Wrangell St. Elias Road Trip
Updated June 2023, the Wrangell St. Elias Road Trip was originally written in July 2017
Get ready for some action-packed adventure on the Wrangell St. Elias Road Trip. Check the Alaska DOT’s 511 for road construction updates, delays, and road condition information. Another trusty source of information is the Alaska Milepost, I highly recommend purchasing one before your Alaska road trip!
I also recommend the Garmin (formerly Delorme) Inreach Explorer + for this trip as getting out to McCarthy is quite remote and it’s not unheard of the have car problems on the drive out there, and even more so if you plan to do any hiking in Wrangell St Elias. The Inreach will likely come in handy since you will be able to send messages via satellite, has GPS, and has an SOS beacon.
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Day 1: Anchorage to McCarthy
Anchorage to McCarthy is a long drive day that you’ll be kicking off your Wrangell St. Elias road trip with. You’ll likely arrive in Anchorage at a horrendously early hour, so go grab your rental car and rest up before taking off.
Spending time in Anchorage? Check out my Anchorage travel guide and start planning
Where To Stay In Anchorage
If you’re looking for a place on the cheap check out my Best Hostels In Anchorage Post. Otherwise here are a few options:
The drive time to McCarthy on your Wrangell St. Elias road trip is about 8 hours and will bring you 310 miles. Head north from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. There are many scenic places to stop all along the way to Glennallen- one of the best ones being Matanuska Glacier near mile 102.
You’ll continue on the Glenn for 212 miles until you reach Kenny Lake. At Kenny Lake, you will follow the Edgerton Highway all the way to the bridge just before McCarthy.
The Edgerton Highway is a long dusty dirt road, so make sure you are allowed to take your rental vehicle out here and bring a car repair kit. It’s more than likely you’ll get at least a flat tire coming out here. The area of Chitina is worth a stop on your way out.
Once you arrive at the bridge walk across and voila, you’re in the little town of McCarthy. There’s plenty of places to set up camp.
Where To Stay In McCarthy
Kennicott River lodge & Hostel
| Kennicottriverlodge.com |
Start planning here: The ultimate Alaska travel guide
Day 2-3: McCarthy, Kennicott Mine & Root Glacier
You drove all the way out here, now enjoy what McCarthy has to offer. There are a number of historic mining sites around the ghost towns of McCarthy and Kennicott Mine and a number of buildings are staffed by park service workers in the summer that will gladly explain the history and information on the area as well as information about Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
There are a number of popular tours on offer in the area including a Root Glacier Hike, paddle boarding Root Lake, and river rafting. There are several hiking trails in the area including Root Glacier trail, McCarthy trail, Wagon Road trail, Liberty Creek trail, Fireweed Mountain, and more.
There are lots of great places to camp including the National Park Service campground at the toe of Root Glacier. A flightseeing tour is also recommended.
Day 4: McCarthy to Valdez
After a few days of fun and exploring the McCarthy Area on your Wrangell St. Elias road trip, it’s time to make your way toward Valdez. The drive will take about 5 hours 40 minutes to go the 180 miles.
This stretch of your Wrangell St. Elias road trip is pretty scenic. Great places to stop off will be Pump Station #12 (the Alaska Pipeline), Worthington Glacier, Thompson Pass, Keystone Glacier, Blue Lake, Keystone Canyon, Bridal Veil Falls, and more. There are quite a few places to set up camp around Valdez.
Day 5: Valdez
Enjoy a day in the fishing town of Valdez. Explore what the town has to offer, take a sea kayaking tour, a glacier tour to Colombia, or Meares Glaciers. There are also several trails, a museum, and the old townsite to explore. Not to mention that you can charter a boat if you’d like to get in some fishing.
Where To Stay In Valdez
Camping (RV & Tent)
|City of Valdez |
Totem Hotel & Suites
| Hotels.com |
Day 6: Ferry to Whittier
Today get up early and take the 6 hour long ferry to Whittier. Check sailing schedules and prices on the Alaska Marine Highway website. The marine highway ferry is costly, $200+ depending on the size of vehicle plus cost per passenger, however, if it is a nice day it is quite scenic.
If the ferry doesn’t fit your schedule or budget, your other option would be to drive back to Anchorage via the Richardson and Glenn Highways taking 7 hours for the 300 mile journey.
Once you arrive in Whittier in the afternoon, explore the pint-sized town or take a hike on any nearby trails. Fishing charters are also on offer out there.
Want to explore more of southcentral Alaska? Check out my Kenai Peninsula road trip itinerary
Day 7: Whittier and back to Anchorage, fly home
As mentioned in previous posts you will need to take the tunnel out of Whittier to head toward Anchorage. The tunnel schedule for Whittier back to Portage is on the hour between 6:00 AM and 11:00 PM. It’s best to arrive 10 minutes before and you will be charged $13 each way for use to the tunnel.
In total, the drive back to Anchorage from Whittier is 60 miles and should take about an hour. There are a number of scenic places to stop on the way to Anchorage including Portage and Byron Glaciers as you leave the tunnel before you reach the Seward Highway.
Turn right when you reach the Seward Highway and be careful as this stretch of road is notorious for nasty car accidents. Sights to see between Portage and Anchorage include the Alaska Wildlife Center, Girdwood, Beluga Point, Bird Creek and more.
Just be safe and exit the roadway into designated pull-offs when wanting to make a scenic stop. Also note that you must drive with headlights on at all times and if you have 5 or more vehicles held up behind you, you must exit the road and let them pass. So that it! Time to wrap up your Wrangell St Elias Road Trip.
Want to Travel Alaska? Are you on a budget?
Have Any Questions About This Wrangell St Elias Road Trip?
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Want More Ideas For One Week In Alaska Itineraries?
Check out the following posts in the ‘One Week In Alaska’ series:
- Hit The Highlights- Anchorage to Fairbanks
- North To The Future: The Dalton Highway
- Glaciers, Fjords, & South Central Alaska
- The Big Loop: Anchorage to Fairbanks & Back
- The Denali Highway Road Trip
- The Best of Wrangell St. Elias and Prince William Sound