America’s Largest National Park is Wrangell – St. Elias National Park in Alaska
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the largest National Park in the United States. Measuring in at a whopping 13.2 million acres, the park is 6 times larger than Yellowstone National Park and 25% larger than Switzerland! The towns of McCarthy and Kennecott, Alaska are inside the park; they are located in the section that is the Preserve. (See the map below on this page).
Boasting the highest concentration of glaciers outside of Antarctica, the park is over 30% covered by ice! At over 9 million acres of designated wilderness protections, the park contains more wilderness than all other U.S. states combined. Due to its massive size, the park features numerous climate zones, temperate rainforest, sub-arctic desert, high alpine tundra, ice fields, and large broad river basins.
Where is the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve?
Located in what is essentially the shoulder of Alaska, connecting the Southeast region of the state with the rest of Alaska, the park contains 3 mountain ranges- the Wrangell – St. Elias, and Chugach ranges. Encompassing the major eastern drainages of the Copper River Watershed, the park stretches on the west, from the Copper River, through eastward to the international border with Canada.
The Bagley Icefall gulf of Alaska borders its southern edge and meets the Mentasta Mountains on the North. Combined with multiple other Parks, and protected areas in the United States and Canada, Wrangell St. Elias is the second largest U.N. World heritage site.
When Was Alaska’s Wrangell – St. Elias Nation Park Created?
Wrangell St. Elias National Park was created in 1980, during the last months of the Carter administration. Part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), is part of 13 National Parks in Alaska either created or expanded along with protection of over 157 million acres of wild land.
With the enactment of ANILCA, the National Park system more than doubled in size. While ANILCA parks are governed by agreements that differ from the rest of the park system, the overall goal is the same; to preserve the land in its natural state for the use and enjoyment for generations to come.
How Do I Get To Wrangell – St. Elias National Park?
Unlike some of the remotest regions of Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias is reachable by road. While you can drive here, with 110 miles of road and 13+ million acres of land, you will either need to take to the sky or the river to dive deep into the park.
There are numerous places from which to access the Park. Anchorage is the most popular starting point for out-of-state visitors, driving east through the Matanuska Valley and Copper River Basin along the Glenn Highway, it takes 4-10 hours depending on where in the Park you are going.
Driving toward the Alcan Highway, the park will dominate your Southern view as you enter Alaska. Approaching Fairbanks heading South on the Richardson Highway, you will pass through the Alaska Range and the stunningly beautiful Summit and Paxson lake area.
The Visitors Center in Copper Center is just south of the town of Glennallen, on the Richardson Highway, from here you can get an overview of the towering volcanic mountains and the Copper River.
Going further into the Southern end of the park and driving the McCarthy Road to the towns of McCarthy and Kennicott, sites of the purest copper ever found on earth. At the turn of the 20th century copper boom town, in this area transformed into the key jumping-off point for all.
Top Ten Things To Do In and Near Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
- Drive the McCarthy & Nabesna Roads
At 13+ million acres of park with only 110 miles of accessible dirt road, there is the wild country you can access! More than 60 miles of dirt road leading from the west side of the park into the town of McCarthy. Former railroad grade for the Copper River Northwestern Railroad, this drive is fairly well maintained and accessible. On the North end of the park, the Nabesna Road travels roughly 50 miles into the historic town of Nabesna. Quieter and less traveled, travelers should have at minimum a 4-wheel drive vehicle with some experience traveling in remote terrain.
- Hike on a Glacier
A relatively level 2-mile hike from historic Kennecott, the Root Glacier is one of the more accessible glaciers in Alaska! Check out Blue Pools & Moulins and fill your water bottle up with fresh glacier water!
- Get Deep Into the wild on a Multi-Day River Trip
At 13 million acres, there is a lot of ground to cover in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. A Multi-day raft trip allows you to get deep into the wilderness and see the park through its traditional travel corridors. Mile-high cliffs, epic whitewater, calving glaciers, and beaches with no footprints await!
A flight sees allows you to see a lot of stuff in a short period of time, fly over enormous glaciers, soaring mountains & rugged coastline, choose from 30, 60, 90, and 120-minute tours, the longer you fly, the further into the wild you get. You can reserve a flight sees out of Glennallen with Copper Valley Air or in McCarthy with Wrangell Mountain Air.
- Fly-out Base Camp
If you’re short on time for getting into the backcountry, consider an overnight base camp trip. Fly to Nizina Lake for excellent hiking and kayaking opportunities. Spend your evening watching gigantic icebergs float in the lake. Iceberg Lake, Skolai Pass, and Glacier Creek are other popular destinations as well. Let us be your Alaska Travel Guide Experts!
- Tour the Historic Kennecott Mill Town
The park service offers downloadable self-guided walking tours of the mill site, packed with tons of great information about the mining operation. Prefer something guided? Ask in the park visitors center about free interpretive walking tours.
- Relax in a Cabin at the Toe of a 25-mile Glacier
Kennicott River Lodge is located on the shores of the glacial lake created by the receding Kennicott Glacier. Book a stay in one of the glacier-facing cabins for an unbelievable view of the Stairway Icefall, Wrangell Mountains, and Root & Kennicott Glaciers.
- Stay in a Public Use Cabin
The National Park Service maintains multiple public use cabins across the backcountry of Wrangell St. Elias. Some require a reservation, while others are first come, first serve. This is an excellent way to spend a few days exploring with a comfortable cabin to base out of.
- Take Some Time to Check Out the Birds
There are so many birds here, from large to small! Eagles and owls are the most common sighted raptors along with goshawks and falcons. Multiple varieties of songbirds, thrushes, woodpeckers, and waterfowl also call the park home for at least part of the season.
- View the Aurora Borealis
Planning a trip to Alaska in the “shoulder” season is a must! Think Spring or Fall, to see the Northern Lights. With an abundance of big, dark skies, Wrangell St. Elias is the perfect place to plan an Aurora Borealis vacation.
More Resources on Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
- For more resources on The Largest National Park in the U.S.–wildlife, flora and fauna, and more!
- Curious how the Largest National Park in the U.S. ranks with other National Parks in the states?
- Not only is Wrangell – St. Elias National Park the largest in the nation, but it also has some of the largest mountains in America!
- Lastly, after learning about the remarkable Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, planning a visit is crucial! Check out some tips on how to plan the perfect visit to the Largest National Park in the U.S.
The Copper River Watershed–Home to Many
The Copper River watershed is over 26,000 square miles, being one of North America’s last completely intact watersheds
McCarthy and Kennecott Alaska are not only in the heart of America’s Largest National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias, but also nestled in the Copper River Watershed. The Watershed is home to native wildlife, habitats many ecosystems diverse wildlife call home. Being one of many towns within the Copper River Watershed, McCarthy and Kennecott Alaska are both located on the eastern side of the watershed.
The 110-mile stretch of the Copper River from the Town of Chitina to the Copper River Delta, just outside the town of Cordova, Alaska, is one of the finest and easiest ways to check off much of your Alaska wish-list all in one trip!