Wrangell–St. Elias National Park
Though somewhat less accessible than Denali, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is an excellent alternative to the crowds, clouds, wows, and crying-out-louds. The mountains (Chugach, Wrangells, and St. Elias) are incredible, and Mt. Wrangell—the highest volcano in Alaska at 14,163 feet—sometimes puffs away on earth’s crustal cigar. In fact, of the 16 tallest mountains in North America, nine are in this park.
The ice fields are world class, and their glacial tentacles rival any in the state. The Copper River can provide weeks-long raft or canoe rides, with all the fish you can stand. The wildlife is abundant, and this park even has beaches on the Gulf of Alaska. Two roads plunge deep into the park’s wildland, and bus and plane service are available.
This is the largest national park in the country (and larger than southern New England), with over 12 million acres; along with Kluane National Park across the Canadian border, the whole area was the first designated UN World Heritage Site.
Finally, you don’t need backcountry permits to traipse around or camp on this federal land—just pick a direction and backpack until you crack. But you will certainly need mosquito repellent and a head net; the bugs can get downright vicious.
The large Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitors Center (907/822-7440, www.nps.gov/wrst, daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m. summer, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. the rest of the year) is at Mile 107 on the Richardson Highway, seven miles south of Glennallen. Rangers can help with trip planning or sell you books and topographic maps.
Talks and guided walks are offered daily, and an acclaimed 20-minute film about the park shows hourly. Outside, an easy trail leads through the forest to a vista point overlooking the Copper River and three of the park’s most prominent peaks: Mt. Drum, Mt. Wrangell, and Mt. Blackburn. Seasonal ranger stations are in McCarthy, Kennicott, Chitina, and Yakutat.
Air taxis and charter services can drop you off anywhere inside the park, with flights departing from Glennallen-Gulkana, Cordova, Chitina, or McCarthy.
Getting to Wrangell–St. Elias National Park
Ground access to Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is via the Edgerton Highway and McCarthy Road in the center, and the Nabesna Road on the north side. The 42-mile Nabesna Road turns off at Mile 65 of the Tok Cutoff and leads to the abandoned gold mining town of Nabesna.
The Park Service maintains the Slana Ranger Station (907/822-5238, daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m. summer, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. the rest of the year), just up Nabesna Road from the junction.
Located at Mile 4 on the Nabesna Road, Huck Hobbit’s Homestead (907/822-3196) has three cabins on a lovely 87-acre spread. Hostel-type accommodations are available at a budget price, just $20 per person. One larger cabin sleeps up to six and has its own kitchen. The setting is quiet, and the owners also offer the full-service version with meals, guided fishing, and entertainment for $100 per person.
This is the real deal in a picturesque setting adjacent to Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. Canoe rentals ($50) are available for trips down the Slana River.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition