We had a 3 day weekend for Labor Day, so we took some time looking up the weather forecast for a few different places in Alaska to see where we could take a short trip. For the past few years I’ve been looking at the forecast in McCarthy over Labor Day weekend and it has always been rainy. But this year the forecast was calling for sunny and warm weather, so it felt like the perfect timing for our first trip to McCarthy!
We were honestly a bit overwhelmed trying to plan a trip to McCarthy. It’s a tiny town of only 28 people hidden far away from the paved road system. You can drive to it, but it’s a 7 hour drive from Anchorage with a 2-3 hour portion on a bumpy dirt road through the wilderness. Once you reach the end of the road you have to park your car, hike across a bridge, and walk a half mile until you reach the actual town. There’s not a ton of places to stay or to eat, and there’s nowhere to get gas. I kind of took the approach of planning enough to know what I was getting into, and then let the rest of it just magically fall into place (which always seems to happen when you travel to a tiny town in Alaska). It ended up being one of the best road trips/backpacking trips we’ve ever taken!
On Friday night we left Anchorage after work and drove as far as we could before sunset. We had a few state parks in mind for camping, and ultimately we chose to camp at Lake Louise State Park. The campground was nice but since we only spent about 12 hours there (and most of them were spent in the dark) I don’t have much to say about it except that it was a good stopping point on our journey.
The next morning we grabbed breakfast in Glennallen before heading south on the Richardson Highway. We stopped for a final gas fill up in Copper Center before starting the dirt road portion of the drive. This part was absolutely gorgeous but definitely slow going due to all the potholes on the road. I’d heard horror stories of people blowing out tires and having tons of issues on this road, but we drove slowly and had no issues.
When we finally reached the end of the road, we had two campground options to choose from. We ultimately chose to camp at Base Camp Root Glacier, which was located right next to the pedestrian bridge into McCarthy. We paid $20 for one night of camping and an additional $5 to park our car for the following night while we were camping in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. After we paid, we parked our car and wandered around the property looking for the “perfect” campsite. We started by walking down the path from the outhouse towards the glacier overlook. And after 2 minutes of walking we found the most epic camping spot we’d ever seen!
We immediately set up camp to stake out our spot and then decided to walk into McCarthy for dinner. We ate at the first restaurant we came to, The Potato, which had outdoor seating for us and the dogs and a seriously amazing menu. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how delicious the food is in the most remote places in Alaska! After dinner we explored the tiny town and then headed back to camp before dark.
The next morning we had a leisurely morning at camp while we decided what to do with our final night in McCarthy. Us girls wanted to backpack into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and camp right next to Root Glacier, but the boys were content staying at our current campsite. After some debate we decided to try out a new campsite so we packed our bags and caught the next shuttle out to Kennecott Copper Mine in Wrangell-St. Elias.
Kennecott was one of my favorite parts of the trip! The mine has been around since the 30s and has been well preserved by the national park service. The main building in Kennecott is 14 stories tall! We explored a few buildings before heading out onto the trails towards Root Glacier.
We took the turnoff to the glacier access and found a large group campsite with epic views of the glacier. It was the best campsite we’ve ever had – yes, even better than the one the night before! It was quiet and had the most unbelievable views. We were all really glad that we decided to camp in the park at least one night!
After setting up camp we hiked down to Root Glacier and put on our microspikes so we could walk on the glacier. There’s obviously no trail on the glacier, but it was easy walking and we didn’t see any cravasses or dangerous areas. We were comfortable walking on our own with our gear but there’s also options for guided glacier treks. We walked until we got up to a cliff with gorgeous views of the long glacier. It was absolutely beautiful!
The rest of our time in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was spent eating dinner, watching the sun set behind our tent, and looking up at the stars until we were too cold to stay out any longer. The next morning we woke up early and caught the first shuttle back to McCarthy so we could get back on the road to Anchorage.
Overall, this was a perfect long weekend trip! It was a good amount of time to get a small taste of what McCarthy and Wrangell-St. Elias had to offer. I’d love to go back and spent more time hiking and camping in the park. I’d highly recommend taking a trip here if you have a lot of extra time to make a long drive and if you have the right kind of car to make the trip (rental cars are not allowed on dirt roads). It’s an incredibly remote and wild place which makes it so special!
What is the coolest place you’ve ever camped? Have you ever heard of McCarthy?