Tips for Driving McCarthy Road in Alaska

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View of McCarthy Road in Alaska.

Driving McCarthy Road in Alaska can be an exciting and unforgettable adventure. However, it can also be perilous, especially for those unprepared.

While some excitement can make for a memorable experience, we want you only to bite off what you can chew. Safety should always be your number one priority.

Today, we’re sharing tips for driving McCarthy Road in Alaska. So buckle your seat belt, and let’s get started!

What Is the McCarthy Road in Alaska?

The McCarthy Road in Alaska was initially built as a railway to support the Kennecott Copper Mines. Construction finished in 1909, but large-scale mining operations ended in the area by the mid-1930s. A clear path was left behind when the metal rails became scrap iron. Officials built a bridge over the Copper River and placed a gravel layer to create the path.

This narrow route winds through some of Alaska’s most incredible landscapes. Those brave enough to travel experience views of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and the tremendous wilderness. When it comes to the Alaskan backcountry, this is an excellent way to experience it.

Once you reach mile 15.9, you enter Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. This is federal land managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Pull-offs allow you to get out and enjoy the view. Make sure you take advantage of them and capture as many pictures as you can.

Entrance to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve on the McCarthy road

When Does the McCarthy Road Open?

McCarthy Road stays open year-round, but the State of Alaska does not maintain it during the winter. If you think the conditions are sketchy during summer, you don’t want to experience them in winter.

Heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures, and ice can make it unsafe. The already dangerous route can quickly turn deadly.

Instead of gambling, park officials recommend that you call ahead before visiting. They’ll be able to give you an idea of the current conditions in the area. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Where Does the McCarthy Road Start and End?

Chitna, Alaska, has the title of being the gateway to the McCarthy Road. It starts the 60-mile adventure, which ends at Kennicott River near McCarthy. You will see a large parking lot and pedestrian bridge to get across the river to visit the ghost town of the Kennicott mine and the funky McCarthy. Throughout the route, adventurers enjoy stunning views and glimpses of the area’s history.

Officials recommend that travelers allow at least two hours for traveling each way. The conditions can change with or without notice. Drivers must be as careful and courteous as possible while navigating.

Parking lot at the end of the McCarthy road

7 Tips for Driving McCarthy Road in Alaska

We want you and those traveling with you to live to see another adventure. We’re sharing seven tips that will give you the best shot. Let’s dive in!

Check Road Conditions

One of the most important things you can do to ensure a safe trip is to check the conditions. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities offers This service makes it easy to check the last reported conditions of McCarthy Road and other sketchy routes in Alaska.

If there are travel concerns or alerts, you’ll likely find them here. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to contact the National Park Service. Ranger stations throughout the park can provide more insights into the current conditions.

Class C RV crossing the single lane Kuskulana Bridge on the McCarthy Road

Prepare Your Vehicle

Keeping your vehicle in tip-top shape is essential in Alaska. The last thing you want is to experience an issue that leaves you stranded. Inspecting and preparing your car is a great way to prevent this from happening to you.

Look over your engine, brakes, tires, and lights. This is also a great time to check all your fluid levels. The rough terrain and potholes can do a number on your vehicle. In addition, having a solid pair of off-road or all-terrain tires can help on gravel and uneven surfaces. 

Keep in Mind: Upgrading Your RV Tires? They’re Probably Inflated Wrong!

Fuel Up and Pack Supplies

The McCarthy Road is a remote road in Alaska, meaning there are few services, including fuel stations. Before leaving for Chitina, make sure to fill up your fuel tank. You may want to carry an extra fuel can or two if you have a smaller fuel tank. Gas is available in Glenallen, Copper Center, Kenny Lake, and Chitna, but diesel is more sparse and should be purchased in Glenallen. Running out of fuel can be a dangerous experience here. However, fuel is only one of the many things you’ll need to bring.

Having supplies is a good idea whenever you’re traveling in a remote area. You’ll want emergency kit items, a communication or navigation device, food, water, clothing, personal items, and camping gear. A first aid kit, blankets, and a portable shovel are items you’ll be glad you have if you need to use them.

Drive Cautiously

When navigating McCarthy Road in Alaska, slow and steady wins the race. Driving cautiously means sticking to the posted speed limits and being mindful of the conditions. Turns on loose gravel can cause you to skid or lose control of your vehicle.

Potholes large enough to get their own zip code litter the path. While watching for them, remember to consider other drivers and the potential for wildlife. You’re also likely to encounter construction areas during the summer as crews try their best to make repairs.

Passing a Class B+ RV on the McCarthy road

Use a High-Clearance Vehicle

While you can attempt this with just about any vehicle, a high-clearance vehicle can help you avoid scraping the undercarriage or damaging your car. While you’ll still want to slow down for potholes, rocks, and other obstacles, you’re less likely to find yourself stuck.

Another advantage of a high-clearance vehicle is when you come to a river crossing. There are several spots along the route that require crossing a waterway. The more clearance you have, the easier it will be to navigate these streams and riverbeds and keep your stuff dry.

Keep in Mind: Eagle, Alaska has a population of 83! Despite the small population, is it actually worth visiting?

Take Your Time and Enjoy the Views

One of the mistakes many people make on McCarthy Road is not taking the time to enjoy the views. If you see a spot to pull off, use it. This can allow the driver to take in the experience, too. While they may be able to see some while driving, their focus will primarily be on navigating.

You should also consider bringing backup SD cards for cameras and freeing up space on your phone. This is one trip that you’re going to want to document. In addition, you’re going to get plenty of Instagram-worthy shots.

You should also stop by the visitor center in Copper Center or the ranger station in Chitna to pick up an audio tour cd of the road. It is also available as a free download on the NPS website.

The audio tour will cover the history of the road along with interesting information about geology and the flora and fauna you will be driving past.

Truck Camper stopped on the McCarthy road enjoying the views of a glacier in the background

Master McCarthy Road in Alaska

You now have our best tips for navigating McCarthy Road. All that remains is for you to buckle up and embark on your adventure.

If you prepare accordingly and take your time, you’ll stand the best chance of conquering it safely. Enjoy the experience and respect the environment, wildlife, and fellow travelers.

Have you ever driven McCarthy Road? Do you have any additional tips?

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