The McCarthy-Kennicott area is a mostly private island surrounded by the vast Wrangell–St. Elias National Park . This was once an incredibly important copper mining area, but today it contains Alaska ’s most famous almost-ghost towns. Access to the area is via the McCarthy Road , which leads from the town of Chitina  to the Kennicott River.
Located within Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the historic Kennecott Mine  contains picturesque old buildings right alongside Kennicott Glacier, with the pinnacles of snowcapped mountains ringing the horizon.
Prospectors discovered rich copper deposits at Kennecott Mine in 1900, and at its peak the mine employed some 600 workers. (Note: Because of a typographic error when the mine was established, the mine, town, and company names are spelled Kennecott, while the glacier, river, and valley are generally spelled Kennicott.)
The mines, in their nearly 30 years of operation, extracted $220 million in rich ore, nearly 70 percent copper, with a little silver and gold on the side. The Alaska Syndicate—owned by J. P. Morgan and Daniel Guggenheim—held the controlling interest. They also owned the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, which freighted the ore to tidewater, plus the Alaska Steamship Co., which shipped the ore to Tacoma, Washington.
The mines shut down in 1938 when world copper prices dropped and the cost of production became prohibitive. After the mine’s closure, the buildings were abandoned and gradually deteriorated. Today, these dark red buildings are in varying states of disrepair. Along with 3,000 acres of surrounding land, they were purchased by the Park Service in 1998, and the agency is spending millions of dollars to stabilize and rebuild the buildings.
You can walk through the beautifully restored structures, or take a guided tour through ones still being worked on.
Regional visitors centers have a useful free visitors guide to the area, or find the same information online (www.mccarthy-kennicott.com/vg ). Also check out the Wrangell Mountains Center (www.wrangells.org ), a McCarthy-based organization dedicated to environmental education and research.
It’s a rough ride to McCarthy, but you can save wear and tear on your car with a van ride from Backcountry Connection (907/822-5292, www.kennicottshuttle.com , daily mid-May–mid-Sept.). The round-trip cost is $139 from Glennallen  or Chitina  if you come in and go out on different days, and $99 round-trip if you’re crazy enough to try this in one day. Call at least two months ahead for reservations in July since the vans are often full. They also have a fly-drive option for $200 round-trip that includes a flight from Glennallen to McCarthy combined with a van ride in the other direction.
Wrangell Mountain Air (907/554-4411 or 800/478-1160, www.wrangellmountainair.com ) has scheduled service several times a day connecting Chitina with McCarthy ($115 one way), plus a variety of flightseeing trips from McCarthy, starting with a $95 half-hour glacier tour. They also operate a shuttle bus ($5 one way) between the footbridge, McCarthy, and Kennicott on an hourly basis all summer.
A one-man operation run by the affable Gary Green since 1988, McCarthy Air (907/554-4440 or 800/245-6909, www.mccarthyair2.com ) does flightseeing and backcountry drop-offs; Green is one of the most experienced pilots in the region.