At Mile 187 of the Glenn Highway, just before the junction with the Richardson Highway, is the small service town Glennallen, named for both Edwin Glenn and Henry Allen, leader of the first expedition up the Copper River. Strung along both sides of the road, Glennallen (pop. 1,000) is the gateway to the big Copper River Valley country and Wrangell–St. Elias National Park.
Glennallen is an odd amalgamation of businesses, including the standard gas stations, motels, and food stops along with seven churches and three liquor stores. This is the heart of right-wing Christian Alaska, as you will quickly discover with a spin of the radio dial; KCAM 790 AM dominates the air waves with stirring messages of conversion along with its “Caribou Clatters” for those without phone service. The station beams out from the small campus of the Alaska Bible College in Glennallen (www.akbible.edu). Fortunately, the area also has a repeater for the public radio station at Valdez, KCHU.
The best thing about Glennallen is its setting. As you approach the town from the west—if the weather’s clear—there’s a dramatic view of the Wrangell Mountains: Mt. Drum is the beautiful snowcapped peak right in the middle at 12,010 feet in elevation, Mt. Sanford is just to the north (left) at 16,237 feet, and Mt. Wrangell is to the south at 14,163 feet. It’s an incredible backdrop for a very ordinary junction town.
The Greater Copper River Valley Visitor Center (907/822-5555, www.traveltoalaska.com, daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-May–mid-Sept., closed winter) occupies the highway junction at the Hub gas station. You’ll find exhibits on local attractions and details about every place between Tok and Cordova. Both Wells Fargo Bank and First National Bank have ATMs. Warning: Alaska State Troopers have a base in Glennallen, so don’t even think about exceeding the speed limit for 50 miles in any direction.
Caribou Hotel (907/822-3302 or 800/478-3302, www.caribouhotel.com) is the largest place in town, but it gets negative reviews from many travelers. Choose from overpriced guest rooms ($143 d) and suites ($168 for up to 6 people) in the main building, or very basic tiny guest rooms with twin beds and communal baths ($69 s, $79 d) in an ancient ATCO unit. Apartments and cabins are also available, and the hotel has a guest computer, Wi-Fi, and a so-so restaurant. Anywhere but Glennallen, and this hotel wouldn’t survive.
Located 11 miles north of Glennallen, Bear Creek Cabin (907/822-5852, $100 d) is a clean and nicely appointed cabin with a full kitchen, continental breakfast, and a spectacular view of the Wrangells.
Historic Gakona Lodge (907/822-3482, www.gakonalodge.com) sits along the Gakona and Copper Rivers 18 miles north of Glennallen. Built in the 1920s, the picturesque log building includes a bar and a gift shop with locally made Native Alaskan crafts. Carriage House Restaurant is open mid-May–mid-September with steaks, seafood, burgers, and chicken for $11–28. Remodeled century-old cabins with private baths are $115–150 d, and old-fashioned guest rooms inside the lodge cost $95 d with shared baths. Continental breakfast is included, along with a guest computer, Wi-Fi, raft rentals, and guided fishing.
Three miles up the Tok Cutoff from Gakona Lodge (17 miles north of Glennallen) is Riverview B&B (907/822-3321, www.cvalaska.net/~riverv, $100–110 d), with great views across the Copper River to the Wrangell Mountains. Ten guest rooms (seven with private baths and entrances) are available with decks, king or twin beds, a full breakfast, and Wi-Fi. Next door is River Wrangellers (907/822-3967 or 888/822-3967, www.riverwrangellers.com), offering rafting and fishing trips down nearby rivers.
Other local lodging options include Fireweed Hill B&B (907/822-3627, www.fireweedhill.com, $80 d).
The state’s Dry Creek Campground ($12) is five miles north of the Glenn-Richardson junction and has pit toilets and too-friendly mosquitoes.
Northern Nights Campground & RV Park (907/822-3199, www.northernightscampground.com, May–Sept., RVs $30, tents $15, showers $3) is the nicest local RV park, with a wooded setting, Wi-Fi, room for big rigs, and free desserts on Monday and Friday nights.
Particularly popular with locals is The Freeze (907/822-3923, daily 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m. May–Sept.), serving fried chicken, burgers, hot dogs, halibut fish-and-chips, shakes, malts, and ice cream for under $12. There is nothing low-calorie about this place!
Brown Bear Rhodehouse (907/822-3663, Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., closed Sun.), three miles west of the junction at Mile 184 on the Glenn Highway, is famous for its hunting lodge atmosphere where dead critters stare from the walls. The filet mignon is great, and they also serve sandwiches, seafood, and broasted chicken; entrées run $18–39. Even if you aren’t hungry, stop by to take a gander at the photos or to talk with the locals about those “damn Outside environmeddlers” (unless you are one).
Omni Parks Place (907/822-3334, www.omnialaska.com, daily 7 a.m.–10 p.m., reduced winter hours) is a surprisingly large and modern grocery store with a deli, bakery, fresh produce, and even espresso.
Getting to Glennallen
Alaska Direct Bus Line (907/277-6652 or 800/770-6652, www.alaskadirectbusline.com) has service to Glennallen, continuing on to Whitehorse, Fairbanks, or Anchorage. Buses run three times a week in the summer, twice weekly in winter.
Glennallen’s airport is just north of town, but for some reason it’s officially called the Gakona Airport. Ellis Air Taxi (907/822-3368 or 800/478-3368, www.ellisair.com) will fly you from Glennallen to McCarthy for $118, or from Anchorage to McCarthy for $300. Copper Valley Air Service (907/822-4200 or 866/570-4200, www.coppervalleyair.com) also provides air-taxi service and flightseeing.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition