Kennicott & McCarthy: Alaska’s Weirdest Towns

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View of mines in Kennicott-McCarthy, Alaska.

We love to experience quirky and weird towns during our travels. In Alaska, Kennicott and McCarthy are two of the weirdest towns you can visit.

Despite their small populations and remote locations, they continue attracting many tourists. So, what makes them so unique?

Today, we’re taking you on an adventure to the southeast corner of “The Last Frontier.” Let’s see if you should visit Kennicott and McCarthy on your next trip to Alaska.

The Ghost Town Kennicott, Alaska

view down the road showing red wooden abandoned buildings of the kennicott copper mine

Kennicott, Alaska, is a former mining town that sits frozen in time just outside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. It grew in the early 20th century when the Kennecott Copper Corporation established its copper mining operation there.

If you think we made a spelling error, we didn’t. The spelling has been a topic of debate for quite some time. Generally, the town and physical features are Kennicott, while the mining company is Kennecott. However, according to the National Park Service, the company’s founder would often spell it Kennycott.

Unfortunately, in the mid-1930s, the operation quickly packed up its things. They abandoned everything, their equipment, the mines, and buildings in pursuit of their next site. Today, visitors can enjoy adventure, history, and nature by visiting this remote town.

The Wild Town McCarthy, Alaska

Kennicott and McCarthy town chamber of commerce sign showing the businesses in the towns

McCarthy sits just a few miles down the road from Kennicott. Unlike Kennicott, McCarthy is growing. From 2010 to 2020, the population went from 28 to 107. However, getting an accurate count can be challenging with such infrequent data and its remote location.

The town has a close-knit group of residents who look out for one another. They significantly rely on a steady flow of tourists, especially during summer. Tourists love its unique hospitality, art galleries, and locally-run businesses.

Another thing that makes the town a little wild is that it is full of dogs! Off-leash dogs wander the streets and sit in front of almost every business. Luckily, they are friendly and even got along with our dog.

the front of the golden saloon bar and eatery

In the town, there are a few places to stay the night and a few restaurants if you’re hungry after the long drive. We heard from a local that The Golden Saloon just got a new smoker and took first place for food for the town from the previous reigning champion, The Potato.

We can’t confirm though, since we ate at The Potato. They had live music going and were very dog-friendly. They also accepted credit cards. We can confirm that the food was delicious and understand why it had been the reigning champion.

The Potato restaurant in McCarthy, Alaska

For those who enjoy outdoor adventure, several local guide services offer rafting tours and trips to nearby glaciers. From the mountains, glaciers, and rushing waters, McCarthy is a great way to see the beauty of the Alaskan backcountry. 

How to Get to Kennicott-McCarthy, Alaska

Like many small towns in Alaska, getting to Kennicott-McCarthy is an adventure. Its remote location makes it challenging. If you travel from Anchorage, it takes approximately seven to eight hours to complete the 314-mile drive.

You’ll drive from Anchorage to the town of Chitina. Make sure you fuel up on the way in Glennallen, Copper Center, Kenny Lake, or Chitina since there is no fuel available after that.

Once in Chitna, you’ll hop on the 60-mile McCarthy Road. Like many of the roads in remote sections of Alaska, this is a gravel road. Its condition can depend significantly on recent weather conditions.

We recommend stopping by the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve Visitor Center in Copper Center or the Chitina Ranger Station to pick up an audio tour of the McCarthy Road. You can also download the audio tour on the National Park Website. This drive usually takes two and a half to three hours, depending on the road conditions.

You’ll need to park your vehicle once you reach the end of McCarthy Road. You will know where the road ends because there is a large parking lot and a huge flowing glacier river.

Once parked, you’ll find a footbridge that crosses the Kennicott River and connects McCarthy to Kennicott. If needed, you can also hop on a shuttle to make it easy to get you and your luggage from McCarthy to Kennicott.

Parking lot at the end of the McCarthy Road

Things to Do in Kennicott-McCarthy, Alaska

After arriving at Kennicott-McCarthy, you’ll need something to do. Luckily, you’ll find it easy to fill your schedule with exciting activities and memorable adventures. Let’s take a look at some things you should consider doing while you’re in this neck of the woods.

Explore the Kennecott Mines

The National Park Service (NPS) allows visitors to explore the town. You can walk the same roads and see the same views miners would have in the early 1900s. However, for the best experience, you can sign up for a guided tour.

NPS partners with local services like St. Elias Alpine Guides. Signing up for a tour allows you to step inside the buildings. Tours from St. Elias Alpine Guides enable you to enter the 14-story Concentration Mill. The leader of your expedition is an expert in the town’s history and will share stories with happy and tragic endings. 

Looking up at the main mine shaft of the kennicott mine

Hike Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

A great way to enjoy the McCarthy and Kennicott, Alaska’s rugged landscapes is to hike in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. You can find everything from strolls for day hiking adventures to trails that require multi-day excursions. Some of the most popular trails in the park are Root Glacier Trail, Bonanza Mine Trail, and Boreal Forest Loop and Valdez Trail.

Remember that the rugged terrains aren’t the only dangers in the Alaskan wilderness. Various dangerous wildlife roam the landscapes, and you must prepare for them. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Stay bear-aware no matter when hiking or camping anywhere in Alaska.

Looking across the valley at root glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Visit the McCarthy-Kennicott Historical Museum

The McCarthy-Kennicott Historical Museum lets you see and hear about how the mining industry impacted the area. You can see artifacts, photographs, and documents while walking from one exhibit to the next. There’s even a model of the historic town and a diorama of Bonanza mine.

The museum is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. You’ll find it inside the Red Railroad Depot building in McCarthy. If you need help finding it, look for a big rail car parked outside.

the front of the McCarthy-Kennicott Historical Museum

Take a Flightseeing Tour

One of the best ways to see the area is to take a flightseeing tour. You’ll board a small aircraft or helicopter and soar above the wilderness. You’ll fly over mountains, glaciers, rivers, and valleys. The views are incredible, and you must see for yourself to believe.

Costs and routes depend significantly on the company. However, no matter which company you choose, they all provide stunning views. They may not be cheap, but the memories you can make are priceless.

Keep in Mind: During our time in Alaska, we went on an Alaska Bear Adventures Tour! Click to read our thoughts and if it was worth it.

Enjoy Some Outdoor Activities

Kennicott-McCarthy, Alaska, has an almost infinite amount of outdoor activities. Whether you want to experience hiking, glacier trekking, rafting, kayaking, or spotting wildlife, this is a fantastic place to do it.

Its remote location also provides some of the darkest skies in the world. With almost no light pollution, the skies come alive at night. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the northern lights. The best chances of spotting them are from late August to September.

Attend Local Events

Attending a local event is a great way to rub elbows with locals and other visitors. Luckily, Kennicott-McCarthy offers several events throughout the year. One of their most popular events is the McCarthy-Kennicott Solstice Festival.

They host this event to celebrate the longest day of the year. You can enjoy music, art, and a variety of craft vendors.

In addition, there are plenty of local foods that you can taste to complete the festive atmosphere. Take the time to learn about this incredible community’s history, culture, and spirit.

In addition to the Solstice Festival, you can enjoy art shows, live music performances, community gatherings, and workshops. The locals are very proud of their community and enjoy sharing it with others. You never know what will be going on when you visit. Check their schedule to be aware of what is happening during your visit.

Visit the Root Glacier

One of the most popular attractions for Kennicott-McCarthy is the Root Glacier. You can hike to the glacier and explore it on your own. However, using a guide service is a good idea. They’ll provide you with all the essential safety equipment necessary.

This glacier formed as a result of snow accumulating over thousands of years. During the tour, you’ll see glacier pools, crevasses, ice formations, and meltwater streams.

Hiring a guide provides opportunities to learn about these unique features. You’ll gain an appreciation for the processes that shaped the landscapes.

a campervan setting up in a campsite with a view of the root glacier in the background

Keep in Mind: While these may be the weirdest towns in Alaska, there are also a few uniquely named towns. One is Chicken, Alaska, but is it actually worth visiting?

Exploring Alaska’s Eccentric Gems: Kennicott & McCarthy

While they may have a small population, Kennicott and McCarthy offer a lot for visitors. The unspoiled beauty of this area and its rich history will be something you remember for a long time. Take advantage of the opportunity to step off the beaten path to enjoy the charm and appeal of these quirky communities.

Have you visited Kennicott and McCarthy? What did you think?

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