The Best Alaska Road-Trip – McCarthy Highway to Kennecott Mines is Worth the Work

The Mining Town of Kennecott

The Road Trip to McCarthy Alaska is Worth the Extra Work

If you are looking for magic scenery, old ghost towns and mines, and a fun jeep road the McCarthy Highway is the road for you.  Leave the RV parked in one of the towns nearby for this one.

The town of McCarthy is an active place with outfitting services for those preparing to hike into the Wrangell Elias Mountains, and the Kennicott Glacier. (The Kennecott Mine was named after to Kennicott Glacier. Apparently, the owners did not check the spelling of the name of the glacier!)  The public cannot drive directly into town.  You can park near the bridge and walk across the creek into town.

McCarthy Highway
McCarthy Highway – Road to Kennecott Mines

The Copper Mine that Couldn’t be Built

When the Alaska Syndicate started exploring mining in the Kennecott lode, the naysayers were sure it could not be done. The terrain was impossible. The winters were deadly. Even so, the investors came up with enough money to build the railroad and get the mine running.

From 1911 to 1938 the Kennecott Mines processed nearly $200 million dollars worth of copper.  This copper mine was the entire reason the railroad was built into the Wrangle-Elias mountains. The mining company built the railroad trestles quickly over the winter in order to get the processed copper ore down to the Valdez port. Stories of persistence and engineering abound.

Trestle built to haul copper near the Kennecott Mines
Trestle built to haul copper near the Kennecott Mines

The Kennecott Mine and Town are now preserved as a national park.

How to Get to McCarthy Alaska

The drive starts from the Richardson Highway (AK 4) at Pippin Lake. Take Alaska Route 10 to Chitina. This route is fine for your large RV, but there are several campgrounds on Highway 4 as well.

Once you get to Chitina the road deteriorates quickly. Always check road conditions before you take the road from Chitina to McCarthy. Plan for more than an hour to drive the last stretch, on gravel, dirt, and potholes! Asking Google Maps is useless. The public road stops at the creek and cannot get all the way into town. You can park and walk across the bridge into the old town of McCarthy.

The Mining Town of Kennecott
The Mining Town of Kennecott

If you love old mines, take the shuttle from McCarthy up to the Kennecott Mines.  The driver was gracious enough to allow us to take our two dogs with us on the shuttle. The shuttle driver was amazing and this really made our day! Many people walk up to the mines, but it is a couple of miles up the hill.

Although Alaska is famous for the Yukon and Klondike gold rush, the silver and copper mines in Alaska actually were more profitable overall.

If you love stories of mining, check out our road-trip to the Silver City, Idaho Mines.


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