – St. Elias is on a flightseeing tour. There is no better way to truly appreciate the sheer size of this park and to get a view of its mountains and glaciers. There are many flightseeing tours to choose from. We took two tours while we were here: the Thirteen Glacier Tour and a tour out to the Bagley Icefield and Mount St. Elias.
Drive McCarthy Road to McCarthy/Kennicott. This 59-mile unpaved road connects Chitina with McCarthy. It’s a beautiful drive and along the way you can see wildlife, drive across one lane bridges, and venture deeper into the wilderness. The road ends at McCarthy and Kennicott, two tiny towns that make a great home base for exploring the national park.
Visit McCarthy. McCarthy sits at the end of McCarthy Road. This small town has a few hotels, restaurants, shops, and a museum.
Visit Kennicott. Kennicott is a small tourist town located deep within Wrangell – St. Elias. This is one of the best places to stay, as it overlooks the Root Glacier and has handy access to some of the best hiking trails in the park.
Visit Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark. In the 1900’s, copper was mined in this area. This historic landmark preserves these building and mines, which are located in Kennecott.
Hike the Root Glacier Trail. The Root Glacier is the most accessible glacier in Wrangell – St. Elias. From Kennecott, it is a relatively easy hike to get out to the glacier. Then, with a guide and the proper equipment, you can spend several hours hiking or ice climbing on the glacier.
Hike the Bonanza Mine Trail. This is a long, tough, uphill hike but the views are incredible. Not only do you get to see the abandoned Bonanza Mine but you also get panoramic views over the Root and Kennicott Glaciers and the mountain ranges of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. It’s the best way to get a view of the mountain ranges without taking a flightseeing tour.
Drive Nabesna Road. This 42-mile unpaved road is located in the northern section of Wrangell – St. Elias. Multiple hikes start along this road and it ends at the Rambler Mine.
Visit Copper Center. Copper Center is the location of the Wrangell – St. Elias Visitor Center. It sits just outside of the park boundary. Learn more about the park from a park ranger, walk the short trails, and take in the view of the Copper River and Wrangell Mountains.
At 13 million acres, this is the largest national park in the United States.
33% of the park is covered in glacial ice.
The Bagley Icefield is the largest nonpolar icefield in North America.
Four mountain ranges are located in the park: the Wrangell Mountains, the St. Elias Mountains, the Chugach Mountains, and the Alaska Range. The St. Elias Mountain Range is the highest coastal mountain range in the world.
9 of the 16 tallest mountain peaks are located in Wrangell – St. Elias. Mount St. Elias is the tallest in the park, at 18,008 feet.
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How to Get to Wrangell - St. Elias National Park
If you will have a rental car, below are driving distances and times to Chitina from other destinations in Alaska. From Chitina, you can either drive to McCarthy on McCarthy Road (a 4x4 is required) or take a taxi flight from Chitina to McCarthy.
- Anchorage: 245 miles, 4.5 hours
- Denali NP: 410 miles, 7 hours
- Valdez: 120 miles, 2 hours
- Fairbanks: 310 miles, 5.5 hours
It is also possible to charter a flight to McCarthy from Glennallen, Anchorage, Denali NP, Valdez, Fairbanks, Seward, and other locations, but these are pricey. Visit the Wrangell Mountain Air website for more information.
Best Time to Visit Wrangell-St. Elias
The best time to visit Wrangell – St. Elias is from the end of May through mid-September. During these months, the days are long and the temperatures are cool to warm.
From June through September, the daily high temperatures average about 65°F during the day and 50°F at night. June and July tend to be drier than August and September, and it does rain frequently at Wrangell – St. Elias. June typically gets 14 days of rain and August tends to get 17 days of rain. You can see these stats here.
The end of June is a great time to visit Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. The weather tends to be drier than the later summer months and visitation is high, but not yet at its peak (July tends to get the most visitors).
From late September through mid-May, the lodges and visitor centers are closed and the park can be snow-covered.
How Much Time Should You Spend in Wrangell - St. Elias?
For the best experience, we recommend spending at least three days in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights of the park. Drive McCarthy Road, spend some time in McCarthy and Kennicott, take a flightseeing tour, tour the mill, and go hiking. With more time, you can extend your time in McCarthy and Kennicott, add on Nabesna Road, or explore the backcountry.
We spent five days in the park. Here is our itinerary.
Day 1: We drove from Valdez to McCarthy in the morning. In the afternoon, we took the Thirteen Glacier flightseeing tour with Wrangell Mountain Air.
Day 2: It was a rainy day, so we visited McCarthy midday and toured the Kennecott mill in the afternoon.
Day 3: We hiked the Bonanza Mine Trail in the morning and took the Bagley Icefield flightseeing tour in the afternoon.
Day 4: We hiked the Root Glacier Trail in the morning and midday. In the afternoon we drove to Glennallen.
Day 5: We drove Nabesna Road and we spent a second night in Glennallen.