Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Wrangell-St. Elias: History & glaciers

Kennecott Mine in Kennicott, Alaska.

Kennecott Mine in Kennicott, Alaska.

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2012 Alaska Visitors Guide - Front

Unknown wonder

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is probably the biggest place you know almost nothing about.

At 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias is the nation's largest national park, twice as big as Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali receives about 400,000 annual visitors, while Wrangell-St. Elias gets about 10 percent of that total. The park is just off the Richardson Highway on the way to Valdez

Wrangell-St. Elias is home to the nation's second-tallest mountain, 18,008-foot Mount St. Elias. It's just one of many impressive peaks in the park. Four mountain ranges -- the Alaska, the Chugach, the Wrangell and the St. Elias -- converge at the park, which is home to nine of the nation's 16 tallest mountains.

Flowing out of those mountains are dozens of glaciers. The massive Malaspina Glacier is larger than Rhode Island, while at 80 miles long, the Nebesna Glacier is North America's longest. The Hubbard Glacier is one of the most active tidewater glaciers in Alaska. It stretches 76 miles from the Yukon territory to the sea at Yakutat. The calving face of the glacier is six miles wide.

Air-taxi companies will deliver visitors into the park and also offer flightseeing trips. Some trips can be booked from Anchorage to McCarthy. Those who want to drive into the park can use one of two gravel roads. The 59-mile McCarthy Road is from Chitina to McCarthy. Visitors can expect the trip to be slow and bumpy, although the condition of the road has improved considerably the past few years.

Once in the park, many visitors head straight for the abandoned Kennecott Copper Corp.'s mine, especially the 14-story mill in Kennicott. (The names of the town and the mine are spelled differently.)

Tours inside the mill are offered by St. Elias Alpine Guides ((steliasguides.com). In addition to the 212-hour guided tour inside the mill ($25), the company offers ice trekking and a variety of other outdoor activities. The National Park Service offers tours around Kennicott but not into the mill.

Other companies, including Kennicott Wilderness Guides ((kennicottguides.com), offer guided expeditions inside the park.

There are several lodging options in the McCarthy area.

Before heading into the Wrangell-St. Elias, spend some time at the park headquarters at Mile 106 Richardson Highway. A park movie is shown in the theater, there are exhibits and a large interactive map of the park.

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