I have just moved to the beautiful state of Alaska a little over three months ago and when my husband said that he wanted to go to McCarthy for our first road trip, I had no idea where it is or what it is like at all. After a quick google search and reading a bit about McCarthy and the nearby ghost town of Kennicott, I was intrigued. There is some good information about these towns once you google “McCarthy and Kennicott”, like this link here.
I heard that not many people have visited these two towns as they were previously hard to get to. I say, “previously” because it is no longer the case. The famed or rather, infamous, primitive gravel McCarthy road which has been known to blow out a tire or two, has been greatly improved since the summer of 2014.
A brief overview
From Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway (Highway 1) to the town of Glennallen, then turn onto to Richardson Highway (Highway 4) heading towards Valdez. Turn onto Edgerton Highway (Highway 10) which will then become McCarthy road, a dirt and gravel road of about 59 miles.
Our two-day itinerary
The scenic drive from Anchorage to McCarthy is really the nice thing about this trip because you get to see so much. We made several stops at turnouts for photo-ops, and ate lunch we packed looking at the beautiful mountains. We had set off from Anchorage at about 8AM and arrived at the town of McCarthy at around 4 PM , so it’s about a 7-hour-plus drive. Our lodging for the next two days was McCarthy Bed and Breakfast. We love this B & B. It’s basic, but clean and has a well-stocked kitchen, and even a fire pit and outdoor grill for guests to use. Very reasonable rates. Recommended if you don’t want to spend too much on lodging.
After taking a short break, we took about a one mile hike to downtown McCarthy (no buses. I think a shuttle does take you there, but we were there one day earlier. Everything opens only the next day, including the shuttle service. We had dinner at Golden Saloon, a pub/restaurant. And after that, a hike back to the cabins.
The second day was spent exploring the historic copper mining town of Kennicott which is now a ghost town. We took the $27.50 two-hour guided tour into the 14-storey-mill building and then explored the rest of the buildings around. After that, we went on the Bonanza trail up to the Bonanza Mine. It is a very beautiful and scenic trail.
Please read on for a more details and photographs of this trip. The first part talks about the drive from Anchorage to McCarthy with some photographs taken at the stops we made. The second part talks about our hike in Kennicott. Links to map of kennecott mill and trails are also provided along the way.
Glenn Highway has plenty of beautiful stops that can easily be day-trips from Anchorage on their own. Because we wanted to make sure we get to McCarthy before evening, we only stopped at sights right beside the highway and so we did not go onto Old Glenn Highway, up Hatcher Pass etc.
Here are pictures at some of the stops we made along the Glenn Highway. Some are taken on our way up to McCarthy, and some on the way back to Anchorage.
Below are some pictures taken along Glenn Highway, just past Palmer.
Milepost 101 at Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Park. There’s a little trail here and great viewpoint of Matanuska Glacier.
Milepost 101.5 Good turnout to stop at with good view of Matanuska Glacier again. Opposite a popular rock message wall.
Milepost 102.1 Here, you will find road access of privately-owned Glacier Park, where you can take a hike up to the glacier. We only stopped by to take a look and check out the fees ($20 for adults, $15 for Alaska residents. Cheaper rates for children and youths). We will come here another day with our friends and visitors.
Milepost 103.3 This to us, is the last turnout (towards Glennallen) which still has a great view of Matanuska glacier.
At around milepost 186.9, you will arrive at town of Glennallen. When you reach the junction where Glenn Highway and Richardson Highway intersects, turn south onto Richardson Highway.
From here, there are several turnouts with view of Mount Drum (12,010 feet), Mount Wrangell (14,163 feet) and Mount Blackburn (16,390 feet).
At milepost 100.2, there is a loop road through Copper Center which is well worth a stop.
Below shows a picture taken at Milepost 87.7 where you will find a large paved turnout with gorgeous views of the Wrangell Mountains.
At milepost 82.5, you arrive at junction with Edgerton Highway to Chitina (33 miles) and end of McCarthy road (92 miles) with access to Kennicott/McCarthy. The views of the Wrangell mountains as you head towards Chitina (pronounced CHIT-NA) on this highway is pretty amazing .
At milepost 7.2 from the junction of Richardson and Edgerton, you arrive at Kenny Lake Merchantile & RV park (picture below). This is also the last stop for gas eastbound, so do make sure you top up your gas tank here!
At milepost 33.6, you arrive at junction with McCarthy road. A picture taken at the ‘Entrance’ onto McCarthy road below. 🙂
Arriving at McCarthy bed and breakfast.
Above, a picture of a gorgeous sunset on our last day in McCarthy.
Downtown McCarthy is about 0.6 miles from the Kennicott River Pedestrian bridge at the end of McCarthy road.
Golden Saloon serves nice food at a reasonable price and is the place for locals and tourists to hang out.
The hikes: Exploring Kennecott Mill Town and Bonanza Trail.
To get to Kennecott, you can either hike 5 miles from McCarthy, or take the shuttle ($5 one way, tickets can be purchased from driver) which leaves at foot bridge on the other side of the river. There is a bus schedule at the bus stop at the foot bridge.
We took the earliest 9:00 AM shuttle and arrived at Kennecott at about 9:30 AM. We hadn’t planned on taking the mill tour but we decided to at the last minute. I feel that it is a tour worth taking. ($27.50, 1 1/2 to 2 hours long). You get to hear about the history of this town and go inside the 14-storey mill building which you won’t be able to get in unless you do the tour, and there is plenty to see in the mill. You don’t get to see much at all from the outside, and I think to be able to appreciate what the men working here went through, you need to see what conditions they were working in and the machinery used. It is mind-boggling to imagine what it must have been like to to work in that building entirely made of wood and to have those heavy machines running 24/7 – the dust! the noise! the vibration! I won’t say more here and leave you to discover this historic building on your tour.
We had planned to do the popular and easy Root Glacier Trail (click to see map) but the guide told us that the scenery up the trails that lead to the old trams in the mountains is beautiful and so we decided to do the Bonanza Trail (click to see map) instead. It is approximately 4.5 miles one-way, 9 miles round trip and classified as a difficult and strenuous hike because of a 3800 feet elevation gain. Oh yeah, I do feel that elevation gain. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. But really, it’s not as frightening as it sounds. To get to the highest point of the trail took us 2 hours, so if you can climb stairs steadily for 2 hours you will be okay.
Because it was still early in the season (we were there 23rd May), we found ourselves blocked by knee-deep snow at the last 1-2 miles or so, where an easy flat hike along the ridge would have brought us to the end of the trail. We could only make it to the large pulley/tram structure at the top of the mountain. Disappointing, no doubt, to see the end so near, yet unreachable! However, I think we were lucky to have made it that far. It should be a lot more icy and a lot more snow on the trail this time of the year.
Without the last one mile plus, we managed to finish the trail quite quickly. We started on the trail at about 12 noon and were back at the mill building slightly at 4 PM, even after spending quite a while on top looking for copper ores and a short stroll along the silk stocking row on the way down, so if you are in good shape don’t be afraid of squeezing in this hike for the day. The view is amazing and you won’t regret coming up here. I was very glad I did this.
We would have loved to continue with the Root Glacier Trail but we would not be able to catch the last shuttle at 5:30 PM, and I don’t think we want to hike another 5 miles back to our B&B! Hopefully, we will come back to McCarthy again one day.
I shall end my entry here with one more link to hiking trails starting from McCarthy-Kennicott. Hope you have found this post helpful and are inspired to visit this quaint little town!