Beginning at the Copper River and ending at the Kennicott River, the McCarthy Road spans approximately 59 miles. For the most part, it follows the roadbed of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway which was constructed between 1908 and 1911. For 27 years, the 196 mile railway carried copper from the historic Kennicott mining area to the coast at Cordova. The last train pulled into Cordova on November 11, 1938. What is now called the McCarthy Road is a portion of that monumental construction project!
The rails and ties were eventually removed for salvage. Culverts were set in place and the road graded in the 1960's. Even though the road has been slowly upgraded since then, it is still a dirt road, narrow in places, and requires caution— especially around curves. Be sure to include a reliable spare tire for your vehicle. The facilities along the road are minimal, and old railroad spikes are known to surface on occasion.
The McCarthy Road is surrounded by the 12 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, but the road and most of the nearby lands are not part of the Park. Much of the lands are privately owned. Following along the base of the Wrangell Mountains, the road makes a gradual climb from an elevation of 500 ft. at Chitina to 1500 ft. at McCarthy.
If you would like to try your hand at fishing, why not stop at the following lakes: At Mile 10, a foot trail leads .3 miles (through private property) north to Strelna Lake— and Silver Salmon, Kokanee and Rainbow Trout. Mile 11—Silver Lake has trophy Rainbow Trout. Sculpin Lake— Mile 12— has Rainbow Trout, Silver Salmon, and Kokanee.
One of the major attractions or “distractions” to some is the Kuskulana River Bridge at Mile 17. Built in 1911 it spans a 238 ft. gorge on the Kuskulana River. The 600 ft. steel bridge received new decking and metal guard rails in 1988. Newly constructed (2007) vault toilets are provided by the National Park Service.
Another major historic attraction is found at Mile 28. To the north of the road, you will see what is left of a railroad trestle. Near the base of the old trestle, is a small, modern bridge built in 1990 that spans the Gilahina River. Vault toilets are available here also.
Mile 34.7—Crystalline Hills Trail is on the left. This 2.5 mile loop trail goes to the base of the Crystalline Hills. Vault toilet near road.
Mile 45.2—Long Lake on left is three miles long. There is a pullout on the left near the east end of the lake.
Mile 55—Forestry pullout on right provides vault toilets and information on fire prevention.
Mile 56.7— Currant Ridge Cabins.
Mile 58.5— On the left is the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park informational station and limited day parking. Vault toilets and public phone. Road to the right leads 1.8 miles to the Aspen Meadows B&B.
Mile 58.6 —Tire repair. McCarthy B&B offers overnight accommodations.
Mile 58.6—Glacier View Campground has an outdoor restaurant, bike rentals and free parking.
Mile 58.7— Copper Oar / St. Elias Alpine Guides Parking & visitor information. Shuttle to footbridge 10.a.m.-7p.m.. Driveway on left leads to the Kennicott River Lodge and Hostel.
Mile 59—the end of the road. Base Camp Root Glacier has pay parking & campground. You cannot drive into the town of McCarthy—the road ends at the Kennicott River where a foot bridge allows pedestrian access into town. Public phone is to the right of the bridge.